The Collaboration Lab

Determining the role of collaboration in transforming management of land and water

Project Details Ngā taipitopito

Project Status:
Challenge funding:
Research duration:
November 2016 – June 2019

Collaborators Ngā haumi

AgResearch | Australia National University | Cawthron Institute | Cultivate Partners | ESR | Kahungunu ki Wairarapa | Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research | Plant & Food Research | University Of Otago

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What are we doing?E aha ana mātou?

In New Zealand, adversarial processes have dominated natural resource decision-making processes, leading to stalemate and inaction. The magnitude and complexity of the challenges for New Zealand’s land and water require science and society to interact in new ways. One of these new ways of working is collaboration.

Social science over the past 20 years has emphasised the importance of collaboration for achieving successful outcomes in complex systems. However, there is insufficient long-term evaluation of collaborative approaches, a lack of information about Māori participation in collaborative processes, and a scarcity of studies on how researchers undertake interdisciplinary research. This means collaboration has proven very difficult in practice.

The Collaboration Lab programme aimed to address these gaps. The Collaboration Lab developed case studies from the best collaborations occurring throughout New Zealand, to understand collaborative practice and how to build collaborative capacity. The Collaboration Lab also investigated collaborative policy-making processes, Māori models of engagement, and the impact of transdisciplinary research approaches.

Our goal is for citizens and scientists to be more effective in participating in collaborations, for policy-makers to have greater understanding about how and when to use collaborative processes, and for science research team collaborations to be more effective.

How can the research be used? Ka pēhea e whai take ai te rangahau?

  • The Collaboration Lab developed a practical model of what conditions, capabilities and resourcing are necessary for collaboration to be successful, to be used in designing, evaluating or improving collaborative processes. This model was co-developed with collaboration practitioners across New Zealand. See the key variables diagram.
  • This research is being developed into some practical resources for helping collaborative processes and practices.
  • Community confidence and participation in environmental management decisions were measured in three regions using collaborative policy-making processes (Northland, Waikato, Hawkes Bay). Collaboration Lab researchers found that residents perceived water management decision-making to be slightly more responsive to their concerns, but no more effective or fair. This tells us more needs to be done to make communities aware of collaborative processes in their catchment, and ensure participants are representative of their communities.
  • Members of The Collaboration Lab team developed a model for collaboration based on pōwhiri, to support collaborations with iwi, hapu and Māori communities. The model has been tested and validated by iwi groups, including Nga Rangatahi A Iwi, a group of young Māori future leaders, and will be refined. Watch the video here, or read more in Powhiri as a Tool for Collaboration (PDF).
  • The Collaboration Lab used New Zealand case studies to test the I2S (Integration and Implementation Science) Framework. A significant relationship was found, suggesting that when more elements of the I2S Framework were used in research, end-users found the results more usable, and the research was more effective. This evidence supports Our Land and Water’s commitment to co-innovation and transdisciplinary research and can help researchers. Read the abstract here.
  • Co-innovation across the full Our Land and Water research programme is supported via Collaboration Lab workshops and training in integrated and transdisciplinary research practice. Half of the journal publications published or submitted by Our Land and Water researchers had stakeholders as co-authors by mid-2018, and frequency of collaboration increased by 66% (from 1.6 to 2.6 institutes per research programme). Challenge-funded programmes maintain an average of 5.3 collaborations.

Participation & engagement Te hunga i whai wāhi mai

  • The Collaboration Lab was itself a collaborative project, which connected with about 150 people through its research.
  • The research was guided by the problems and questions facing 37 New Zealanders using collaboration practices in their work. Of these, 16 participated in a collaborative group (2017–2018). You can explore their connections and read and watch conversations about their collaborative practises at the Starmap. Read about how this was developed in Making Practice Visible (PDF, draft). The Collaboration Lab practitioners group continues to build one another’s collaboration capabilities at the Koaro website.
  • A dissemination symposium was held for Southland, in collaboration with Environment Southland and Department of Conservation (DoC).
  • A Collaboration Counterfactual symposium asking when not to use collaboration was held with 20 individuals with experience in collaboration, from AgResearch, Department of Conservation, Deer Industry New Zealand, Manaaki Whenua, Environment Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Ravensdown, DairyNZ, ESR and Australia National University.
  • Collaboration Lab researchers developed a useful tool for transdisciplinary research called the Outcome Spaces Framework. An Outcome Spaces Framework workshop to test the tool was held for the four environmental National Science Challenges: Our Land and Water, Biological Heritage, Deep South and Resilience to Nature’s Challenges.
  • The Collaboration Lab convened a New Zealand co-conference of the International Transdisciplinarity Conference 2017 in Leuphana, Germany. View the presentations from the conference here.
  • Public lecture to University of Third Age on collaboration and social licence to farm in New Zealand.
  • Public workshop on collaborative practice.

Research team Te hunga i whai wāhi mai

Research Lead
Melissa Robson-Williams
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research
Bruce Small
Graeme Nicholas
Suzie Greenhalgh
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research
Nicholas Kirk
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research
Jim Sinner
Cawthron Institute
Roger Robson-Williams
Plant & Food Research
Jeff Foote
Otago University
Ronlyn Duncan
Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research
Gabriele Bammer
Australian National University
Rawiri Smith
Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa
Kahungunu Ki Wairarapa
Phillip Barker
Glen Lauder
Whatahoro Cribb-Fox

Tools & resources Ngā utauta me ngā rauemi


Think ‘Outside the Room’ When Collaborating with Community

Involving small groups of community members in local government decisions doesn’t mean the wider community will trust those decisions. Increasing trust may require engagement with…
View Guidance

Outcome Spaces Framework

A practical framework to plan for preferred outcomes in transdisciplinary projects. The outcome is a map that compiles the project outcomes expected by the collective…
View Method

Can the Integration and Implementation Science framework support better research for land and water policy?

New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society Conference, December 2019
View Presentation

Enabling Collaborative Practice: Key Variables for Design, Evaluation or Trouble Shooting Collaborative Practice

This 2-page PDF is suitable for practitioners and decision-makers to print and use. It describes the conditions, capabilities and capacities that influence the success of…
View Infographic

Framework for Building and Improving Collaboration

A visual summary of questions for designing and reviewing collaborations.
View Infographic

Powhiri as a tool for Collaboration

Insight into how all New Zealanders can use the elements of Powhiri as a guide for collaborations, creatively told through film.
View Video

Academic outputs He whakaputanga ngaio

Journal Article

Enabling collaborative practices

What conditions, capabilities and capacities influence the success of collaborative processes? This paper summarises the methodology and findings of research to discover key factors affecting…
View Journal Article
Journal Article

Co-innovation and Integration and Implementation Sciences: Measuring their research impact – examination of five New Zealand primary sector case studies

The Primary Innovation programme investigated co-innovation to solve complex agricultural problems in five New Zealand primary sector projects. The projects engaged diverse stakeholders using a…
View Journal Article
Journal Article

Where to for collaboration in land and water policy development in Aotearoa NZ? Guidance for authorising agencies

For the past decade, collaboration has been the preferred method of devising land and water policy in Aotearoa NZ to achieve agreed outcomes. However, the…
View Journal Article
Journal Article

Handrails through the Swamp? A Pilot to Test the Integration and Implementation Science Framework in Complex Real-World Research

The socio-environmental challenges the world faces are ‘swamps’: situations that are messy, complex, and uncertain. The aim of this paper is to help disciplinary scientists…
View Journal Article
Journal Article

Designing transdisciplinary projects for collaborative policy-making: The Integration and Implementation Sciences framework as a tool for reflection

Collaborative policy-making has increased in New Zealand, and with it has brought new demands for supporting research. As a tool for reflection of projects where…
View Journal Article
Journal Article

Interpreting practice: Producing practical wisdom from qualitative study of practitioner experience

This paper discusses methodological challenges in researching practice. The primary challenge arises from the view that practice is inextricable from its performance, and that performance…
View Journal Article

In the media Mai i te ao pāpaho

LG magazine (page 37), September 2020
“Collaborative processes typically have involved getting 20 to 30 people in a room for discussion. Our research tells us this way of thinking about collaboration is too narrow.”
Integration and Implementation Insights, 16 July 2019
Helen Percy offers her insight into what co-innovation is, and how it can be applied in practice in a research project.
Integration and Implementation Insights, 26 January 2017
A lesson learnt for boundary setting was that starting with what the community wants leads to a much broader array of desirable outcomes and exposes the limitations of what can be predicted.
Integration and Implementation Insights, 8 December 2016
Bringing people together around an issue such as water through a powhiri process can mean mana is recognised. Not only is the mana of the participants considered, but the mana of water and the mana of the issues related to water are considered too.

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