Collaboration or Collision – facing down the barriers of sustainability transformation

Our group has a desire to “Empower citizens, connect neighbourhoods and transform community toward ‘net zero’ environmental impact.”

Our group has a desire to “Empower citizens, connect neighbourhoods and transform community toward ‘net zero’ environmental impact.”

Collaboration is complicated.  I am working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to bring together four other non-governmental organizations, one municipal government with multiple engaged departments (energy, water, transportation, waste, wellbeing), two utilities, businesses  and neighbourhood groups to launch a city-wide conservation and environmental footprint reduction program.

The group has agreed that collaboration is critical to the success of the venture.  Unfortunately, I am starting to see a worrying development – we each have a different understanding of what “collaboration” means.  It is natural.  Each of us stands at the center of what we know to be true and possible.  We look at the solutions we can provide and say “Ah, if everyone would just do this, we could change the world together.”

Collaboration or Collision?

Unfortunately, while I am inviting you into my circle and to my solution, you would rather I joined your circle and used your solution.   In a multi-stakeholder collaboration – there are a lot of circles to stand in and a lot of solutions to use – simultaneously.  Right now, I think it looks more like a collision that a collaboration.

For many people collaboration means: “Here is my product, service or strategic approach – adopt it and we will be collaborating." Unfortunately, with a multi-stakeholder collaboration, such an approach is doomed to fail.

For many people collaboration means: “Here is my product, service or strategic approach – adopt it and we will be collaborating.” Unfortunately, with a multi-stakeholder collaboration, such an approach is doomed to fail.

Of course, we could haul out the old bag of tricks: brainstorming, strategic planning, voting with dots etc.  But last week we said these tools aren’t a good fit for complex, system-wide transformational collaborations.   Many of these processes have us forecasting the future from the past; developing visions and objectives based on what is largely possible and impossible today; and making slow, incremental change.  Just because we are well equipped and skilled with hammers doesn’t mean everything is a nail.

Avoiding Collaboration Breakdown on the Speedway of Good Intention

Chad Park, Executive Director of The Natural Step Canada, says, understanding what authentic collaboration looks like is just one of the barriers to effective collaboration.

“Even with the best of intentions and a genuine belief in the goodwill of fellow collaborators, many collaborative efforts break down because of competing stakeholder priorities and differences in organizational culture.

Many efforts lack a shared vision for the collaboration.  Yet, even when the collective value of addressing the issue is well-understood – the lack of a strong sense of the value individual participants and their organizations will gain blocks the realization of the shared vision.

These all speak to perhaps the biggest barrier – the inadequacy of typical engagement processes to handle such complexity.”

Each of these barriers is addressed in the featured topics at the upcoming conference, Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability” Conference in Guelph, Ontario, June 10 & 11, 2013.

One of the conference speakers, Adam Kahane, author of “Transformative Scenario Planning” and a pioneer of the “Change Lab” approach, says transformational multi-stakeholder collaborations need a “…disciplined process of thinking ahead together and then altering our future accordingly.”  He adds, “This is a profound and subtle shift on how we approach one another.”

Perhaps collective learning is the first step if we want authentic, lasting transformation.  Our group is planning to bring a team to the Accelerate conference.  In a world that needs to make many transformational system shifts, these skills will be invaluable to our group members and their organizations now and well into the future.

Here is what you can do to learn more:

Register for the Pre-Conference Webinar: The Emerging Social Innovation Field – Tim Draimin, Executive Director, Social Innovation Generation , May 16th, 12-1 pm EST (http://www.naturalstep.ca/the-emerging-social-innovation-field-webinar)

Join us at the Conference: Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference, June 10 & 11, 2013, Guelph, ON (http://www.naturalstep.ca/accelerate-collaborating-for-sustainability-conference)

In next week’s blog we will discuss “The Emerging Social Innovation Field” and how it is leading to transformational change for sustainability.

 

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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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