Here is a very useful article written by Paul Born of the Tamarack Institute. It provides clear advice about how to create a common agenda for collaborative work that creates Collective Impact.
Paul clearly states that creating a common agenda for collaborative work must focus upon dialogue, engagement, involvement, exploration and creativity; it must be about not only constructing an efficient plan but also encouraging an effective creative process that helps 'everyone get on the same page' about what they are going to do together.
A tool I have created, which I call Doughnut Thinking, can help us do this. I describe it in detail here.
Paul's article also emphasises how crucial it is to effectively manage the first 12 months of a collaborative initiative. It is during this time that partners who are new to not only each other but also perhaps collaborative work in general can easily lose their way, their discussions nose-diving into ineffective inward looking talking-shops.
Sometime during this first 12 months (often about two or three months in) a collaborative initiative will enter a particularly sensitive and important phase. If the initiative is to achieve its potential and effectively achieve its goals, this phase needs to be carefully managed.
I call this the Latency Phase, and I describe the aspects crucial to managing it effectively here.
Additional to the aspects I mention above, Paul's article emphasises one more: the need to quickly develop the habit of looking outwards from the collaborative initiative towards the situations and contexts within which it is working and the people and communities whose lives it is seeking to enhance.
Paul emphasises the need for early and high-profile engagement with a broad range of people affected by a collaborative initiative's work, and he provides some ideas about how this may be done effectively.
Engaging with a broad range of people affected by a collaborative initiative's work (perhaps by arranging Unusual Suspects Festivals, etc.) helps avoid what I call the Carousel Syndrome.
For me, Paul's recommendation of Listening Teams (teams tasked with listening to and recording the stories, opinions and ideas of the people and communities surrounding a collaborative initiative) is especially important. This is because it achieves at least two crucial and closely connected things: 1. it sends a strong and consistent message to people that their stories and opinions (and involvement) are valued by the collaborative initiative and will be used to inform its work; 2. it forces a collaborative initiative to look outwards at the people and communities affected by its work, so minimising the chance of the initiative becoming an ineffective, inward looking talking shop.
Lastly, Paul mentions in passing that he is aware of the irony of writing a seemingly prescriptive 'How To' guide for developing a common agenda whilst arguing against the use of an overly prescriptive planning process. This comment is very significant, as it points to one of the paradoxes that lie at the heart of collaborative working: the need to be both predictable (which being prescriptive helps to achieve) and unpredictable (which being non-prescriptive helps to achieve).
One of the challenges of collaborative working is to be predictable enough to reassure key stakeholders and obtain funds, etc., but at the same time unpredictable enough to discover new and challenging solutions and innovations.
I give an example of how this paradox has been successfully managed here.
(There are 5 additional paradoxes that lie at the heart of collaborative working. These are described in my book Sleeping with the Enemy - Achieving Collaborative Success, where you will also find an explanation of the Doughnut Principle and guidance about how to manage the Latency Phase.)