Archive for “External publications”

Collaborative Advantage

Collaborative Advantage needs to exist, in order for the extra work that collaborating takes to be worth it!

My colleague Lynn Wetenhall puts it like this, in training and capacity building  we’ve developed for the Environment Agency:

“Collaborative advantage is the outcomes or additional benefits that we can achieve only by working with others.”

Know when to collaborate…

When contemplating collaborating, you need to make at least an initial cost-benefit judgement and this relies on understanding the potential collaborative advantage. Chris Huxham in Creating Collaborative Advantage waxes rather lyrical:

“Collaborative advantage will be achieved when something unusually creative is produced – perhaps an objective is met – that no organization could have produced on its own and when each organization, through the collaboration, is able to achieve its own objectives better than it could alone.”

But it’s even better than that!

Huxham goes on:

“In some cases, it should also be possible to achieve some higher-level … objectives for society as a whole rather than just for the participating organizations.”

So collaborative advantage is that truly sweet spot, when not only do you meet goals of your own that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, you can also make things better for people and the planet.  Definitely sustainable development territory.

…and when not to

There’s another side to the collaborative advantage coin.

If the potential collaborative advantage is not high enough, or you can achieve your goals just as well working alone, then it may be that collaboration is not the best approach.

A moment of commitment – reflections on writing

Tempting and disconcerting in equal measure: being asked to write a book is such a flattering thing, dangerously seductive; being asked to write a book is such a frightening thing, because “what if it’s rubbish?”  Putting something in writing is a moment of commitment: hard for an inveterate hedger and fence-sitter like me.  (I couldn’t even decide between ‘hedger’ and ‘fence-sitter’, could I?)

Avoiding temptation, taking courage

In an attempt to stop it being rubbish, and to remind myself that it’s not me that’s being flattered – it’s the wise things I’ve learnt from others – I made a conscious choice to stand on shoulders of giants both for theory and for tips that really make a difference, when writing Working Collaboratively.

I found some great academic research and theory before I decided that I really needed to stop reading and get on with writing.  But it was more on ‘collaborative governance‘ (advising others on how to do things) than multi-sector collaboration to get things done.  Noticing that distinction helped me decide what to get my teeth into.

What kind of collaboration?

I knew I wanted to include examples, and there were plenty out there even from a cursory look.  But I wanted to find ones which were more than contractual, more than cause-related marketing, and which involved multiple collaborators not just two (you can’t change a system with just two players).  I wasn’t so interested in crowd-sourcing,  where the hive mind is used to generate multiple clever ideas which might be the solution, but stops short of putting collaborative solutions into practice. That feels like another form of consultation to me.

It’s not to say these are bad things: but to me they are less difficult and less necessary than when collaboration is a way to solve system-level wicked problems, where there is a need for simultaneous action by players who each bring a different piece of the jigsaw with them.

So I drew up some criteria and then searched for examples which both met those criteria and that I had a head-start with: knowing key players, for example, who I could be confident would at least read my email or return my call.

Hearty thanks to everyone who made time to be interviewed or to give me their perspective on some of the examples.

Book writing as a project

The project has followed a pattern I’m now pretty familiar with, in my consulting, training and facilitation work:

  • excitement and disbelief at being invited to do such a cool thing;
  • fear that I’ll have nothing interesting or useful enough to say;
  • writing myself a little aide memoire to keep those pesky internal voices at bay;
  • mind mapping key points and allocating word count (in a training or facilitation situation, that would allocating minutes!);
  • less familiar was the long research phase, which is not something have to do very often and was a real luxury;
  • identifying examples and interviewees.

Then the actual creativity begins: knitting new things, finding scraps of existing articles, handouts or blogs to recycle and stitching it together like a quilt with additional embroidery and applique. I start committing myself to a narrative thread, to a point of view, to some definitive statements.

Then the first of many moments of truth: sending the draft off and nervously awaiting the feedback – sitting over my email until it arrives and then putting off the moment of actually opening it and reading the response.

Altering and amending the draft in response to that feedback and to my own nagging unhappiness with how I’ve captured something which may be very hard to pin down.

And then there’s a dip: the boredom as I get too familiar with the material: is there anything new here? Will anyone else find it interesting?

At that point I know I need to leave it all to settle for a bit and come back to it fresh after some weeks.  Fortunately, when I did, I felt “yes, this is what I wanted to say, this is how I wanted to say it” and crucially: “this has got things in it that readers will find useful, amusing, novel, easy to understand.”

Collaboration of goodwill

It’s sobering and enlightening to remember how much goodwill was involved – interviewees, people who gave me permission to use models and frameworks; anonymous and other reviewers; people helping to get the word out about it.  There was a lot of swapping favours and continuing to build and reinforce working relationships.  It might be possible to analyse these all down to hard-nosed motivations, but I think much of it was trust-based and fuelled by enthusiasm for the topic and a long history of comfortable working relationships.

What did I say?

As an author, it feels as if the project is ended when the final proofs go back to the publisher.  But of course it doesn’t, thankfully, end there.  Now that I’ve been invited to blog, present or share expertise off the back of the book (e.g. Green Mondays, MAFN, DareConf) I have to remind myself of what I’ve written!  Because your thinking doesn’t stand still, nor should it.

 

 

What you need from your facilitator, when you’re collaborating

Researching Working Collaboratively, I heard a lot about the importance of a skillful facilitator.  And you can see why.  Collaboration happens when different people or organisations want to achieve something – and they need common ground about what it is they want to achieve.  They might both want the same thing or they may want complementary things.

Since finding common ground is not easy, it’s good to know facilitators can help.

Common ground, common process

But it’s not just common ground on the goals that need to be achieved, it’s common ground on the process too.  It’s essential to be able to find ways to work together (not just things to work together on).

Process can be invisible – you’re so used to the way your own organisation does things, that you may not see that these processes are choices. And it’s possible to choose to do things in other ways.

This can be as simple as using descriptive agendas (which set out clearly what the task is for each item e.g. ‘create a range of options’, ‘discuss and better understand the options’, ‘identify the group’s top three options’, ‘agree which option to recommend’, ‘agree which option to take forward’) rather than the more usual summary version (Item 1: options).

Or it might be agreeing to set up special simultaneous consultation and decision mechanisms within each of the collaborating organisations rather than each one going at its own usual, different, pace.

To be able to make these choices, process needs to be brought to conscious awareness and explicitly discussed.  This will be a key part of any facilitator’s role.

Disagreement without conflict

Collaboration is about agreement, of course.  But if the organisations have identical aims and ways of meeting them, then they might as well merge rather than collaborate!  In collaboration, you must also expect disagreement and difference.

Sometimes people may be so keen to find the common ground, that discussing the areas of disagreement and difference becomes taboo.  Much more healthy is being able to discuss and acknowledge difference in an open and confident way.  A facilitator who is used to saying: “I notice that there is a difference of view here.  Let’s understand it better!” in a perky and comfortable way can help collaborators be at ease with disagreement.

Building trust

Your facilitator will also need to help you be open about the constraints and pressures which are limiting your ability to broaden the common ground about desired outcomes or process.  Perhaps a public body cannot commit funds more than one year ahead.  Perhaps a community or campaign group needs to maintain its ability to be publicly critical of organisations it is collaborating with. A business may need to be able to show a return on investment to shareholders. In most cases, the people ‘in the room’ will need to take some provisional decisions back to their organisation for ratification.

Just like the areas of disagreement, these constraints can be hard to talk about.  Some clients I work with express embarrassment bordering almost on shame when they explain to potential collaborators the internal paperwork they ‘must’ use on certain types of collaborative project.

Much better to be open about these constraints so that everyone understands them.  That’s when creative solutions or happy compromises arise.

A neutral facilitator?

Do you need your facilitator to be independent, or do they need to have a stake in the success of the collaboration?  This is the ‘honest broker / organic leader’ conundrum explored here.

I have seen real confusion of process expertise and commitment to the content, when collaborative groupings have been looking for facilitation help.  For example, the UK’s Defra policy framework on the catchment based approach to improving water quality seems to assume that organisations will offer to ‘host’ collaborations with minimal additional resources.  If you don’t have a compelling outcome that you want to achieve around water, why would you put yourself forward to do this work?  And if you do, you will find it hard (though not impossible) to play agenda-neutral process facilitator role. There is a resource providing process advice to these hosts (Guide to Collaborative Catchment Management), but I am not sure that any of them have access to professional facilitation.

This is despite the findings of the evaluation, which say that facilitation expertise is a ‘crucial competency’:

“Going forward, pilot hosts indicate that funding, or in-kind contribution, for the catchment co-ordinator and independent facilitation roles is essential.”   (p8)

And Defra’s own policy framework makes clear that involving facilitators is crucial to success:

“Utilising expert facilitation to help Partnerships address a range of issues for collaborative working including stakeholder identification and analysis, planning meetings, decision-making and engaging with members of the public [is a key way of working].”

There seems to be some understanding of the agenda-neutral facilitation role, but a lack of real answers to how it will be resourced.

I will be fascinated to see how this plays out in practice – do comment if you have experience of this in action.

 

 

Summer round up

Sorry I haven’t been over at this blog properly for a while: I’ve been busy blogging elsewhere to tell people about Working Collaboratively.

Here’s a round-up of the other places where I’ve been writing.

Blogtastic

Guardian Sustainable Business  Collaborating can be frustrating but it isn’t about sublimating your organisation’s goals – it’s about discovering common ground…

Business Green It’s time for business to gang up on the barriers to change.  Businesses need to collaborate with NGOs, communities and the public sector to make serious change happen…   (To read this one, you will need to be a Business Green subscriber or register for a free trial.)

Forum for the Future / Green Futures Blog  Shipping leaders look for common ground. Change in the shipping system will depend on time, trust and an independent third party…

Defra’s SD Scene Newsletter  Who might collaborate with you? The book contains frameworks, tools and interviews with people who have collaborated to achieve sustainable development outcomes, including from one of Defra’s recent Catchment Based Approach pilots to improve river health and water quality.

CSR Wire Finding the Dots: Why Collaborate When We Have Nothing In Common?  When the problem is intractable, systemic and locked-in, it’s the very people you think you are in competition with who you need to listen to with the closest attention and the most open mind. 

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of finding new angles on the same basic messages.  I hope you enjoy reading them.

Amazonian

Mixed feelings on seeing that the book is now available on Amazon, too.  You can get it as an ebook or paperback.  I’m not sure how good Amazon’s record is in collaborating for sustainable development goals… But at least there’s a review function so people could share their thoughts on this paradox through that forum.

Collaborate: over and over again…..

One of the points that I end up stressing in collaboration training, and try to get across in the book, is the iterative nature of collaboration.

Working Collaboratively is organised around three ‘threads’: what, who and how.  ‘What’ is the compelling outcome you want to achieve, ‘who’ are the collaborators and ‘how’ is your process or ways of working.  And you could think of these three threads being plaited together, because they are inseparable and they continue to need attention in parallel.

The ‘over and over again’ iteration happens for all three threads.  As you explore shared or complementary outcomes, potential collaborators get closer or move away.  As it becomes clearer who the collaborators will be, ways of working which suit them emerge or need to be thrashed out.  As process develops, greater honesty and trust enables people to understand better what they can achieve together.

Plaited loops

So these three plaited threads (who, what, how) loop the loop as you go forwards – being reviewed and changed.

We explored putting in a graphic to illustrate this, but my idea couldn’t be transferred to an image successfully.  My very poor sketch will have to suffice.

Why does this matter?

Exploratory, tentative and above all slow progress can be exasperating not just for the collaborators but for their managers or constituencies.  What’s going on?  Why aren’t there any decisions yet?  What are you spending all this time on, with so little to show for it?  The investment in having what feels like the same conversation over and over again is essential.  Collaborators need to appreciate that, and so do the people they report to.

“Working Collaboratively: A Practical Guide to Achieving More” Use PWP15 for 15% discount.

 

 

 

I learn it from a book

Manuel, the hapless and put-upon waiter at Fawlty Towers, was diligent in learning English, despite the terrible line-management skills of Basil Fawlty.  As well as practising in the real world, he is learning from a book.

Crude racial stereotypes aside, this is a useful reminder that books can only take us so far.  And the same is true of Working Collaboratively.  To speak collaboration like a native takes real-world experience.  You need the courage to practise out loud.

The map is not the territory

The other thing about learning from a book is that you’ll get stories, tips, frameworks and tools, but when you begin to use them you won’t necessarily get the expected results.  Not in conversation with someone whose mother tongue you are struggling with, and not when you are exploring collaboration.

Because the phrase book is not the language and the map is not the territory.

Working collaboratively: a health warning

So if you do get hold of a copy of Working Collaboratively (and readers of this blog get 15% off with code PWP15) and begin to apply some of the advice: expect the unexpected.

There’s an inherent difficulty in ‘taught’ or ‘told’ learning, which doesn’t occur in quite the same way in more freeform ‘learner led’ approaches like action learning or coaching.  When you put together a training course or write a book, you need to give it a narrative structure that’s satisfying.  You need to follow a thread, rather than jumping around the way reality does.  Even now, none of the examples I feature in the book would feel they have completed their work or fully cracked how to collaborate.

That applies especially to the newest ones: Sustainable Shipping Initiative or the various collaborators experimenting with catchment level working in England.

Yours will be unique

So don’t feel you’ve done it wrong if your pattern isn’t the same, or the journey doesn’t seem as smooth, with as clear a narrative arc as some of those described in the book.

And when you’ve accumulated a bit of hindsight, share it with others: what worked, for you? What got in the way?  Which of the tools or frameworks helped you and which make no sense, now you look back at what you’ve achieved?

Do let me know…

Working collaboratively: world premiere!

So it’s here!

A mere nine months after first being contacted by Nick Bellorini of DōSustainability, my e-book on collaboration is out!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging on some of the things that really struck me about writing it and that I’m still chewing over.  In the meantime, I just wanted to let you know that it’s out there, and you, dear reader, can get it with 15% off if you use the code PWP15 when you order it. See more here.

It’s an e-book – and here’s something cool for the dematerialisation and sharing economy geeks: you can rent it for 48 hours, just like a film!  Since it’s supposed to be a 90 minute read, that should work just fine.

Working Collaboratively.

Thanks!

And I couldn’t have done it without the wonderful colleagues, clients, peers, critics, fellow explorers and tea-makers who helped out.

Andrew Acland, Cath Beaver, Craig Bennett, Fiona Bowles, Cath Brooks, Signe Bruun Jensen, Ken Caplan, Niamh Carey, Lindsey Colbourne, Stephanie Draper, Lindsay Evans, James Farrell, Chris Grieve, Michael Guthrie, Charlotte Millar, Paula Orr, Helena Poldervaart, Chris Pomfret, Jonathon Porritt, Keith Richards, Clare Twigger-Ross, Neil Verlander, Lynn Wetenhall; others at the Environment Agency; people who have been involved in the piloting of the Catchment Based Approach in England in particular in the Lower Lee, Tidal Thames and Brent; and others who joined in with an InterAct Networks peer learning day on collaboration.

 

 

Water wise: different priorities need different targeted engagement

For Diageo, the drinks company, agricultural suppliers typically represent more than 90% of its water footprint, so of course it’s vital that the company’s water strategy looks beyond its own four walls to consider sustainable water management and risks in the supply chain.

By contrast, what matters most for Unilever in tackling its global water footprint is reducing consumers’ water use when they are doing laundry, showering and washing their hair, particularly in countries where water is scarce. Asking office staff to report dripping taps will contribute to the firm’s water efficiency, but it is much less useful than innovating a generation of products that use less water for cleaning.

Once you know what the main water-using phases are in your product or service system, you can prioritise and target. the audiences you want to engage.

This article in the environmentalist looks at the questions you need to ask yourself, to work out how to engage people in water efficiency.  You can download a jpg here or read it online on the environmentalist’s website (you may need to log in or sign up for a free trial to read it online).

Leadership teams for collaboration

“Who will make sure it doesn’t fall over?”

This was a question posed by someone in a workshop I facilitated, which brought together stakeholders (potential collaborators) who shared an interest in a water catchment.

It was a good question. In a collaboration, where equality between organisations is a value – and the pragmatic as well as philosophical truth is that everyone is only involved because they choose to be – what constitutes leadership? How do you avoid no-one taking responsibility because everyone is sharing responsibility?

If the collaboration stops moving forwards, like a bicycle it will be in danger of falling over.  Who will step forward to right it again, give it a push and help it regain momentum?

Luxurious reading time

I’ve been doing some reading, in preparating for writing a slim volume on collaboration for the lovely people over at DōSustainability. (Update: published July 2013.) It’s been rather lovely to browse the internet, following my nose from reference to reference.  I found some great academic papers, including “Collaborative Governance in Theory and Practice” by Chris Ansell and Alison Gash.  This paper is based on a review of 137 case studies, and draws out what the authors call ‘critical variables’ which influence the success of attempts at collaborative governance.

It’s worth just pausing to notice that this paper focuses on ‘collaborative governance’, which you could characterise as when stakeholders come together to make decisions about what some other organisation is going to do (e.g. agree a management plan for a nature reserve ), to contrast it with other kinds of collaboration where the stakeholders who choose to collaborate are making decisions about what they themselves will do, to further the common or complementary aims of the collaboration (e.g. the emerging work of Tasting the Future).

Leadership as a critical variable

Ansell and Gash identify leadership as one of these critical variables.  They say:

“Although ‘unassisted’ negotiations are sometimes possible, the literature overwhelmingly finds that facilitative leadership is important for bringing stakeholders together and getting them to engage each other in a collaborative spirit.”

What kind of person can provide this facilitative leadership?  Do they have to be disinterested, in the manner of an agenda-neutral facilitator?  Or do they have to be a figure with credibility and power within the system, to provide a sense of agency to the collaboration?

Interestingly, Ansell and Gash think both are needed, depending on whether power is distributed relatively equally or relatively unequally among the potential collaborators.  It’s worth quoting at some length here:

“Where conflict is high and trust is low, but power distribution is relatively equal and stakeholders have an incentive to participate, then collaborative governance can successfully proceed by relying on the services of an honest broker that the respective stakeholders accept and trust.”

This honest broker will pay attention to process and remain ‘above the fray’ – a facilitator or mediator.

“Where power distribution is more asymmetric or incentives to participate are weak or asymmetric, then collaborative governance is more likely to succeed if there is a strong “organic” leader who commands the respect and trust of the various stakeholders at the outset of the process.”

An organic leader emerges from among the stakeholders, and my reading of the paper suggests that their strength may come from the power and credibility of their organisation as well as personal qualities like technical knowledge, charisma and so on.

While you can buy in a neutral facilitator (if you have the resource to do so), you cannot invent a trusted, powerful ‘organic’ leader if they are not already in the system. Ansell and Gash note “an implication of this contingency is that the possibility for effective collaboration may be seriously constrained by a lack of leadership.”

Policy framework for collaboration

I’m also interested in this right now, because of my involvement in the piloting of the Catchment Based Approach.  I have been supporting people both as a facilitator (honest broker) and by building the capacity of staff at the Environment Agency to work collaboratively and ‘host’ or ‘lead’ collaborative work in some of the pilot catchments.  The former role has been mainly with Dialogue by Design, and latter with InterAct Networks.

One of the things that has been explored in these pilots, is what the differences are when the collaboration is hosted by the Environment Agency, and when it is hosted by another organisation, as in for example Your Tidal Thames or the Brent Catchment Partnership.

There was a well-attended conference on February 14th, where preliminary results were shared and Defra officials talked about what may happen next. The policy framework which Defra is due to set out in the Spring of 2013 will have important implications for where the facilitative leadership comes from.

One of the phrases used in Defra’s presentation was ‘independent host’ and another was ‘facilitator’.  It’s not yet clear what Defra might mean by these two phrases.  I immediately wondered: independent of what, or of whom?  Might this point towards the more agenda-neutral facilitator, the honest broker?  If so, how will this be resourced?

I am thoughtful about whether these catchments might have the characteristics where the Ansell and Gash’s honest broker will succeed, or whether they have characteristics which indicate an organic leader is needed.  Perhaps both would be useful, working together in a leadership team.

Those designing the policy framework could do worse than read this paper.

Do-ing it together

Have you come across – new e-publishers who are bringing out a series of 90 minute reads on key sustainability topics?  I particularly liked Anne Augustine’s First 100 Days on the Job, for new sustainability leads.

Now I’ve been asked to write a slim volume on collaboration for the great people at Dō.  I’m very excited about this – and I want to do it collaboratively.

So tell me: what are your favourite examples of successful sustainability collaborations?

Collaboration: doing together what you can’t do alone; doing together what you both/all want to do; sharing the decision-making about what you do and how you do it.

Post a comment here, or email me.

Thanks, collaborators!

Penny’s blog

Portrait of Penny

Thoughts, updates, links, and essays on creating change for sustainable development.