Seeing Past Parallel Play: Survey Measures of Collaboration in Disaster Situations


Scott E. Robinson is an Associate Professor of Government and Public Service, Bush School, Texas A&M University.

Benjamin S. Gaddis is a Program Analyst in Office of the Inspector General, Office of Evaluation and Inspections, Department of Health and Human Services.


The literature on the management of policy networks has expanded greatly in the past decade. In spite of this attention, no consensus has emerged on how to measure collaboration or even what constitutes collaboration. This article uses data from a postdisaster survey to compare some existing approaches to measuring collaboration. We analyze various survey-based measures ranging from respondent-defined collaboration to activity-based or contact-based measures. We recommend that scholars consider opportunity costs as a key component in differentiating between significant collaboration and basic coordination (or “parallel play”). Based on this opportunity cost approach, we consider the distinctiveness of disaster collaboration.