Sustaining Effective Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations

Momentum is a funny thing; when you have it – it seems like it could magically go onmomentum forever.  But in reality, it takes much insight, planning, and energy to sustain and build it.  It seems, this is true of sustaining multi-stakeholder collaborations.

“The nature of multi-stakeholder collaborations is changing,” says Nicholas Luff of the Partnership Brokers Network.  “Today’s collaborations are more relational than transactional.  In the past, we have approached relational partnerships in an informal and organic manner.  But today, we are trying to make big system shifts with these arrangements.  They need to be more rigorous planning and implementation.”

Nick knows what he is talking about.  He is an accredited multi-sector partnership broker and the panel moderator for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) Transformational Company Applied Summit (November 6, 2013 – Toronto).  He supports organizations through stakeholder engagement and partnership brokering in the extractives, healthcare, education and ICT sectors.

Purposeful Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations

I am keenly interested in what Nick has to say.  I am involved in a multi-stakeholder collaboration involving a City, three utilities and seven non-governmental organizations.  We are ambitiously reducing our community’s footprint well beyond any other comparable Canadian city.  And we are doing it -together.

In July, we met to form a Change Lab facilitated by Reos Partners.  Change Labs are spaces for partners to come together, learn about one another and co-create initiatives toward a common goal.  This first meeting was a glorious thing.  We came away with a renewed sense of our collaborative purpose and some of our roles in bringing it about.  We were on the same team, pulling together, it felt so energizing and inspiring.

But it is September now, and we are in the minutia of building strategies, structures and prototype programs for roll out to citizens.  Maybe I have a short attention span; but it feels like momentum is waning.   If we are going to recapture that “lovin’ feeling”, we need to know what more we should be doing.

How Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations Achieve “Lift-Off”

Nicholas Luff is Certified Partnership Broker and Panel Speaker at CBSR's 2013 Summit.

Nicholas Luff an Accredited Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Broker and Panel Speaker at CBSR’s 2013 Summit.

Luff says that organizations partner because they cannot achieve their goals by working as a single entity.  They can only achieve greater innovation, impact, scale, reform and / or sustainability by working cooperatively with others.  So, the first step is recognizing when a multi-stakeholder collaboration is necessary.  If you can effectively do it alone, you probably don’t need one.

Check – we agree we can’t do this alone.

Next is the selection of the right partnership framework.  “There is a continuum of relationships you can employ,” notes Luff.  “The framework determines the core principles, expectations, rights, and agreements for the stakeholders.”


There is a continuum of the types of relationships you can employ. Transformational relationships are used to shift a complex system.

Hmmm, we are using Theory U as the backbone for our partnership.  Does this constitute a framework?  What else might Nick have in mind?

All the while, the principles of equity, transparency and mutual respect are at the center.  The Partnering Initiative identifies that these three elements unlock respect, trust and sustainability; the glue of the collaboration.

I think we have a good start in these principles, but that is my opinion.  I wonder whether our partners feel the same?

As the collaboration evolves, agreements on measures of success, communication and how to diffuse conflict are developed.

In our collaboration, this information would have been very helpful over the last month. This is something we are working on in our November Change Lab meeting – we may have needed it earlier.

Keeping Things Rolling

Brokers help to bring people together.

Brokers help to bring people together.

Luff also mentions brokering.  Who is pushing and giving a spark of energy to the initiative?  Brokers know how to tap into divergent interests, inspire and give confidence to others, and encourage good partnership behavior.  They also protect the vision and values of the partnership.

I wonder if this is something that can be done from within the partnership by, let’s say, one of the NGOs or does it need to be a neutral party?  Reos is helping us with this and the support is invaluable.


Partnership Frameworks help partners understand core principles, expectations, rights, and agreements for the partnership.

It is clear that multi-stakeholder collaborations are both art and science.  Frameworks,  principles, brokers, roles and responsibilities are important considerations.  Sustainable collaborations don’t just happen.  They are complex systems that involve planning and relationship building.  This is why the “Sustaining Effective Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations” session at the CBSR Summit is essential to anyone involved in or considering such an undertaking.

If we are serious about successfully shifting systems toward sustainability; then we need to equip ourselves with the tools to do this important work.  I am convinced that this is an important session that everyone involved in CSR and Sustainability should attend.  Hope to see you there.

CBSR’s Transformational Company Applied Summit

Luff and others will hold a panel and moderate facilitated discussions on “Sustaining cbsrconfEffective Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations” as part of CBSR’s 2013 Summit, November 6, 2013, Toronto.

The session will focus on:

•How and why does a company set up a multi-stakeholder partnership? What is the real value as well as the collective impact?

•How can collaboration become a driver for innovation in the face of complex sustainability and developmental issues?

•How do you best identify and select partners based on criteria that meet your organizational needs and expectations?

•What have been the challenges and unintended consequences that significantly impact the outcomes?

•What are the state-of-the-art global standards, frameworks, methodologies and other skills necessary for brokering effective collaborations & partnerships?

For more information or to register:


Learn More

Partnership Brokers Association:

The Partnering Initiative:

Partnering 101:


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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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