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

Thursday 28 December 2017

Union of Concerned Scientists seeks to 'reboot its language'

Here is an interesting short article from the Union of Concerned Scientists about helping scientists enhance their ability to communicate and engage with local communities and apply scientific expertise to local community problems:  

The Penn State Science Policy Society: Filling the Gap Between Science and Community

For me, two aspects stand out:
  1. The need to 'reboot language' and free it from specialist jargon.
  2. The need for scientists to be willing and able to look beyond the usual 'in discipline' uses of their tools and expertise towards unusual and innovative 'out of discipline' uses.       
Scientists are not the only specialists who need to find ways to 'reboot their language': musicians also need to find less jargon ridden ways of communicating, not only with non-musicians but also with each other (especially when creating and performing new types of music).

I explore this a little here, where it becomes clear that simplifying language is key to not only engagement but also close collaboration.

To be willing and able to think and act beyond their disciplines and see and seize opportunities to apply their scientific expertise within local communities, scientists must become triple-thinkers with umbrella-shaped knowledge. I explore and explain these things within this article.

Thursday 21 December 2017

Do not merely engage with stakeholders; engage with stakeholders to solve the problem

'...participation is an ongoing and iterative, non-linear exchange with varying groups of stakeholders engaged in dynamic ways across the life cycle of a project or activity.'

Eleanor Sterling PhD -- Chief Conservation Scientist at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History.

The above quotation is from a short post written by Dr. Sterling and published on the Integration and Implementation Insights blog (a community weblog for researchers who are interested in better concepts and methods for understanding and acting on complex real-world problems – problems like refugee crises, global climate change, and inequality).

Dr. Sterling is emphasising that engaging with stakeholders as part of an attempt to solve complex problems is a difficult and demanding task: it involves different and diverse people in different ways at different times (not all of which will be predictable at the outset of a project).

Dr. Sterling's post briefly describes some established thinking about 'stages of participation' and then outlines the main conclusions arising from work she and her colleagues have done on stakeholder engagement within the field of biodiversity conservation.

Dr. Sterling's conclusions emphasise the importance of rejecting a traditional stepped and to some extent 'one size fits all' approach to stakeholder engagement in favour of one which is flexible and pragmatic, involving varying groups of stakeholders at varying levels of intensity and using different methods at different times according to need and context.

At first glance, this seems a straightforward conclusion. However, traditional thinking about participation (again, see Dr. Sterling's post for a description of some of this) has often blinkered perceptions. Arguably, it has encouraged us to focus upon 'the best way to engage with stakeholders' rather than 'the best way to engage with stakeholders to solve the problem'.

And it is easy to see how separating the challenge of stakeholder engagement from the problem a project has been tasked to address could create the additional problems of engagement fatigue and stakeholder disengagement.

If best practice for stakeholder engagement degrades into dogma and becomes ever-more distant from the challenges and context of the problem to be addressed, we can begin to assume that some types of stakeholder engagement are always better than others and should always take place at specific times in specific ways (regardless of the context within which they occur). 

This increases the risk of stakeholders becoming restive and expressing frustration about what is being done to address the problems important to them (and, understandably, to begin questioning what they are being invited to engage with and why). If no credible answers are given to these questions, engagement fatigue and disengagement will quickly follow.

So, explicitly linking stakeholder engagement with the problem to be solved is essential. It is not, however, a simple process. This is because the majority of problems people are brought together to solve are complex and multi-layered: the problems and their components are experienced in different ways at different times by different people at different levels; the essential nature of the problem may not change but the way it manifests depends upon its context. 

Imagine a set of Russian dolls. Imagine that each doll-within-a-doll has the same overall shape and structure but that each one is decorated or clothed differently. This goes a little of the way towards illustrating the nature of a complex problem when perceived as possessing a multi-layered structure.

It is within the nature of the above complexity, however, that a way of exploring and navigating the problem and linking it to methods of stakeholder engagement may be found.

Once the fundamental elements of the problem are known and the levels within which it manifests have been identified (e.g., global, regional, local, individual; or organisational, divisional, team, individual, etc.) then stakeholders from the various levels of the problem can be identified and brought together to discuss how their version of the problem looks and feels and how it may be best addressed.

Additionally, the engagement methods used can be easily tailored to the needs of specific groups of stakeholders and their contexts. To use a simple example, the 'higher levels' of the problem may require formal and high-profile senior sponsored strategic interventions and the 'lower levels' may need informal and low-key community supported tactical interventions.

Monday 11 December 2017

The 'Organisational Culture Triangle' is becoming internationally known

'Charles, your proposition of an institutional framework grounded in an organizational culture triangle is an interesting one that should be known to transdisciplinary researchers. I appreciate your plural interpretation of extant cultures, and especially the fact that political culture of power and influence is at the pinnacle.'

Roderick LawrenceProfesseur honoraire, Université de Genève (from

Watch a short video introducing the Organisational Culture Triangle:

Read more about the Organisational Culture Triangle.

And read a chapter about it in Sleeping with the Enemy -- Achieving Collaborative Success (Fifth Edition)


Friday 20 October 2017

And why should the Devil have all the best collaborations?

'Rhodes (2000a) promotes the policy network approach and refers to governance as self-organising, inter-organisational networks exhibiting a number of shared characteristics including: an interdependence between organisations with shifting and opaque boundaries between public, private and voluntary sectors; constant interactions between network members driven by a need to exchange resources and/or negotiate shared purpose; game-like interactions, fuelled by trust; and, a degree of autonomy from the state. Importantly, these networks constitute a distinctive way of co-ordinating and a separate governing structure from markets and hierarchies.' (Working In Collaboration: Learning from Theory and Practice: Literature Review for the National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare by Dr Paul Williams and Professor Helen Sullivan -- October 2007)
Take out the above references to the public, private and voluntary sectors and you could almost be describing criminal networks. This suggests that criminal networks could teach us a thing or two about effective collaboration.

And why should the Devil have all the best collaborations to himself?

Click here to read a little more.

(And read a lot more in my book Sleeping with the Enemy: 5th Edition). 

Friday 25 August 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 30. search for and find your first influential champions

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'During my phone call with Max in his Orkney home, I managed to declare myself the 'Musical Director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq,' barely able to speak the words without choking. 'All my love goes out to you!' came his immediate response and then he blurted out, 'And I will be your Honorary Composer-in-Residence!'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

'Hello both,

I was on Twitter last night and I spotted Barham Salih (the government official we talked about -- did we talk about him?) on Twitter tweeting, I followed him and was amazed by his tweets. I wrote to him this:

@BarhamSalih As a young Iraqi living in Baghdad I am extremely happy to know that someone from our government tweets -- kudos to you!

And then it hit me, I didn't know he's going to response or not but I thought it didn't hurt to try:

@Barham Salih have you ever had a chance to read this? would you be interested in supporting this initiative? (this link contains my article in the Times)

Now, I've spotted this message from him:

BarhamSalih@ZuhulSultan Thanks! You make us all proud. I definitely want to help with this amazing project send me your phone number to get in touch

I've sent him my phone number and e-mail... FINGERS CROSSED!


An  e- mail written by Zuhul Sultan from Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

These two quotations (the first Paul's description of a phone conversation he had with the leading British composer Peter Maxwell Davies and the second Zuhul Sultan's email describing her discovery of and initial Twitter contact with Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih) emphasise how crucial it is to search for and reach out towards individuals who are willing and able to become your first influential champions: those who are eager to use their power and access to resources or credibility and standing within their professions to help fire-up and drive forward a young and innovative initiative; they catalyse progress and launch people towards success.

There are two types of first champion: 1. those who offer your initiative its first crucial and significant practical support (which Dr Barham Salih did by providing $50,000 to fund the NYOI's first summer school in Iraq); and 2. those who offer symbolic support which gives your initiative credibility in the eyes of key supporters and potential supporters and motivates those working within the initiative (which Peter Maxwell Davies did for the NYOI and its people).

Sometimes these two types of champion are combined in one individual. Often though, as was the case with the NYOI, they manifest within separate individuals. 

The above quotations also describe three fundamental ways in which to search for and reach out to these first champions:
  1. Be clear about the types of people and support you need; create a profile and have it to the front of your mind whilst you search. Ask yourself these two questions: 1. 'Who can unlock resources, support and good-will from within governments, communities and populations, etc.?'; and 2. 'Who has credibility and influence within communities, populations and professions crucial to your initiative?' (Both Paul and Zuhul, through either experience of their context or discussion of their requirements (or a mix of the two) had a well-defined idea of the types of champions and support for which they were searching.)
  2. Develop a healthily focused and outward looking social media habit which not only pushes your message out to people but also pulls people towards you. (Zuhul had obviously formed the habit of scanning her social media horizons for possible contacts and support which, once found, she instinctively sought to not only push information at but also attract towards her by engaging with them on a personal level.)
  3. Try, speculate, take the risk and 'have a go'. Be confident in reaching out to potential first champions. Often, we can be hesitant about reaching out to people who have great status or high profile reputations. Overcome this hesitancy! Make contact and ask the question, 'Is this something you would be interested in supporting?'. If you do not try you will never know and no first champions will emerge, but if you ask the question they may appear. (Paul and Zuhul easily overcame any initial misgivings they may have had and subsequently gained important first champions for their cause.)                                                    
Lastly, this final quotation from Paul's book offers one more particularly effective way to identify first champions: 

'... and when I had finished, triumphant that I'd won them over, the members sat in deafening silence. Here I was reaching out for feedback, enquiry, intelligent criticism, and all I got was a room full of middle-aged people, neither shaken nor stirred.

Out of this, however, two important musical allies arose from the midst. Renate Bock, President of the European Federation of National Youth Orchestras, listened deeply and compassionately while Oliver Khan, Director of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, gave out the warmth and wisdom I had desperately sought.'

Those most likely to become influential first champions (or at least reassuring and morale boosting supporters) will stand out in some way from the crowd. This may be through their deep and quiet concentration upon what you are saying or through their positive reactions and words of support. At the very best, these reactions may signal that people are early adopters of new and innovative ideas and initiatives, making them prime 'first champion' material. Look out for these reactions and make sure you engage with the individuals from which they come.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 29. passionately weave in the familiar and traditional

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'In the middle of the orchestral programme, the two lovely sisters on violin and cello, Sabat and Sawen from Erbil, sang a Kurdish song, Waku Nay Kunkuna Jargm by Adnan Karim, accompanied by one of our pianists, Zardasht. As few in Iraq had experience of an orchestral programme, I reckoned a sung duo in the middle of the first half proved just as valid a musical experience as anything else we offered.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

The NYOI's Iraqi audience had little or no experience of listening to western classical music or attending concerts where such music was performed. It was important, therefore, for Paul to create a familiar cultural touchstone for his listeners within the orchestra's programme of otherwise western classical music. 

By giving his audience this oasis of familiar sounds sung by familiar people, Paul achieved at least two important things:
  1. The song provided the reassurance and familiarity that encouraged his audience to feel at home within the context of a western classical music concert (a context that to those not familiar with it can easily feel somewhat formal and at times intimidating).
  2. By placing traditional Iraqi music side-by-side with western classical music the point was clearly made that both traditions were equally valid and valuable and that they had the potential to complement rather than conflict with each other (a powerful message possessing wide social and cultural significance).
As well as creating this familiar point of contact for his audience and emphasising the worth of both types of music, Paul also used the traditional song to create an emotional bridge between the NYOI musicians and their audience: a bridge that enabled both groups to move towards each other and begin sharing their feelings and appreciating each other's perspectives. 

But to build this bridge effectively, it needed to be done with heart and a passionate willingness to reach out and share (and a welcoming openness to what was received in return):
'Both had wonderful voices but, like many, were too closed in their own worlds. In rehearsal, I'd encouraged both to sing through their eyes, and reach out to the public, so they could in turn reach back. As they poured their souls into the auditorium, the fundamental tones of sadness and loss darkened the hall. Listeners recognised their yearning and we, sitting in the orchestra, felt their epiphany.'

This passionate willingness to share and be open to what people give in return is how Paul and the NYOI avoided offensive tokenism that would have worked counter to the orchestra's aims and intentions by alienating rather than including the audience.

Sneaking in the authentic can be another credibility enhancing and support inducing way to weave in the familiar and traditional:

'We rounded off with Saween resplendent in Kurdish dress, singing a traditional song in her pure, non-vibrato voice, ornamenting with mesmerising glottal inflections, while Tuqa and Zana accompanied on cello and violin. This was the last thing the producers wanted for a morning magazine, but we were very chuffed to have sneaked in something authentic.' 

Publicly 'sneaking something authentic' into a situation where it is not especially welcome or expected can send a strong and positive message to existing supporters within specific populations and potential supporters within wider populations. It broadcasts your commitment to the needs and interests of those you are seeking to engage and work with and shows a determination to further the goals of your collaborative project (rather than chase the often spurious advantages gained by habitually putting others' goals first).

Lastly, do not allow your focus on the familiar and traditional to blind you to what is current and new within the societies and cultures with which you are working. (As well as including traditional Iraqi music in the NYOI's concert programmes, Paul made a point of including new works by Iraqi Arab and Kurd composers.) 

Sometimes, introducing new developments from within a society and culture can be surprising and educational for the people living in that society and culture. This aspect is dealt with here

So, do the following when seeking to collaborate with partners from different societies and cultures:
  • Create oases of reassuring familiarity for your partners within otherwise unfamiliar and perhaps intimidating contexts.
  • Where possible and appropriate, which will be in most cases, demonstrate that partners' traditions are as valid and valuable as your own and that each can complement the other.
  • Use what is familiar and traditional to build a bridge upon which partners can move towards each other and begin sharing feelings and perspectives.
  • Avoid tokenism when weaving in the familiar and traditional. Do this by demonstrating a heartfelt and passionate willingness to reach out and share (and do not forget to welcome what is received in return).
  • Do not allow your focus on the familiar and traditional to blind you to new developments within a society and culture. 
  • Remember that new developments within a society and culture are often surprising and educational to those living in that society and culture.