How Do We Know What Collaboration Feels Like (Guest blog by Sarah Verdonk, Adelaide)

As with many things in my life, I can’t help feeling that I’ve done the whole collaboration thing back to front… I worked on a project based on collaboration and then learned about collaboration strategies afterwards.

Once I started to write this blog, I realised that I did have some knowledge of collaboration and my style of collaborative leadership before beginning work on the project outlined below. Unbeknownst to me, I had used collaboration for the past five years when working as the Assistant Box Office Manager for the WOMADelaide music festival. In this role, I needed to manage a team of volunteers and work very closely with the event organisers.

As I’ve only been in my current job at Simulation Australia a relatively short length of time, I have decided to focus this blog on the importance of – and my learning of – collaboration in my previous position. At the Torrens Resilience Institute, I worked with experienced team members on a number of projects for which collaboration was critical. One of these was the Community Disaster Resilience Scorecard Project. At the heart of this work was the idea that members of a local community could collaborate in order to complete a Scorecard which assesses their level of resilience.

This Scorecard Project involved collaboration at four levels:

–          Project Team

–          Project Working Group

–          Advisory Group

–          Community Working Group

I worked mainly at the Project Team level which was made up of academics with nursing or medical backgrounds. The Working Group comprised social scientists, engineers and everything in between; the Advisory Group included state and federal government employees with Emergency Management expertise; and the Community Working Groups were people hand chosen by their local council to represent their community.

As I took on the role after completing my studies (a Bachelor of Economics and International Studies), I was very new to collaboration in a disaster resilience setting. Even so, I realised straight away that collaboration was important at every stage of the project, particularly in the development of the Scorecard itself. The initial draft of nearly 100 questions was reduced to 22 by the Working Group, based on the need to have a tool of practical length and the likelihood that information for scoring would be readily available.

Once the final draft of the Scorecard had been agreed upon, it was user tested by a handful of local councils around the country. I arranged these meetings and test site visits and was in constant communication with council representatives.

This trialling element was fundamental to the success of the project. Part of my role was to facilitate discussion, provide orientation and answer questions about the Scorecard tool. It was important that the Community Working Groups represented the whole community and considered factors such as age, economic status, ethnicity as well as length of residency in the area. In addition, the participants could not be individuals who held identical views about the community, as a diversity strengthened the outcomes.

During these meetings, the importance of collaboration was evident because it was necessary for all members of the community group to be able to voice their opinions. This was particularly important when agreeing on a score for their community. In fact, many members mentioned that they found these discussions as valuable as the final score itself.  Invariably, I noticed that there was often someone who assumed control of the discussion and ensuring they did not dominate the conversation was difficult at times.

Please see an example of one of the four sections of the Scorecard below.

Scorecard Page - Paint


I chose to show the questions from the Scorecard which related to connectedness because these were often the most thought provoking. The ability of a community to work together and communicate, i.e. to collaborate, was found to be essential when building a resilient community. The model below was taken directly from the Final Report and displays the four elements of community resilience which were deemed to be the most important.Model - Paint


It must be added that one of the greatest challenges of the project was encouraging community willingness to participate. Participants then needed to take on a collective responsibility to reduce the destructive impact of disruptive events, emergencies and disasters. Please visit www. if you want to read more about the project.

Working on this project opened my eyes to the importance of collaboration, particularly in a community resilience setting.

I am currently undertaking a Masters of Environmental Management and one of my subjects this semester is Community Partnerships. To begin with I wasn’t sure what this class would entail. However, now as we are drawing to the end of the semester, it is evident that it is primarily about the importance of collaboration, conflict management and community engagement.

In one of the classes, we assessed our conflict management style by completing a short quiz. Everyone wanted to be the ‘collaborative owl’ who finds solutions which are win-win by problem solving and working with others. I thought that would be me, however, unfortunately I was not the owl; I was the accommodating teddy bear who resolves conflict by giving into others. Although I am not sure this is an adequate reflection of my conflict management style, it added some humour to the class. If you have some free time, maybe you would like to see what your conflict management style is?

Learning about collaboration in more detail has opened my eyes and made me realise how important it was to the Scorecard project. It is also what made the project so interesting and rewarding. There is nothing that I would have done differently if I had reversed my experience. Since learning about the concepts, I now appreciate the role collaboration played in the project. Now with some experience and increased knowledge of collaboration techniques, as well as its value, I look forward to my next collaborative adventure!

Sarah has recently started a new position at Simulation Australia, looking after the use of Simulation in relation to Health and Emergency Management. In her previous position at the Torrens Resilience  Institute (TRI) she worked on a number of government funded projects; each with the aim to increase resilience to disasters and disruptive events. During her time at the TRI she collaborated with a wide variety of individuals including state and national emergency management representatives as well as delegates from the World Health Organisation.

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2 replies »

  1. Hey Sarah…great blog! Some really good examples of collaboration in the work you’ve done! I enjoyed the read as could relate to so much of what you said! Keep blogging! Carla

  2. Hey Sarah,
    I just wanted to say that I use the Community Disaster Resilience Scorecard as part of the Resilience Leadership workshops and people find it a very useful tool 🙂

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