What Is A Collaborative?

collaboration graphic

Collaboratives are gaining popularity as a way to drive breakthrough improvement in a specific topic area. But what exactly is a collaborative? 

Breakthrough Collaboratives 101

A collaborative is not just a training program; it is a change management and process improvement initiative that includes team learning.

Participating organizations build their own capacity for continuous improvement and spread best practices from one site to many.

Topics for collaboratives vary but typically focus on healthcare practices where a gap has been identified between knowledge and practice such as chronic pain care. Samueli Institute developed the collaborative programs in partnership with a leader in promoting change in healthcare, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).

As shown in the graphic, a Breakthrough Collaborative uses a systematic approach to health care quality improvement in which organizations and providers test and measure innovations and then share their experiences in an effort to accelerate learning and widespread implementation of best practices.Collab_Samueli-infographic-April-2015-WEB600x600

The Details

A collaborative involves organizations working together at a high level of intensity for a specific period of time, typically 6-18 months.

During that time, the group participates in learning sessions, and maintains continual contact with each other and faculty members via selected in person site visits, over the phone through conference calls and online with webinars, a listserv and a dedicated website.

Teams are led by an expert faculty who guide and mentor participants throughout the process.

How Change Happens

The first learning session focuses on learning state of the art ideas, best practice methodology and approaches, measurements, and creating a customized plan for breakthrough organizational improvement through rapid cycle tests of change.

Action periods are the time between learning sessions where implementation occurs. Teams work within their organization to perform rapid cycle testing and implement changes toward major breakthrough improvements.

Although participants focus on their own organizations, they remain in continuous contact with the other collaborative participants and faculty. Teams share the results of their improvement efforts in monthly reports and also participate in shared learning through communication channels such as conference calls, e-mail discussion groups, webinars, and a web-based data-sharing platform, the Extranet

Participation in action periods is not limited to those who attend the learning sessions, but includes all other organizational team members and supporters.

The second learning session explores results among the participants, and participants will learn how top-performers achieved their outcomes.

Rapid-Cycle Change Continues

Teams then focus on additional rapid-cycle tests of change during the second action period and convene at a third learning session to share what has been learned, and to create a plan for organizational spread with the successful changes that were made.


Samueli Institute’s Chronic Pain Breakthrough Collaborative is currently seeking enrollment. Learn more.