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First Meeting

Once you have identified your collaboration partner(s) and established whether you will be needing a terms of reference agreement between each organisation involved, you are ready to start collaborating! The first step in getting started should be to plan the first meeting.

If you are launching a large collaboration, it is worth considering planning an agenda for the first meeting and choosing someone to be a neutral facilitator. A clear agenda will ensure that all the objectives and tasks for the meeting are discussed, whilst a facilitator can help make sure the meeting runs smoothly by leading the discussion, ensuring it is productive and communication is open. You may also want to assign someone to take detailed minutes, to ensure that the decisions made at the meeting are recorded for everyone attending and those who are unable to attend. You could also consider recording the meeting if it is online.

The agenda for your first meeting could be similar to the following example:

1.     Introductions: Make sure everyone knows each other before starting.

2.     Objectives: Outline the strategies or steps that the collaboration will take in order to achieve goals or specific outcomes.

3.     Roles: Assign positions and roles so that each individual or subgroup within the collaboration has someone to report to and knows what they are responsible for. For example, one person may be assigned to manage the financial records, or a group may be formed to organise fundraising events.

4.     Areas of work: Decide which areas of work you will be focusing on in order to meet your objectives.

5.     Delegation of work: Individuals should focus on areas where they have specialist knowledge or feel comfortable exploring. It is important to recognise that there will always be overlap between individuals’ work, so think carefully about delegating to minimise duplication of work and avoid wasting resources.

6.     Planning: Set some timelines and plan future meetings for the upcoming year, to ensure that each organisation is working towards the same deadlines.

It is important that you communicate effectively at these meetings, whether face-to-face or online. If you are not able to meet in person, consider video apps such as Zoom, Teams or Google Meet, rather than phone calls and emails. Remember to be open, honest and transparent!

Navigating Potential Issues

No collaboration will be without its potential issues and as the collaboration progresses, you may find it necessary to come up with solutions for a variety of challenges. A common issue is sources of funding, as it is often difficult to attract funding for rare diseases. It may be appropriate to assign someone to manage the financial records for the collaboration and ensure that everyone is sticking to the budget. You may also want to form a subgroup to organise fundraising events. Additionally, as previously mentioned, you may face difficulties accessing funding if a legally binding agreement is not in place.

As a result of limited funding, a large proportion of the collaboration team may be volunteers. With multiple commitments, some volunteers may be working part-time and so it is important to share calendars and communicate effectively between organisations, to ensure it is clear when individuals are available and working. You may also want to consider organising a training session on how to handover effectively and smoothly.

A good understanding of the challenges individuals or your partner organisation(s) might face can help you try to minimise their impact. Some top tips for navigating potential issues include:

  • Be adaptable and flexible: Try to maintain flexibility and adapt to new working environments or routines.
  • Relationships are key: Encourage people within the collaboration to get to know each other, so that everyone feels comfortable acknowledging and solving issues together. Encourage casual chat, socials and video calls rather than formal phone calls or emails.
  • Communication is key: Try to ensure that communication is clear, open, and honest throughout the whole collaboration process. Listen to others and allow for constructive discussions to make sure that each person knows their views are heard and no one feels that their toes are being stepped on.
  • Recognise the collaboration’s resource capabilities: Recognise the differences in resource levels of each organisation involved. Try to ensure that everyone has a role and voice, but that no organisation is asked to contribute above their means. By recognising both the value and limitations of each group and accounting for it fairly, you will have a much better chance of success.