Building Your Business
Importance of an Effective Facilitator in Building a Collaborative Network

5 August 2014

By Ann McIlroy (BioBusiness), Dr Peter Donnelly (BioBusiness & DkIT) & Fiona Oster (DkIT)

Cluster development has been shown to be an important economic infrastructure mechanism for increasing the innovation and competitiveness of a region. Collaborations between various stakeholders with different and unique capabilities are required to deliver a solution. In Life and Health Sciences the stakeholder groups are often academics, businesses and clinicians (ABC).

Many components are required for a successful collaborative network project to deliver the outputs anticipated, including trust between participants, identified clinical need, financial support and aligned business support. One of the most important elements in a collaborative network is the role of an independent, knowledgeable and skilled facilitator. Research has shown that many collaborative network projects in the life and health sciences sector have been undertaken with ABC participants. While participants may have different motivations and expectations of success, a core requirement of any collaborative project is that it is industry-led. Facilitation skills must be demonstrated including the ability to communicate, the ability to manage and lead a group, the skill to actively listen and use effective questioning techniques, and the capability to easily resolve conflicts or misunderstanding. A facilitator knows how to hear not just the words but the thought or the message and responds appropriately.

The facilitator should have a friendly and honest disposition. Project management skills are also an asset of an effective facilitator who knows very well how to motivate and empower the network members to bring out the best in them and evenly delegates tasks to each participant. The facilitator must be patient and persevering in order to appreciate and understand the difficulties of the network and also to have determination in seeing a task accomplished and the objectives achieved. Each ABC network is as different as the people who make it up.

The facilitator requires the ability to adapt and to fit changing conditions and opportunities. A network facilitator must establish a collaborative relationship with participants, in which the facilitator is "first among equals", however, responsibility for learning must always rest with the collaborative network itself.

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