The resilient rural backbone

Collaboration Guidelines


The Resilience to Natural Challenges Rural Co-creation Laboratory (RNC-rural) is a collaboration established in 2016 between several New Zealand research organisations (UC, Landcare, LU, Scion and Otago in no particular order). It is situated in a much larger, national research funding arrangement, structured by a hierarchically nested series of research contracts (see Figure 1 below). All these contracts require partnering with stakeholders, at the empowerment end of the engagement spectrum. RNC-rural is one of four RNC co-creation laboratories required to develop the science/user interface in the natural hazards context. The collaborative arrangements above the level of this programme have involved researchers, research organisations, and a research-funding agency. This has put the rural co-creation laboratory inside a structure that is not yet consistent with its primary goal – partnering with and empowering stakeholder partners. Including partners at every level of this research collaboration will help to drive the achievement of this goal.


To begin to develop criteria and protocols for RNC-rural we have drawn from boundary management, also called credibility/relevance/legitimacy (Cash et al. 2003), adaptive management (Boschetti et al. 2016) collaborative governance (Ansell & Gash 2008) and organisation theory (eg Verweij et al. 2014, Imperial & Koontz 2007). Three broad guidelines emerge from this literature. Cross-sector organisations have been found to be better able to adapt over time, and more likely to continue to achieve goals and outcomes when criteria for structure and function


  1. are collaboratively developed, and remain explicit, transparent and widely understood (Ansell & Gash 2008, Imperial & Koontz 2007).
  2. are as inclusive, or ‘wide’ as possible, to maximise flexibility and adaptive capacity over time (Verweij et al. 2014)
  3. inform processes and outputs that are consistently perceived to be scientifically credible, relevant to the needs and interests of all involved, and legitimate (fair and balanced) (Cash et al. 2003)


Current RNC-Rural members have collectively developed the following criteria and protocols as a guide for the future direction of this co-creation laboratory. These criteria do not exactly correspond to the current structure, and are not offered as a prescriptive set of rules, much less a legal framework. This programme is legally structured through RNC contractual arrangements. Instead these criteria have been developed as a first step in maximising the transparency and balance that has been found to lie at the heart of successful cross-sector collaborative organisations.


Figure 1: Rural Co-creation Laboratory in context
Figure 1: Rural Co-creation Laboratory in context


RNC-Rural decision making criteria and protocols are outlined in the following sequence:


  1. Membership/participation

1.1 Membership criteria

  • MEMBERSHIP – researchers
  • MEMBERSHIP – co-creation partners (RNC stakeholders)
  • AFFILIATION – other research initiatives
    • other RNC collaborative teams (toolboxes and laboratories)
    • other National Science Challenge initiatives
    • other research programmes/projects
  • AFFILIATION – co-creation partners

1.2 Cross-sector partner engagement

  • Protocols


  1. Structure & Strategy

2.1 Structure

  • Coordinating team membership level
  • Project team membership level

2.2 Strategy


  1. Function – allocation of tasks & responsibilities

3.1             Decision-making

3.2             Funding

3.3             Direct reporting on RNC-rural

3.4             Writing reports & peer reviewed articles re RNC-R research/activities

3.5             Profile/transparency

3.6            Mediation/accountability


  1. Territory



 1. Membership/participation

Figure 2: Rural Co-creation Laboratory membership and affiliation structure
Figure 2: Rural Co-creation Laboratory membership and affiliation structure



The criteria outlined below have been designed to clarify the membership structure of this collaboration, and the allocation of key tasks and responsibilities. The broad goal is to maximise balance – between research and other influences, between organisations and disciplines – and transparency. It has been established that the legitimacy of collaborations across disciplinary, organisational and sector boundaries relies heavily on:

  • the extent to which the collaboration balances the influence and interests of those involved at all levels and across all aspects of the collaboration, and
  • the extent to which this balance is obvious & demonstrable – which requires transparency across all aspects of the collaboration

Other goals include maximising inclusivity, and informal collaborative activity. Both are enabled by clear, transparent criteria concerning collaborative participation, as long as criteria remain as inclusive and flexible as possible, and open to change. To further these goals, the following criteria and protocols are provided:

  • as an early indication of a work in progress, as part of increasing transparency around the process of ongoing refining and adapting the collaboration as it develops (not to establish a rigid set of rules in perpetuity)
  • to clarify boundaries and potential for connection between RNC-rural collaborative activities and less formal networking outside the collaboration, such as discussions with potential affiliates, or with individuals and groups wishing to contribute to the collaboration without formally affiliating, briefing sessions with communities and organisations about the collaboration, and so on (not to delineate the only channels through which members and affiliates collaborate with others)


1.1  Membership criteria

RNC-rural coordinating team (coordinating team MEMBERSHIP)

The coordinating team is responsible for RNC-rural governance and strategic decisions.

Membership criteria include:

  • appearing by name in RNC-rural documents (workplan, contracts, wiki-page)
  • direct funding through RNC-rural contracts
  • an established relevant active research interest and track record
  • a demonstrable interest in, capacity to contribute to and/or uptake RNC-rural processes and outputs to increase rural resilience
  • established capacity for team-work and collaboration across disciplines, organisations and sectors
  • capacity to continue to actively participate in the coordinating team


As a result of discussions around the term stakeholder, the RNC-Rural team decided to use ‘co-creation partners’ to describe members drawn from outside the research domain. The goal is to include an appropriate range of co-creation partners as full team members with the same decision-making power as research partners. The broad qualifying criterion is a strong stake (including cultural, emotional, traditional, and/or financial) in the initiative. Obvious candidates included iwi, mana whenua,, local/regional/national government agencies, rural NGOs, private sector groups, etc.

All team members are required to work towards RNC-rural goals, to engage with others in good faith, and to account for obvious breaches of RNC-rural guidelines, those named in RNC work-plans and/or contracts will carry the greatest liability for RNC-rural performance. Members funded through those named in the contract include thesis students supervised by a coordinating team member (primary or associate).

Project team membership will overlap with both coordinating team membership, and also with membership of project initiative teams. Note that Project 1 consists of the Resilience Network and Reference Group initiative, which includes both the Kaikoura case study [2016-18], and a NI case study – [2017-2019]. Project 2 consists of the Model Build, Scenario Development initiative, which includes the Canterbury West Coast case study [2016-2018], and also the Hawkes Bay or Northland case study [2017-2019]). Project 3 concerns resilience to Wildfire.

(See section 3 below for the criteria concerned with the allocation of tasks and responsibilities at the core group and project specific levels).



In addition, RNC-rural collaborates with three broad categories of research affiliates: RNC research programmes, other research programmes, and other stakeholder groups. In all of these categories, affiliation will allow partial engagement with the programme, and may form a pathway either into or out of full membership (at project or coordinating group level). For those individuals, organisations and group lacking the time or capacity to become involved as a member, affiliation makes it possible to remain involved in communication networks, and to continue to be updated concerning upcoming activities, and the availability of tools to increase resilience.

Although affiliates will be invited to participate in decision-making on occasion, they will not have the same decision-making authority as full members.


Affiliated RNC co-creation laboratories and toolboxes

Many aspects of the RNC-Rural programme will involve collaboration with research and co-creation partners from other RNC programmes, including other co-creation laboratories (such as Matauranga Maori, and the Edge), and other toolboxes (such as the Distributed Infrastructure, Hazards and Resilient trajectories toolboxes).

These collaborations will be voluntary. Engagement with other projects will be on a case-by-case basis, with the emphasis on flexibility. Some of these collaborations, for example, mayl feature a formal structure and shared procedures, to be developed in collaboration with relevant laboratory and toolbox teams. This will be more likely where there is shared membership, and/or significant crossover through case studies. RNC-Rural has developed a shared collaboration protocol with both the Distributed Infrastructure and Hazards toolboxes over the Canterbury/West Coast and Kaikoura case studies, for example. Similarly, a strong shared research and co-creation focus is likely to require the development of collaboration guidelines with Rural and Edge co-creation laboratories. In these areas RNC-Rural will work together with other teams to develop decision-making criteria.


Affiliated research programmes/initiatives

Researchers and research programmes outside the Resilience to Nature’s Challenge programme that share membership and/or align closely with the goals and strategy of RNC-Rural (with for example a climate change focus) will be invited to collaborate as research affiliates.


Other co-creation affiliated partners

It is expected that there will be a wide range of potential affiliates across the many sectors, groups and organisations involved in rural activities. Affiliation will allow for occasional or partial engagement with the programme, and keep open pathways for membership (at project or coordinating group level). Affiliation will also help RNC-rural balance the risk of overburdening stakeholders against those associated with failing to engage. For many individuals, organisations and group lacking the time, capacity or interest required of members, affiliation offers the possibility of remaining involved in communication networks, making it possible to continue to be updated concerning upcoming activities, and the availability of resilience tools.


1.2 Cross Sector Partner Engagement



Engagement materials were to be worked through and agreed on with co-creation partners. These may include invitation emails, information sheets, and MOUs. In addition to clearly identifying the project aims, links with other projects, structure/function/ and governing values, engagement materials will need to:

  • make it clear that involvement is voluntary, and
  • that membership and affiliation will also be in the public domain (in case potential stakeholders are wary of being seen to be involved for any reason)
  • spell out what involvement in the project will involve – ie tasks and responsibilities, involvement in decision-making, whether decisions will rely on a majority or consensus view, what the costs and risks of involvement may be to stakeholders, any risks associated with involvement
  • make it clear that stakeholder members will be required to commit to (a version of) MOU/TOR documents
  • clarify who is currently involved in the project (which I expect is the current research team/ group of organisations) – and, once we get to the stage where stakeholders are signed up, who they are.


(See RNC-Rural information sheet for an example of collaboratively developed material)


  1. Structure & Strategy


RNC-Rural is part of a larger, nested hierarchical research funding arrangement. RNC is one of 11 national science challenges, all funded by and accountable to our largest research funding agency, MBIE. RNC-Rural is one of 10 ‘interim’ RNC sub-projects; UC is the lead institution, and RNC-Rural team leads join with other sub-programme leads to make up the governance group. The structure is situated in the research domain, and linked through this research funding/contractual structure (See Figure 1 above).


2.1 RNC-Rural Co-creation Laboratory structure


Inside the current RNC-R structure we have a lead research organisation, two team leads, leads and members from several linked research organisations, and four stakeholder representatives at the coordinating team level.

As a co-creation laboratory, RNC-Rural aims to include stakeholders at every level – ie in the coordinating team, in all project teams, and sub-project teams. The goal is to balance the influence and needs of researchers and stakeholders, across stakeholder organisations and groups, and between research institutions and disciplines. Evidence from environmental management and other fields suggests that maintaining this balance is required if knowledge is to be co-created by researchers and stakeholders. Without sufficient input from co-creation partners, research outputs are unlikely to be relevant to their needs.


Coordinating team MEMBERSHIP level

• Decision-making

Decision-making structures are as ‘flat’ as possible, given the tiered contractual funding structure. Every member of the coordinating team (including Ph D students and stakeholder representatives) has equal decision-making authority when it comes to strategy and governance decisions, including funding. The aim is to arrive at consensus, but a majority will be sufficient to carry decisions.

• Liability

Team leads named in contractual documents carry additional contractual liability (including reporting, milestones etc). All coordinating group members are liable for decisions to some extent, with the exception of Ph D student members. RNC-rural team supervisors will carry the liability for their contribution to RNC-rural decision-making, and will ensure that they are able to prioritise – and lead – their doctoral projects.

• Institutional and sector representation

Currently the work plan includes representation from several New Zealand research institutions. Co-creation partner representatives are included in the RNC-rural coordinating team. To remain agile this team needs to include those active in the programme; remain manageably small; and stay open to including new representation when/where appropriate (so keeping the door open to new and changing membership as needed).

As the team grows, an informal cap on representation may be necessary to retain this agility (for example from one-five from any one institution, group or sector). Shared or rotating formal membership roles and decision-making responsibility is also possible.


RNC-rural Project team (project-specific MEMBERSHIP) level

Criteria for RNC-rural project team membership are broadly the same as those for coordinating team membership. The detail (of research track records and demonstrable interests for example) will however be tailored for the specific project. All those involved in RNC-rural project teams are also considered full RNC-rural members, and all will be able and asked to contribute RNC-rural coordinating team decision-making where relevant. The bulk of decision-making authority/responsibility/liability falling to (members of) project teams, however, will concern the project they are involved in. This will apply in the same way at both broad project level (Rural network), and at sub-project level (eg Kaikoura case study, Canterbury-Westland case study).

Since the RNC-rural programme is contractually structured, and liability rests with the coordinating team for meeting milestones, the decision-making relationship between the coordinating team and teams specific to Projects 1 and 2 are partially devolved. Each project team will include a coordinating team member, and initiative teams will include a project team member. The goal is to minimise transaction costs and workload while maximising the effectiveness of the collaboration.

• decision-making specific to a project is almost entirely devolved to that project team
• each project team will include a coordinating team member (who will act as an information conduit with the coordinating team)
• decision-making around some tasks (such as media statements, presentations, emails to stakeholders etc) will require collaboration with the coordinating team (to ensure ‘no surprises’); the coordinating team retains the ability to veto decisions in this area
• RNC-rural team leads will have the capacity to veto project level decisions (if they judge that the relevant decision may put aspects of the programme at risk)


2.2 RNC-Rural Co-creation Laboratory STRATEGY

The RNC goal is: New Zealand is a nation of people who have transformed their lives, enterprises and communities to anticipate, adapt and thrive in the face of ever-changing nature’s challenges

RNC-rural goal: combining the above with the rural strategy: New Zealand’s rural communities and sectors have transformed to enhance rural resilience across social, ecological and economic domains, at multiple scales to help build a thriving future for our rural sector.

RNC-rural strategy: to fast-track resilient solutions for multiple natural hazards (including rural wildfire) into the New Zealand rural context by:

Brokering innovative solutions for enhancing the resilience of rural New Zealand, recognising its unique contribution to our national identity and its pivotal economic function, and building a resilient rural backbone via:
• Developing an integrated framework for assessing resilience to natural hazards (including rural wildfire ) across rural value chains: from households to regions and small to global-scale agribusinesses;
• Producing tools for resilience-interventions and defining opportunities, through comprehensive scenario activities (including rural wildfire) with key sectors, communities and regions; and
• Building a researcher-stakeholder co-creation team and outreach network as ‘honest brokers’ for policy and practice leadership via new networks and through chains of iwi, land care, disaster management and other farming, tourism and rural community initiatives.

3. Function – allocation tasks, liability, credit etc

A sequence of matrices/checklists was developed and workshopped to agree on criteria that will inform rules concerning the way tasks, liability and credit will be allocated within the collaboration, including for example:

3.1 Decision-making
3.2 Funding
3.3 Direct reporting on RNC-rural
3.4 Writing reports & peer reviewed articles re RNC-R research/activities
3.5 Profile/transparency
3.6 Mediation/accountability


3.1 Decision-Making – Protocols

RNC-Rural is structured by a series of nested research funding contracts. This creates several levels of focus and required decision-making. Decision-making reflects this structure in that for the most part it will be level specific.

Strategic and governance decisions require a majority or consensus of coordinating team members (every member’s vote carries equal weight). Where decisions have funding implications, team leads will have the ability to veto a majority or consensus decision, since they are liable for the consequences of budget decisions. All major coordinating team decisions will be recorded and made available in the public domain.

Project-specific decisions relating to Projects 1 & 2 will require a majority or consensus of the relevant project or initiative level team. When these decisions concern direct reporting into the public domain (including media interviews, or public presentations), or significant changes in funding, the team leads at the next coordinating level have the right of veto. Each project team has at least one coordinating team member, while every initiative team will have membership crossovers with project teams. These members across levels are responsible for flagging decisions up, to ensure ‘no surprises’, and to provide the opportunity for team leads to exercise their veto before the reporting decision is actioned (note that it is not anticipated that this veto will be exercised often, if at all).


3.2 Funding

Current RNC-Rural funding has largely been allocated already, in accordance with funding contracts. Some funding has been retained to be allocated to service the projects as needs arise. Major funding decisions will require a consensus of team members; more routine issues can be decided by a quorum or team leads.

The emphasis on developing networks has required a budget specifically allocated to ensure travel and networking activities. Discretionary funds for projects 1 and 2 are tied together, as these projects are more integrated, and have been co-built. Project 3 is more independent, with more discrete research objectives, and managed by Scion. All three projects fall within the common strategic objectives of the Rural team.

The goal has been to retain as much flexibility as possible.

There will be contestable funding rounds as the programme develops.


3.3 Reporting on RNC-Rural

Direct Reporting ‘up’

Team leads are responsible for quarterly reporting.

Reporting ‘out’

Reporting in the public domain can have a range of unintended consequences for cross-sector collaborations. It will be essential that reporting on RNC-Rural progress and activities will occur at a wide range of different more or less public forums and through different media. Broadly speaking, RNC-Rural will conduct such reporting within the wider RNC communications strategy.

When reporting specifically on RNC-Rural and related activities, RNC-Rural will develop and use a one pager list of relevant facts/information about the programme, and/or specific programme activities. This is to minimise surprises, and ensure that reporting is broadly collaborative – ie that the gist of material about to enter the public domain is shared with other team members before it goes live, and – at project team level – has been shared with the coordinating team (see above, decision-making, for reporting at project and sub-project level; see attached one pager developed for this purpose).

When reporting out, particularly in media interviews, but also in any forum attended by the media, significant deviations from this agreed material will be flagged with the coordinating team in advance of release (again, in the interests of minimising surprises).

If RNC-Rural is required to engage with the media after a major disaster event with significant rural impacts, this reporting protocol will be revisited. The goal after such an event would not be to replicate the research support roles of existing organisations (such as CRIs, or Geonet for example), but rather to leave open the possibility of incorporating collaborative research activity in support of impacted communities and regions, where appropriate, as part of the work plan.

RNC-Rural is also interested in hearing from other RNC teams, and Challenge leadership, prior to releases of information directly relating to RNC-Rural in the public domain.


3.4 Writing/Publishing Peer Reviewed Articles (RNC-R related)

Writing/publishing are an essential output of the collaboration, since they are a fundamental element in:

  • credit-sharing collaborative mechanisms
  • academic incentive regimes
  • scientific credibility benchmarking

The goal is to publish in a variety of outlets, to reach a range of different audiences. There are no standard established rules concerning co-authorship (although there are some benchmark agreements, each discipline/major journal still tends to have standard rules that differ – see

This makes it important to develop agreed transparent criteria used to decide authorship questions.

‘Flat’ authorship approach

RNC-rural publications will be written collaboratively, with the order of authorship reflecting the amount of work contributed by each author. The first author will be responsible for the bulk of the writing. It is expected that most authors on RNC-Rural publications and outputs will be members; it is also likely that affiliates will be invited to participate as authors where appropriate.

Inclusive approach to authorship

Since this research project is strongly focused on developing collaborative networks, the goal will be to include the number of authors that best represents the relevant collaboration. This is likely to mean including co-creation partners with no previous research authorship experience, and also where relevant affiliated partners. This approach to authorship has been designed to ensure:

  • a record in publication meta-data reflecting the cross-sector collaboration involved
  • as wide a credit-share as possible, helping to build the collaboration
  • practitioner authors, making publications more attractive to practitioners, and others not familiar with research publications


Thesis students (eg Ph Ds, Masters etc)

Thesis student members publishing as part of their degree will have the flexibility to decide authorship without having regard to the RNC-Rural collaboration – this will be the priority.

Authorship is voluntary

RNC-Rural members can choose as to whether they wish to feature on any publication concerning RNC-Rural research projects, or activities. Authorship is strictly voluntary – no member can be required to appear as author on any publication.

Publication no-surprises approach

Peer reviewed articles are considered part of ‘reporting out’. All RNC-rural members will have the opportunity to consider and comment on publications before they enter the public domain.


3.5 Transparency/Profile

To demonstrate and sustain the legitimacy of the collaboration, RNC-Rural members will:

  • Consistently use the rural logo and acknowledgement of membership of RNC-R on communications (emails, online docs, other communications etc) (to be provided by the RNC manager)
  • Post online finalised terms of reference (that will provide broad guidelines), detailed decision-making criteria, structure and protocols in an instantly recognisable and easily accessible document.
  • Ensure that all decisions and collaborative developments are posted in the same place as soon as they are finalised.


3.6 Mediation/Accountability Measures

Issues may arise that create the perception that decisions/actions/outputs have not been fair or balanced. A range of transparent mediation and accountability measures will be required to effectively engage with these issues early, to ensure that the legitimacy of the collaboration is not compromised. All issues will be taken seriously, as important opportunities to increase the legitimacy of the collaboration. Complaints and outcomes can be made transparent, but the priority will be ensuring that the complainant is protected (complainants will be talked through the risks of transparency, and given the opportunity to request confidentiality). The following escalation pathway reflects the hierarchical structure of the National Science Challenge funding arrangement:

  1. Level 1: The goal is for an RNC-rural website that will invite comment and queries, providing a transparent entry-level response (as in a statement inviting comment – via email or phone call to a member or members). In the event that an issue is raised, a quorum (a majority) of members will take this as an opportunity to revisit the decision that gave rise to the complaint. After discussing the complaint, and agreeing on a response, a member will respond with the outcome of the decision (which may be a change to address the issue, or an explanation of why change was discussed, but not made).
  2. Level 2: Complainants unhappy with the response to their initial enquiry will be invited to request (via a dedicated email address, which will go to all coordinating team members) that RNC-Rural arrange a meeting with a quorum of the coordinating group, mediated by an independent party, to discuss the issue in person. This will be held within seven working days, and the outcome reported online (unless the complainant requests that it remain confidential).
  3. Level 3: If the mediated meeting fails to address the issue to the satisfaction of the complainant, they will be invited to write a formal letter of complaint to the challenge director.
  4. Level 4: Issues not resolved at the level of the challenge director may be escalated to the GNS CEO.
  5. Level 5: The highest level of this escalation pathway is to MBIE, as research funding agency. 

4. Territory

Territorial boundaries relate to the geographic distribution of

  • the collaborative organisation (collaborative organisations and individuals), and
  • collaborative activity (research and stakeholder engagement).

Rationale – the co-creation of knowledge of rural resilience is most effective when it relates to a particular region or place. It has also been established that there is a direct relationship between the density and spread of networks within regions, and the social capital that gives those regions more resilience. Collaborative initiatives aiming to develop rural resilience through the development of knowledge of resilience in rural areas must rely on:

  • building on existing networks
  • the capacity of those involved to join in on a regular basis (accessibility)
  • developing co-created knowledge specific to a particular region, and of particular use to that region

This is particularly true after disasters.



The RNC co-creation laboratories have been set up to increase the density of resilience networks in different broad New Zealand regions, collectively covering a large proportion of the country. Matauranga Maori is a national laboratory. The Edge is based in Auckland and Wellington. It is focused on, and particularly active within the east coast of the north island. The Urban co-creation laboratory is also based in Auckland, and focused on Auckland. The Rural Co-creation Laboratory is the only Laboratory currently based in and focused on the South Island.

In the first instance, it is expected that early Coordinating and Project team membership and projects will be focused in the South Island, representing South Island institutions and co-creation partners.

The plan, however, is to extend this membership over time, in order to incorporate North Island members & affiliates. This will be particularly important once planning for the North Island case studies begins. It will also be essential if RNC-Rural is called on to support agencies after major hazard events in rural parts of the north island. To be effective, such support needs to be provided in collaboration with local research organisations and partners.



Questions or comments about the RNC-rural programme can be sent to Thomas Wilson ( or Nicholas Cradock-Henry (

Questions or comments about the collaborative development of the guidelines can be sent to Sarah Beaven (