The latest version of my book Achieving Collaborative Success is now freely available to read and download. Click on my picture to get it.

Friday 28 March 2014

Starting a new collaboration? Seven actions to guide your first steps

Here is a great example of a collaborative initiative involving police, mental health agencies and the public. We can learn some great lessons from it:

Three things immediately stood out for me:

  1. There was enthusiastic support for the initiative from the senior, high profile leaders of the partner agencies and groups involved. In the case of the police chief this enthusiasm was clearly targeted at welcoming not only engagement but also even greater transparency.
  2. The point was clearly made that the issues (in this case those of mental health), directly affected everyone involved in the collaboration, including those serving in the police.
  3. The importance of the collaboration was emphasised through sharing stories and experiences from those who had suffered as a result of mental health issues.   

These three actions sought to not only gain people's understanding and involvement but also create empathy and enthusiasm for what many people find a difficult area to acknowledge and discuss. 

In addition, the collaboration also:

  1. Got things off to a strong start with a high profile event involving all partners.
  2. Committed to creating a shared space for data and information that all partners could access.
  3. Identified and acknowledged existing good practice and emphasised the importance of sharing it, adding to it and encouraging its use.
  4. Emphasised the importance of researching the current situation and measuring the impact of mental health issues upon police activity and time. 

These four actions, together with the first three described above, helped build strong foundations upon which the new collaboration could be built.

Anyone deciding upon the first steps of a collaborative initiative will find them useful to consider.

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition



Sunday 23 March 2014

What is the long-term future of partnership and collaborative working?

What do you think the future shape of partnership working will be, say in the next 5 to 10 years?

My thoughts, in no particular order, are:

It will become more fragmented with partnerships having to take on increasingly diverse forms, roles and partners in order to interact effectively with the ever more complex world they operate within. We will enter an era of 'patchwork partnering', with partnerships less worried about form and more about substance, about getting the right resources and people together at the right time in order to achieve the right things.   
The more diverse and fragmented partnership working becomes the more diverse and widespread will become the opportunities for conflict. Strong but diverse partnerships will naturally come into conflict with each other, competing with each other for resources, new opportunities, supporters and 'breathing space'. 'Councils of Partnership Leaders' will be created in an attempt to manage an increasingly complex and volatile collaborative environment. This will lead to the formation of 'partnerships of partnerships'.
Partnerships and collaborations will form, operate and disperse very quickly, mirroring a world that is no longer slowly evolving but aggressively mutating into something new.
Cloud or 'virtual' partnerships will operate globally to solve significant issues and problems locally or nationally.
New, group-orientated approaches to communication, decision making and the leadership of partnerships will be adopted. (Flock Thinking is one approach that will become increasingly popular.)
Partnerships will make way for cooperative social enterprises (this is already happening) and a business ethos will dominate their approaches. This will be accompanied by a greater awareness of the power and importance of publicity in gaining political influence and support. Social enterprises will grow in power and become as politically and economically influential as banks and other 'big business'.
A new breed of collaborative worker will appear. They will have highly developed skills in creative thinking and problem solving. In essence, they will be triple rather than binary thinkers. They will not think in terms of right or wrong, or good or bad. They will think in terms of right, wrong and 'maybe'. They will identify what is new, interesting or unique about a situation and find ways to exploit it.
Partnerships will seek to engage with and involve those they are trying to help. They will focus on local accountability and involvement, but find that increasingly scarce resources and pressure to achieve economies of scale hinder their progress. This is where the triple thinking abilities of the new collaborative worker, and the meditation skills of the 'Council of Leaders', will demonstrate their value.
Partnerships will begin to label themselves positively rather than negatively. They will no longer describe themselves as solving difficult issues and problems, but as the pioneers of more advanced thinking and the early adopters of new and improved systems and methods.      
As collaborative working can be expensive and risky 'partnership proofing' will become the norm. Before any collaborative initiative is entered into potential partners will ask themselves if the outcomes envisaged can be delivered collaboratively. They will find out if all the significant stakeholders engage with and own the initiative. They will ask if they and others are ready, willing and able to work in partnership. If the answer to any of these questions is no they will postpone or cancel their involvement.

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition


Sunday 16 March 2014

How do you know your partnership is making a difference?

This is a question I have been trying to answer for the past few weeks (if not years!).

Whilst doing some research I found the following resource from the University of Wisconsin:

Even though it was written 16 years ago it is one of the best pieces of guidance I have come across for evaluating the processes and effectiveness of partnerships and collaborations; have a look.

Two of the areas covered by the manual stick in my mind:
  1. The use of 'if/then' modelling to plan out what your partnership is going to do and the effects you expect it to have, which can then be compared with what actually happens as your partnership progresses and goes about its work.
  2. Breaking down the concept of outcomes, the effects you want your partnership to have on people, the environment and situation etc., into immediate, intermediate and long term outcomes. This creates and highlights an audit trail of effects that can be traced back to the activities of your partnership, so adding credibility to your claims that it is directly contributing to positive impacts.
The second point is particularly important if your partnership has a 'Payments by Results' contract with a client. This type of contract, in the UK at least, is becoming increasingly common.  
For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition

Saturday 8 March 2014

What sort of relationships do you need with other organisations?

Do they need to be full on partnerships or something less? Best to be sure - and also make certain that the organisations you are engaging with know what you have in mind (and that they agree with it).

If one partner expects an equal relationship and another assumes they have a greater say in things then you have all the ingredients for a nasty tasting dish of disaster.

Similarly, if the word partnership is used when what is really meant is a glorified type of consultation, misunderstandings, heart ache and a swift divorce from a meaningless marriage are likely to follow.

I have found that the following simple model, based on the work of Educe Ltd, helps organisations to explore and clarify the exact level of relationship they require with others:
Couldn’t care less (I’ll do as I like)

Coexisting (You stay on your turf and I’ll stay on mine)

Co-operating (I’ll lend you a hand when my work is done)

Co-ordinating (We need to adjust what we do to avoid overlap and confusion)

Collaborating (let’s work on this together)

Co-owning (We feel totally responsible)

Combining (we becomes I) 
What type or level of relationship is really needed at any given time during your work with other organisations? Do you need a relationship at all?

How might the level of relationship change as the nature of your engagement changes, matures or declines?

Might you need different levels of relationship within different parts or levels of your collaborative ventures?

Are all those involved clear about the levels of relationship required at any given time? Or is friction being caused by mismatches of expectation?

Make the level of relationship clear to all and avoid the disappointment of mutually frustrating encounters.

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition

Monday 3 March 2014

7 principles of engagement and creative collaboration

Here is a great example, from Annemarie Borg and the Antara Project, of how software can help you engage and connect with people:

There a six key principles at work here:

  1. It is easy for people to make comments (they can do so as they listen).
  2. People can post comments individually and without interruption.
  3. All comments, however brief, are acknowledged and visible.
  4. The maker of the content is open to and welcoming of all comments.
  5. It is easy to share the content and the comments.
  6. The content (in this case the music) has an overall vision or message that is appealing to listeners and which encourages them to make comments.    

Making participation easy, providing individual space for people to consider and make their contributions, being transparent, welcoming all comments, making it easy to spread the message and providing an inspiring vision are all essential for effectively engaging with people and encouraging them to participate. This is true for not only software but also face-to-face and other means of interaction.

To progress from engagement to creative collaboration it would be conceivable to add a 7th key principle, that of widened ownership. Visitors to the above website could be invited to 'play'  with the music, to rearrange and remix it in all manner of creative and surprising ways. People could then make comments on these new versions in the same way as for the original. 

This process would get complicated, with many 'owners' of many versions (true collaboration is always complicated in one way or another), but it would also lead to the generation of a great many rich and diverse ideas, none of which would be lost and all of which could be learnt from and built upon.

As with the first six principles, widened ownership can be applied through not only software but also face-to-face and other means of interaction (i.e. by sharing our information, original ideas or concepts with people during a workshop or strategy meeting). It is, however, the most challenging principle to apply; it is counter  to the prevailing human culture of ownership and our deeply ingrained, almost instinctive need to possess things.

But if we can be patient, dampen down our egos and recognise that anything we create has a life of its own (a life that others will seek to share and influence), we will likely be delighted by the rich diversity of ideas that emerge, ideas from which the many rather than the few will profit.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Engaging hard-to-reach stakeholders and communities

Here are seven ways your partnership can seek to engage effectively with hard-to-reach stakeholders and communities:
1.   Tailor your engagement and communication approaches to the needs and preferences of those you most need to reach. Concentrate on accessibility and attractiveness. Would informal get-togethers arranged near where 'Hard-to-Reach' (HtR) people live be more effective and accessible than more formal meetings held in very official, perhaps more distant and off-putting surroundings? Would an attractive hard copy newsletter or partnership update, written and presented in a style suited to the target audience, raise interest in the work of the partnership more effectively than a jargon laden missive posted on an official website? Would some kind of stimulating, enjoyable activity focused upon the interests and/or needs of local communities generate greater enthusiasm for the goals and activities of the partnership than a more traditional public meeting?      

2.   Create and offer transparency of process and decision making. Show all those affected by the partnership’s work how the information and insights they provide are used to inform its actions and priorities. Weave the opinions and local knowledge of HtR stakeholders into the day-to-day conduct and work of the partnership. Do everything you can to put the decision-making of the partnership within sight of those that are most hard-to-reach.

Here are some things you can try:

·    Set up official ‘Stakeholder Forums’ and give them oversight of the partnership’s work, plus the ability to criticise and offer suggestions for improvement.

·    Create informal ‘Stakeholder Clubs’ where all stakeholders, including HtR groupings, are encouraged to attend, hear updates about the partnership’s work, give their comments and reactions, and offer local knowledge that could be helpful to the partnership’s work.

·    Hold ‘Open Strategy’ meetings where key stakeholders are encouraged to not only comment on proposed partnership goals and actions, but also contribute to their creation and agreement.

·    Hold ‘Honesty in Action’ meetings where partners and stakeholders discuss on-going issues and problems openly, without any sense of blame.

·    Embed the partnership’s key functions and personnel within the communities it is seeking to help and support.

3.   Embrace conflict and difference. Perceive conflict, difference and perhaps even anger as a positive sign that the partnership could be starting to engage with its stakeholders in a meaningful, productive way. Assume that a non-judgemental exploration of the issues surrounding conflicts and differences will help discover new insights and synergies of benefit to the partnership and its work. Make sure your own day-to-day behaviour, and also that of the partnership overall, models an enthusiasm for new and challenging opinions and ideas.   

4.   Seek out new paths towards engagement. Boldly go where no-one involved with the partnership has gone before. Seek out wider and more diverse paths towards those that are most difficult to reach. Discover how HtR stakeholders and communities communicate with each other and seek to become part of these networks. Find out how other agencies, charities and partnerships connect effectively with their HtR stakeholders. Seek to copy them or ‘piggyback’ on their success.

5.   Co-ordinate your consultation efforts. Make every effort to link up the consultation activities of individual partners. Make a point of identifying blind spots in the partnership’s areas of focus, especially where these could relate to HtR groups. Also, look out for any duplication of effort between partners, as too much consultation can cause confusion and lead to some groups disappearing almost entirely from view, because they feel overly targeted or even picked upon.    

6.   Build the capability of those you most need to engage with and identify volunteers. Encourage HtR communities to develop skills important to the partnership’s work. Identify, develop and support volunteers from HtR areas. Provide these volunteers with opportunities to visit other partnerships and communities with similar problems. Encourage them, upon their return, to share their learning and insights. Focus on transferring the key learning to those in need of it the most.     

7.   Win over hearts and minds with high profile actions that provide quick, positive results for HtR communities. Make sure these actions gain maximum visibility within the stakeholder communities of most importance to the partnership. Clearly relate these quick wins to the partnership’s key strategic goals, aspirations and overall vision.