I have sat in numerous collectives, coalitions, and partnership-based initiatives for many years. And while I have seen the great benefits of collaboration work, I also cringed at some of the dysfunction manifested in the name of collaboration. Here are some of the few observations around collaboration that show how conflicting motives can hijack its value.
· Some collectives are not collaboration at all. Some are pseudo-collaborations when they appear in the guise of collaboration but are not. Partnerships that are by nature tactical, one-off, short-term do not have to be labeled collaboration. It is a mere partnership for a specific set of projects, initiatives, and agenda. Collaboration focuses on long-term strategic objectives that no one organization can boast to overcome or solve. For example, eradicating poverty, homelessness, etc.
· For one, when collaboration leads to co-dependencies between organizations, using collaboration partners to fill their capacity deficits and further discourage the organization from actually investing on specific organizational and technical capacity-building because they can get it ‘free’ through collaboration. It sounds pernicious, but this practice is very common. For example, the convenor will set up a research collective in the hope that the agenda, framework, and technical skills-set drawn from the group-those thing that they lack and cannot do on their own.
· When the convenor abdicates on its responsibilities to the whole group and delegates all the decision making, it makes the group more responsible than they should be. For example, a convenor who is legally responsible for setting the collaboration, having funding to administer and support it, abdicates its leadership role to the Chair, Vice Chair or certain organizations to decide on issues related to its functions.
· The role of the convenor is very tricky. The people in the group look to the convenor for guidance, inspiration, and smooth administration, as well as leadership. When there is no leader or sets of leaders in the group performing complementary functions, it begets the question: who is calling the shots here? How can the decision-makers contain risks in their decision-making?
· Supposedly the risks are shared equally by the whole group, but in fact, risks are shared by those who get to do more work for the group. Leaving some to do less while the rest of the group do more than what they bargained for. Studies show that the larger the group, slackers tend to arise and create more work for others.
· There seems to be no clarity why organizations and individuals are sitting on these groups and committees regarding their motivation and ‘what’s in it for them?” It is very rare when people get honest about it. Is it to get more funding? More prestige? Getting capacity when there is none in your organization? Is it for a good reputation? Is it because it aligns to your organizations’ purpose? Is it because you get more than you put in? Is it because it is easy to sit in without having more responsibilities? Being honest and candid about what you want out of these collaborations will give you an assessment in whether or not it is the right fit for your interests and motivations. It also gives everyone on the table an idea how these interests align with the groups’ aims.
· Simply getting what you want and offering to help is not the answer. Collaboration is not just the sum of all efforts if everyone likes what is going on. Any time, partners can pull out and say “we are not part of this,” because it happens more than you think. The self-interest is too high on the agenda to make it work for the group. Sacrificing your own organization’s self-interest for the collective common good may create a little discomfort or moderate pain as part of the equation, not a lot are prepared or have contemplated this. Ask yourself is being part of the collective enhances your ability to forge common agenda and interests or in short-term merely responding to your needs.
These and many more have become perplexing dilemmas. When everyone extols the values of collaboration, the practice of collaboration is nowhere near as impact-full and effectiveness as it should be. And everybody wonders why.
A few self-assessment questions will get you thinking about your role in the collaboration framework.
1. Have you clarified, explained, and demonstrated your motivation, interests, and organizational aims as part of the group?
2. Have you expressed the opinions, perspectives, and challenges that you face as part of the collective and understood each partner’s interests and motivations?
3. Have you benefited more than what you are intending to gain as part of the group or vice-versa ( meaning put more than what you expected to contribute?)
4. Have you contributed to advancing the collective good which you would not directly benefit as an organization but committed to doing it anyway?
Let us analyze; if you answer 4 out of 4, then it means that you understand the importance of honesty, candor, and exhibiting a certain level of vulnerability to achieve common goals, that at some point, will cause discomfort or pain to your organization. If you answer yes to 2-3 questions, you have a certain level of understanding of your role but not taking a proactive stance to the issues you are facing as part of the group. If you answer yes to 1, there is a great room to improve in your standing and perception of how collaboration works, gravitating on passivity, dependency, or confusion within your role in the group and vice versa.
Unraveling these issues is the start of empowering your position within a collaboration framework. It does not mean that you will not fail, it means that you can go back up again and revisit those thorny issues that get in the way of effective teaming up for success. The right frame of mind, expectations, and contributing attitude can set your organization up for greater collective impact.
Who are your true fans?
They believe in the company. They are true fans, consumers or patrons of the company's products, programs, and initiatives. Real communities are driven by the members of these communities with less supervision by the company.
For example is the American Express Open Forum, a site dedicated to providing support to business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives to help grow their businesses. This site is independent of the America Express management and runs almost in parallel to them in terms of focus. There is a lot to benefit from the network of business entrepreneurs from around the world not just a quality hire but also in terms of developing and creating products that match the needs of businesses.
This is a tremendous resource that not all companies tend to do. This tantamounts to the concept of 1000 true fans (Kevin Kelly) and even more than just for quality hire but the quality of feedback and customer voice that you can have by cultivating your community.
For a small business without huge budgets devoted to cultivating their community, it is important to start with your client list and build your awareness about who they are, what makes them ticks, what products or services they love from your business, and how they want to be acknowledged, recognized, and supported. This intelligence will help you decide on how you can nurture them and keep them as real true fans for your organization for the longest time.
It can be just a blog that caters only for your community with topics that attract them more to your business and provides more reason to network, be more affiliated, and become ambassadors and vocal supporters of your products. Content topics should be engaging pieces about your fan's interests, passions, and causes.
If you are a pharmaceutical company, your topics could range from wellness, health, nutrition, treatments, healthcare services, etc. In general, it should be consistent with your mission, values, and branding strategies. Communicating with your community should be a regular fare and should not break your wallet or dominate your schedule either. Usually, it only takes a small token of action to let them know that you care about them and that you cherish their contribution to the success of your business.
How are you nurturing your community? What small gestures you can do today to let them know that they are valued and worth diamonds in your business?
The best metaphor for the process of exiting successfully is like your son or daughter moving out and going to college. The process of finally reaching that age when they need to be on their own and carve out a life without their parents is a scary but a necessary element of growing up and living an independent life.
While as parents, we always one day, know that the inevitable will come. They are no longer kids and their decision must be respected, however, silly or foolish it may sound or appear. Hopefully, the years of inculcating the values do not go wasted and wherever they go and whatever life’s challenges throw at them, they can withstand it.
The parent-child dynamics is of course not the same with the development sector. But you get the point.
Below is the continuation of the interview with Ben Hoogendorn on successful exit strategies in development. Thank you Ben for sharing your thoughts on this important topic.
How to end it with grace?
If there is a good relationship based on trust, and knowing everything promised was delivered, ending a relationship is not difficult. It can be sad for all parties but shouldn't be difficult if everything was done according to plan and timelines.
Is it really an end or a new relationship?
It is not the end (or shouldn't be anyway) but the start of a new relationship. It's almost like a friendship of peers since the new relationship will consist around encouragement, mentoring and sharing about how and where to get access to other training and resources to grow the community even more after the agency exits. It's actually quite a beautiful thing!
Other related thoughts
One of the biggest issues that keep people locked in chronic grinding poverty is an incorrect and damaging worldview. This is why it is important that development programs are more about teaching and training (including understanding and challenging the worldview) and less about giving things.
This is a topic that will take a lot more time to unpack, but it's something that is important to understand.
What stood out for you and why? Let me know what you think.
Ben Hoogendorn, a tireless humanitarian of many decades based in British Columbia Canada, a former Executive Director of China Concern and a former Executive Director of Food for the Hungry, Canada talked about his experience and insights in successful exit strategies for organizations with development relationships with communities.
1. What do you think are successful exits require?
Successful entry and exits require a high level of trust that comes from strong and loving relationships.
It is not possible to have a successful exit unless the community has understood from the very beginning (before any programming or funds were introduced) that there is a timeline for the agency to exit. If that is not well understood the community leaders will not see the necessity of engaging everyone in the process of being able to identify and solve their own problems.
Many communities fail to understand this and the result is ongoing chronic poverty, or a best-case scenario of lingering in a state of dependency on outside resources, but never reaching their potential. Giving back the dignity that has often been stripped from marginalized groups and empowering the leaders are key to being able to exit successfully.
Community leaders must understand and be able to communicate the message of developing their own assets in order to become self-sustaining. People need to know they are not victims but part of the solution to a better life.
2. How to prepare?
Besides the common problems of marginalization, injustice, and oppression that result in many communities stuck in a cycle of poverty there is often a lot of chaos, disorganization, and lack of structured leadership.
Even if the issues of marginalization, injustice and oppression have been identified and overcome but there isn't strong gender-balanced leadership within a practical and functioning structure, communities will soon fall back into a state of disorganized chaos.
Everyone in the community needs to understand their value and worth and that their skills, time and talents are valuable to the rest of the community. Dependency is believing you "can't", but a healthy community working together "can."
3.What pitfalls to avoid?
It is very easy for an agency to become part of the problem by remaining in a relief mode far too long before moving into a rehabilitation and development mode. So when beginning to work with any community that is in a relief situation you must respond with the mindset of moving out of this type of aid and introduce programs that will bring sustainability in the early stages.
Be sure to fulfill all of the commitments made and just as careful not to "give" more that you had originally communicated.
Be very careful not to align yourself with any one particular group that may not represent everyone in the community. Doing that can isolate some members of the community resulting in disputes and jealousies that will hinder progress at almost every level. When beginning any program it is important to involve everyone to participate in the discussions. Because many cultures do not recognize women in leadership you need to be intentional to include women in the discussions and decision making.
(To be continued...)
It’s a whole new world for those who wanted to make a difference at the global level.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, cryptocurrency, cybersecurity and privacy issues have proliferated in the last 10 years. The rise of social media and the “me-media” has changed the landscape of activism, organizing, communicating and receiving feedback from the recipients of development work.
It also presented ethical, security, and privacy questions and dilemmas, that were not presently on-your face a decade ago.
It also opened the door for more attention and focus on stories where people and communities can take control over their narratives. eCommunities and emovements have arisen to build up local stories and ideas that have become possible and feasible in this day and age.
Here are the top tips in engaging social media for good:
1. Create compelling human interest stories that people can be moved to action. Be humane- it is not for publicity stunt or propaganda. These stories should be authentic and real. Real stories for real people.
2. Create a community of passionate supporters. Infuse it with relevant content-stories, facts, and people that have a strong connection with your cause and can also bring in the right support for it.
3. Do not join the bandwagon and start joining all the social media. What is the ROI of investing in such platform? What is the outcome? What is the best place to be for your work and organization?
4. Learn that marketing is about building relationships with people, not talking as trolls over FB, Twitter, Instagram.
5. Your self-worth and organizational worth are not tied to the number of likes, clicks, and shares. Do not believe in gurus that sell SEOs and marketers that sell marketing to marketers.
6. The lines between personal and public are thin and porous. You don’t have to be personal but be personable. If you are not proud of putting stuff in public, don’t do it! Fact-check your work and make sure it is accurate.
7. Make it easy to share and let authentic community members add their perspectives, thoughts, and opinions. Remember, in the long run, true communities win over haters, trolls, and wannabes.
Use social media to connect, empower, and elevate your stories and your charities. This is the new medium for this generation. It is not perfect but it's free and can be powerful.
One of the things that are beginning to be present in many development efforts is the interest, capacity, and commitment to experiment with what works in the field. Today, design thinking, neuroscience approach to changing behaviors and fostering sustainable change, and the newest innovation in block chain has opened the doors for conversations around what we can borrow in other sectors, industries, and other disciplines that complement the role played by experiential and participatory, people-centered technologies.
Instead of focusing on problems and needs, these thinking revolve around solutions and takes into account the experience of end users of solution-based interventions. Rapid feedback from users engenders a series of testing that encompass the process of finding the most optimal products and services for the target users. Instead of using the traditional monitoring and evaluation, the feedback to market approach is a sure way to validate and test assumptions immediately with fewer costs and less time. The traditional development approaches have become archaic and ineffective in most of these cases.
The obvious path of using best practice from elsewhere may not be useful in many contexts. Best practice internally is the better best practice. Demonstrate where is the best practice and who are already doing it in the organization or community and magnify it for the others to emulate. That works more than imposing an alien idea or concept or model of thinking to people that have no clue as to its origins and benefits.
What to look for when using a borrowed idea?
1. Check the origins, benefits, and contextual usage. This may not fit in many contexts and situations. Is there an indigenous idea or concept that can be used instead? Are these ideas stem from a larger systems thinking or a product of innovation from other disciplines that complement existing knowledge systems?
2. How will it be embraced politically, socially, intellectually and culturally?
3. Budget the time and training costs of training people to the idea. It takes time before an approach is integrated in an organization more less in a community context. Look for advocates and champions.
4. Who are the resistors and what are the reasons for resisting? Look for underlying reasons and needs of people. Always, there is an organizational and personal objections. Find these out.
5. Reinforce new learned behavior and thinking with incentives and practical application consistently.
6. Always prepare for social proofing. That the idea has been tested, proven to work, and cost less than most of its contemporaries. Social proofing is the lubricant to cement community buy-in from leaders and early adopters.
More on these for sure. What are your thoughts for ideas borrowed and taken to new meanings and applications in development sector?