To do the latter two things effectively, it is important to think imaginatively about what potential partners may be able to contribute to a collaboration; they may be resource poor in a traditional sense but able to offer other things of value (e.g., personal experience of an issue, credibility within a community, or expertise in an historically under-valued occupation).
Here are some specific approaches you can use to reach out to potential partners:
- Use the Snowballing Technique: always ask existing partners and contacts if they can identify other people or organisations that could contribute to a collaboration's work. Reach out to not only potential partners but also the "families" of potential partners: their surrounding networks of contacts. (Also see creating ever-increasing triangles of trust and influence).
- Ask the following questions: Who is not being invited to work with a collaboration? Are there any people or organisations that existing partners feel very uncomfortable about including in a collaboration's work? Why is this? Are the reasons valid? Or are they based upon unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting (e.g., adherence to outdated traditions, an instinctive need to maintain power, inaccurate stereo-types, false assumptions, etc.)? Should these unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting be challenged? Would reaching out to these previously "untouchable" people and organisations provide significant benefits to a collaboration (e.g., enhanced perceptions of a collaboration's inclusivity and credibility)? (Also see challenge taboo triangles)
- Search for a collaboration's relationship blind spots. Sometimes, potential partners and other possible contributors are hidden within unacknowledged relationship blind spots that cause people and organisations to be consistently forgotten and overlooked (e.g., not consulted, not asked to contribute, not offered a seat at the table). These blind spots are often the outcome of unspoken "ugly laws": unspoken negative perceptions of others (based upon inaccurate assumptions and superficial prejudices) that strongly encourage the exclusion of specific people, communities and organisations, etc. Find these blind spots and bring them to the attention of a collaboration. Explore why they exist and how curing them could be beneficial for all concerned.
- Create easy access points. Create real-world and virtual access points that partners and potential partners can access easily and feel comfortable using. Place real-world access points in areas convenient for and known to the people you are trying to reach. Also, ensure that access points are staffed by credible people who can offer accurate information and reliable services. Locate your virtual access points within social media and other areas of the Internet that your partners and potential partners use often. Create a regular series of scouting meetings that offer potential partners and others with an interest in a collaboration's work the opportunity to attend, gain updates about a collaboration's work, offer observations and suggestions for improvement, and contribute ideas about how they may be able to help.
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