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Collaboration Tips
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Collaboration Resources

The Tamarack Institute has compiled a number of resources as part of their learning theme on Communities Collaborating. Here you will find resources such as:
  • How to assess your collaboration: A Self Evaluation Tool
  • Twenty factors that can make or break any group effort
  • An outline of the benefits, challenges and the important principles of successful collaboration
  • The Wilder Foundation’s Collaboration Factors Inventory that was designed for assessing collaborative success
  • Tips on how to develop effective collaborative agreements
  • Click here for more collaboration resources from Tamarack


    6 Steps of Community Engagement

    This presentation came as a result of work being done by James Samuel of New Zealand for the Waiheke Community Supported Agriculture project. As he attempted to find an effective way to communicate the “How” of that project, he stumbled upon a model that could be applied to any collaborative community project.Ever since coming across the work of Transition Towns and seeing how the 12 steps in the transition process work to keep a local initiative on track, he noticed that the same 12 steps of transitioning could be applied to an individual project. The six steps suggested here have distilled and simplified this even further, and you can watch and listen to this 5 minute video and then read the transcript, with its embedded links.

    True collaboration solves complex problems

    The process of a community charrette is more than just a public consultation process but rather a collective process of community design. "Although charrettes include a successful method for involving broad groups of stakeholders, the power of the charrette goes beyond its role as a design-based public involvement process. Charrettes do not solve problems through mediation or conflict resolution. Charrettes solve problems through collaborative design.

    The greater value of a charrette lies in its capacity to solve complex problems that resist a conventional linear approach, such as community planning. Community planning involves an intricate relationship between multiple disciplines, typically planning, transportation engineering, economics, environmental engineering and others. Each discipline has their own standards based on solving their problem.

    In a conventional approach these disciplines work in isolation, solving their problems through their limited understanding of the deeper issues. Too often a solution for the traffic engineer causes problems for the land planner. The solution for the land planner causes problems for the economist. The solution for the retailer causes problems for the land planner. This results in dysfunctional planning and animosity between disciplines. In a charrette people begin to see the problem in bigger terms. They see the whole and in seeing the whole they become willing to let go of their conventional approach to work as a collaborative team to solve the core issues even if it means changing the way they work and see things. Charrettes foster collaborative problem solving of complex problems by creating a team of holistic-minded practitioners out of specialists."   --  National Charrette Institute newsletter, June 2008

    The author of The Upside of Down, Thomas Homer-Dixon, speaks at the Woodrow Wilson Centre. He discusses the challenges of dealing with complex issues such as climate change, dealing with uncertainty, and fostering resilience in a globally connected world. Society he says is more likely to break down when multiple stresses occur simultaneously. Like an earthquake, societal pressures—or "tectonic stresses"—build up beneath the surface and are released by factors that are difficult to anticipate, sometimes with catastrophic results. Currently, the world is facing converging simultaneous stresses, but "we need to have a better understanding of the challenges we face before we can really start to talk in creative ways about what we should do," he said. Homer-Dixon believes five tectonic stresses—demographics, economics, environmental degradation, climate change, and energy scarcity—threaten today's global order. These stresses are magnified by the rising connectivity of societies, and by the growing ability of small groups to cause widespread disturbance.

      Click here to view his talk

    Five Things Wikipedia's Founder Has Learned About Online Collaboration By C.G. Lynch in CIO magazine
    Jimmy Wales explains his views on effective collaboration -- June 28, 2007

    1) You need mechanisms in place for effective collaboration. Certainly, people can post bad things onto a wiki, a message board, or a mailing list. The real question is, What systems are in place to deal with this? The mechanisms of a wiki have proven highly effective and have to do with the ability of the community to revise the content or revert to a prior state, and the ability to block communication by people who are causing trouble.

    2) Online identity is important. While safeguard mechanisms can address bad behaviour, the real leverage over contributors is reputation. A real identity or a steady pseudonym can gain reputation capital in a way that establishes credibility just as a real name would offline. This is part of the moral contract of

    3) A successful collaboration requires a shared vision. Wales popinted to the example of a successful wiki called wowwiki.com , a wiki about the online computer game 'World of Warcraft'. There, participants work together successfully because they have a shared vision of the kind of work they are trying to complete: a comprehensive guide to all things World of Warcraft. We see the same pattern over and over: A charitable goal like that of Wikipedia is not necessary. Neutrality is not necessary. But a shared vision is.

    4) Organizations are becoming flatter. Flat hierarchies are increasingly commonplace. They are incredibly powerful due to technologies like wikis that allow peer-to-peer communication without a lot of barriers. This implies that cooperative relationships must not only be established at the highest levels of organizations but throughout all levels. The movement towards empowering employees and stewardship of organizations means that peer-to-peer relationships need encouraging as well.

    5) Speed is incredibly important. A fast and flexible system will always beat a paranoid system that wants to get everything right before publication. To paraphrase Voltaire "the best is the enemy of the good".

    Read the full article here


    Small Groups: An Interview with Peter Block

    "The essence of a small group is that it operates by invitation and pure voluntarism. Small groups shift the collective conversation towards discussions of possibility, connections and community building...


    Establishing a Positive Climate for Knowledge Sharing.

    From a seminar given by Dr Paul Krivinos in Christchurch New Zealand to the Christchurch chapter of the New Zealand Knowledge Management network. Here's the main points:

    • If you want to create a negative climate for knowledge sharing, there's lots of things you can do. Eg, tell others that their ideas are stupid, disagree with them AND put them down at the same time.
    • To illustrate this behaviour Paul creatively used the 2006 Superbowl commercial from Fedex as an example...

    • Really listening to others is a key to open exchange of information, and thus knowledge management. We need to get all of the information onto the table.
    • Being proactive is another key to information sharing instead of just being reactive. Elements of this are supportiveness (giving credit to others), trust (others have no fear that you will shoot the messenger if they bring negative news), openness (willing to be candid with bad news), participative decision making (the "collaboration" piece), and an emphasis on high-performance goals.
    From Michael Sampson's blog on "Improving the capability of teams that can't be together, to work together."


    The Media are Stakeholders

    If you’re getting bad press—or no press—for a good project, you don’t have a communication problem, you have a management problem. So engage the media the way you engage other key stakeholders. Here’s how:

    1. Do your homework. Know where locals get their news, and reach out to reporters and editors who specialize in topics featured in the charrette. Do it immediately, as part of pre-charrette research. And make the contact personal, one-on-one.

    2. Sell the process. Stress the charrette’s inclusiveness and its bottom-line efficiency, both of which play to journalists’ values.

    3. Anticipate rough spots. Assume reporters will be attracted to conflict and personality, the two big drivers of daily journalism. Defuse volatile issues with more information, not by secrecy.

    4. Plan to explain and repeat. Journalists arrive with varying degrees of knowledge and experience. Prepare fact sheets. Connect reporters with experts who can frame key issues and bring them up to speed.

    5. Protect the spirit of openness. Make clients and charrette team leaders defend any attempt to exclude reporters from any part of the process.

    6. Tell the truth even when it hurts. Admit problems. Allow no misleading information to stand—even if it temporarily benefits you. Honesty solidifies trust, which is the principal currency of communication.

    Excerpted from The Charrette Handbook, by Bill Lennertz and Aarin Lutzenhiser, published by APA Planners Press, 2006.


    The Four Habits of an Effective Collaborative Individual
    by Michael Sampson

    Habit #1: Know When You Need to Talk Interactively. Do Not Always Rely on Email.

    Habit #2: Ask for Clarification. Push Back When There Is a Misunderstanding.

    Habit #3: Be Clear on the Value You Bring to the Table

    Habit #4: Have a Common and Shared Vision, Purpose and Approach.


    Ten Essential Tips for Successful Collaboration

    Prepared by the National Education Association Health Information Network

    • Involve a diverse group of stakeholders
    • Allow for sufficient front-end time to build a strong foundation / prepare to face challenges
    • Establish a shared vision
    • Conduct a needs assessment
    • Articulate a data-driven plan of action
    • Develop a shared approach to meeting responsibilities
    • Maintain consistent and effective channels of communication
    • Monitor progress frequently: reassess, revise, and recommit
    • Assess the collaborative’s efforts
    • Share lessons learned


    Coming to Consensus: Tips for Cooperation and Collaboration in Decision Making, or How to Run Meetings So Everyone Wins
    By Mark Shepard

    Consensus means making decisions by the united consent of all. It is noncoercive, as it avoids imposing anyone’s will on others.

    In consensus, the group encourages the sharing of all viewpoints held by those with interest in a topic. These viewpoints are then discussed in a spirit of respect and mutual accommodation. New ideas arise and viewpoints are synthesized, until a formula emerges that wins general approval.

    Consensus is “organic”—unlike mechanical voting. Often, the final decision is different from anyone’s original idea.

    Consensus has advantages. Consideration of all viewpoints provides a more rounded view of the issue, leading to a better decision. And a decision supported by everyone will avoid resentment, division, and efforts to undermine it.

    Consensus does not require that everyone be in complete agreement, but only that all be willing to accept—consent to—a decision. If the group fails to accommodate your viewpoint after fair effort, ask yourself if you feel strongly enough to uphold your position. If not, it may be best to “stand aside.” Refusing to do so might paralyze the group.

    Consensus does not give everyone an equal voice. Some people know more and care more about an issue. Naturally, their views should carry greater weight.

    Better decisions often take longer—in the short run. Try not to make it worse. Before you speak, ask yourself whether your statement is worth the group’s time. (To get an idea of this, you could multiply your speaking time by the number of listeners.) If someone else has said it, you may not need to. When you speak, be brief and to the point—and say it only once.

    If time is short and the group is large, a matter may need to be turned over to a smaller group. Try to cultivate the mutual trust that allows this.

    Be aware of how often you speak. Of course, some people will at times have more to offer. Still, you may have to stop yourself from speaking too often, to avoid dominating. Or if you’re shy, you may need to push yourself to speak. Consensus can fail if some group members dominate.

    A moment of silence can work wonders in easing tensions.

    A chosen facilitator can help consensus by keeping the discussion on track, encouraging good process, and posing alternatives that may resolve differences. But a facilitator is a servant, not a director, and assumes a neutral role. If a facilitator wishes to take a stand on an issue, the task of facilitating is handed to someone else.

    Consensus makes special demands on everyone. You must respect and consider each other. You must have a sense of common searching, instead of wanting to “win.” You must be sensitive and open to each others’ ideas and feelings, and honestly try to accommodate them. Finally, you must be dedicated to uncovering and pursuing truth—even if it leads where you never expected.


    Collaborative Leadership: Awakening Possibility in Others

    In closing the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting January 27, 2008,
    Benjamin Zander conductor of the Boston Philharmonic explores the subject of how collaborative innovation is orchestrated.

    "The conductor depends for his power on making other people powerful"

    Click here to see his presentation on YouTube.


    What is Regional Stewardship?

    The drivers that increasingly demand collaborative solutions also require a shift from the modern day 'hero' type leadership to a more traditional form of mobilizing community resources, stewardship. Stewardship means the careful and responsible management of something entrusted in our care. It recognizes the necessity of shared leadership and that learders act on behalf of others and not hemselves. While most organizations can benefit from stewardship, according to Peter Block, it is at the local level where the clash of interests and the complexity of local challenges make the need for stewardship is most self evident.

    According to California's Alliance for Regional Stewardship, "Regional stewardship combines the idea of “regional citizenship” with “stewardship of place.” Thus, regional stewards are more than just regional leaders; they are special leaders who are committed to the long-term well-being of their communities and regions."

    "A distinction exists between regional government, governance, and stewardship. Government is the formal structure
    that makes policy decisions and allocates public resources. Governance is the informal process of business, government, and community collaboration that shapes decisions and actions in a region. Stewardship is the commitment of regional leaders to place.

    "Regional stewards are leaders who are committed to the long-term well-being of places. They are integrators who cross boundaries of jurisdiction, sector, and discipline to address complex regional issues such as sprawl, equity, education, and economic development. They see the connection between economic, environmental, and social concerns and they know how to “connect the dots” to create opportunities for their regions. Regional stewards are leaders who combine 360 degree vision with the ability to mobilize diverse coalitions for action."

    From: Regional Stewardship: A Commitment to Place by Doug Henton, John Melville, Kim Walesh, Chi Nguyen, and John Parr, Alliance for Regional Stewardship, Palo Alto, California, 2000. For full article click here


    Mass Collaboration

    Don Tapscott talks about some of the ideas his recent book Wikinomics, and how organizations are enaging large numbers of people to resolve complex problems and contribute to shared solutions.

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    last updated 27 April 2019