Comment by Andrea Schneider
Christina Jordan said:
There's a lot of talk lately in the Social Change circles I hang out with online about "collaboration" and the need for more of it in our sector. But are we on the same page about what collaboration means?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines collaborate as a verb meaning To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
That definition resonates with me to a certain point. Yes, it is extremely useful to think things through together, and to learn from each others' experiences. In this connected day and age, I'd even venture that it's silly for change agents not to seek intellectual input on their ideas. But I find myself wanting more action in how collaboration in our sector pans out. I want collaboration in our sector to mean taking cooperative, collective action for greater social impact.
Am I alone in wanting that? Is that asking too much? More importantly, perhaps, what does (or could) that desired definition of collaboration actually look like in practical terms? Will greater social impact be achieved if collaboration is intentionally better defined, structured and incentivized in the new social economy? Or is collaboration that's more loosely structured (ie, thinking things through together) as far as we need to go to see our impact as a sector increase over time?
I'd love for us to explore this.
- What does the term "collaboration" mean to you when it's applied to your thinking about Social Change?
- Can you share good or bad examples of collaboration in the Social Change sector that you've participated in or admired?
- Is collaboration more effective when it's structured or unstructured?
- Does collaboration ever fail to increase social impact? If yes, what are the factors that lead to failure?
- What are the biggest incentives for collaborating? The biggest deterrents?
- Is there a pattern of factors that lead to successfull collaboration?
I look very much forward to reading your thoughts.
You have asked excellent questions. Each one deserves a thoughtful response. I was fortunate to receive a $3M HHS Community Partnership grant to focus on many of your questions. We went after "what does collaboration, partnership and alliance building mean, how does it actually work, can it be replicated, how can it become a practice, what matters, and how to measure meaningful results. All of this work was done in Santa Clara County, CA with very diverse populations with very different issues.
The term collaboration was being used a lot in the United States and our group did not know what it really meant, past getting people to a table...We wanted to know a lot more about how it worked with real communities, addressing serious community issues.
Among other things, we wanted to know if collaboration was sustainable, how issues of power and control could be handled, what about conflict, could you plan for collaborative results, how can we evaluate it?
We used some of the grant money to put together an intermediary organization, to answer these and other questions. We looked at the subject for 5 years.
Here are a few critical results:
- Leadership: need a champion of the issue who pulls other people
- The core leadership group needs to make sure the initial invitations include, not only supporters, but those that will make trouble, if they aren't included from the beginning
- The issue has to be compelling or people won't come back.
- An image statement which is bigger than life, but imaginable, is absolutely necessary, must be wordsmithed or people will disengage at that point
- It does require structure, process, planning and outcomes to effect in social change
- The planning process must be action oriented and move fairly quickly
- Leveraging resources matters, as does sharing credit and leadership
- Planning with results in mind is not only a great process, it sets up the evaluation process with the group
- Writing up the story, making it concrete and giving it to the group is essential
- Creating capacity, throughout the collaborative process, is purposeful, ongoing and always leaves the group better off. If we do a good job of teaching and capacity building, the group will be empowered and go on without the facilitator
- Effective collaboration models need a neutral facilitator to get going
I could write about this for a long time. I'm sure other people can add to this list. We were working towards best practices, found some, and like so much work, can get lost as time goes on.
I have found this work to be continually relevant, very useful and effective in many settings. I used this work to evaluate all of the innovative Community Policing grants at COPS in the Justice Department, to help a CA town solve a major problem and am now applying this work to effective social networking models.
I hope this was helpful.
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