Mechanisms of Collaboration and Engagement


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This talk to the IPAC annual conference on August 21 2012 addresses the question why, if collaboration is so good and beneficial, then why do we not do it more often or more successfully?

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  • In preparing for this conference the IPAC team suggested that “Collaborating and engaging with stakeholders is a proven method for success.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and agree with this statement. So why don’t we collaborate more? Why are we not very good at it? And why do people tend to scoff when we use the words collaboration and engagement? In my paper I tried to tackle these questions but here in 15 minutes all I can do is set the stage.
  • So here is my top ten summary. I’d be happy to go into detail on any of these ideas later. 10. Collaboration is not too hard or too difficult. It’s just that we don’t understand how to do it. Mostly we indulge in fantasies 9. We can not compel people to voluntarily collaborate 8. We don’t need more rules, stricter accountability & harsher punishments. We need accountability to be accepted & mistakes to be learned from 7. The assumption that ‘government knows best’ is false. The fact that government feels the need to collaborate declares this. 6. The vitality of any partnership depends on the diversity of its members and the integrating conversations that go on among them 5. Answers are not more important than questions. Answers get in the way. Experts don’t listen. Action is not better than dialogue. Questions are more transformative 4. The problem doesn’t lie in changing someone else’s behaviour but in creating shared ownership & changing our own 3. Expect failure, prepare for it and be saved by it. 2. When no one is in charge, leadership is usually the problem I don’t mean leaders per se but the emphasis on leadership itself . My #1 tip is - Don’t depend on agreements but on people & a collaborative process of inquiry
  • There is a lot of unclarity about the nature of collaboration. ‘Collaborative partnership’ has been used, on one hand, to describe the purchase by Coke of the exclusive right to sell pop on City of Ottawa property while on the other hand to describe the complex, multi-party, multi-decade agreement to build and manage the Confederation Bridge – an agreement that even required a constitutional amendment. Collaboration is more formal than cooperation, but less so than partnership. And it is definitely not a vendor-purchaser relationship. All cooperation is voluntary & contingent on benefits exceeding costs Collaboration means that ‘no-one-is-in-charge’. This pushes us towards using networks and relational governance Working together invites social traps -- when we act in ways that irrationally defeat the purpose of our acting together.
  • Other characteristics of effective collaboration: Leads to shared ownership It is future oriented Challenges everyone’s basic assumptions Generates rigorous feedback & accountability Fundamentally democratic Individual choice & freedom with togetherness It’s fun Personally transformative Inspires a desire for a repeat performance
  • Experience is transportable . Not really. Each case is unique. Collaborative relationships come at a high cost Unless you consider the much higher cost of trying to implement w/o consensus Action is the key to success Learning and trust are the keys to successful collaboration Good leaders make good collaborators The characteristics of good leaders are antithetical to good collaboration We are not all equal (in particular government is special) This idea is poisonous in collaboration We believe we have all the knowledge needed If this were true we wouldn’t need to collaborate. Questions are more important than answers because they open the door to possibility We can not predict the future by solving the problems of the past The challenge is in changing the behaviour of others The challenge is in changing our own behaviour Better leaders are needed to make better choices Depending on leaders is a form of entitlement and an avoidance of responsibility We need to avoid conflict Conflict is unavoidable and necessary. Embrace it. Collaboration will be spontaneous. we won’t fail so we don’t have to pay attention to reasons for failure. we have faith our contract will protect us Evidence says otherwise
  • a tendency to wallow in oversimplified stylizations of complex systems holding onto Newtonian notions of certainty, equality, rational acting, centralized bureaucracies, and governance by virtuous, knowledgeable experts b) the reluctance to abandon worn-out conventional management practices Someone must be in-charge, leadership, ‘government knows best’, standardization, egalitarian, technical “Grand Designer” c) the tendency to slip into fanciful thinking when it comes to how successful collaboration will ultimately materialize Collaboration emerges spontaneously, rational actors know how to cooperate, conflict must be eliminated, advocacy over learning, dominance over acceptance, everyone will realize how wise we are & adapt to us.
  • Does the situation need changing? This is an observational & cognitive phase that examines the issue domain to determine its ‘fit’ with the mega-community involved What is the problem? This is an investigative phase that focuses on defining the problem and the task at hand more precisely, the non-negotiable constraints imposed by the mega-community or by the ethos of the milieu How will you work together? This is a design-cum-moral contracting phase that unfolds with two processes in parallel: the institutional/organizational structures that will enable collaboration & learning, together with the conventions and moral contracts that will enable ongoing trust, a culture of cooperation and relational governance How will you learn together & evaluate your progress? This is an evaluative & social learning phase that focuses on the extent to which the collective intelligence and innovation functions have performed well. It is also the ‘learning-while-doing’ phase
  • These questions will lead to others and become increasingly issue and context dependent. These are presented as a general framework for inquiry and the starting point of collective reflection.
  • A recent survey by the Institute for Research on Public Policy and Nanos Research found that only 9.4% of Canadians had confidence in the federal government’s ability to solve problems, while 18% had no confidence. Things were even worse for the provinces. The researchers suggested that when Canadians say they have lost confidence in governments, what they are really saying that they doubt governments are willing and able to develop the partnerships needed to solve complex issues. They doubt that governments can have an honest conversation with those people who can contribute to part of the puzzle, or to work together to create an innovative solution. If you will allow me a story, there is a parable bout a group of blind men and an elephant found in many of the world’s great traditions. The lesson of this parable concerns knowledge obtained from incomplete information. One feels the elephant’s tail & believes it is a pig . Another feels the leg & believes it is a tree The third feels the elephant’s side and believes it’s a wall . The fourth feels the trunk & believes it’s a snake . Which of the blind men is correct? The obvious answer is of course none, but that answer is only possible from our perspective of seeing the whole picture. From the perspectives of the blind men whose senses are providing them with incomplete information, they are all partially correct. So if they are all partially right, then what picture is possible if we consider all the different interpretations together simultaneously? That is, “what can be a pig, a tree, a wall, and a snake all at the same time?” What reality is it that allows all six blind men to be correct? Of course the only way an accurate picture can emerge is through their conversation with one another and their trust in the validity of each other’s claims. One can imagine them exchanging stories until eventually the notion of an elephant comes out. This parable depicts a perennial policy challenge that exists with many complex health and social issues under conditions of incomplete information. The only reasonable approach is to foster a dialogue among those with different perspectives, where not only information is shared but also the information’s validity is tested as well as the reliability of each contributor. We need more collaboration because it gives us better outcomes. Government needs to do more collaboration. But we can’t pretend to do it. We need to get serious about doing it – and by we I mean you and I. We need to pay attention to mechanisms & see what works and experiment. Together we can.
  • Your behaviour together today is a microcosm of what you want to create. To change your future, change your behaviour! Establish the relationship between the collaborative body and participating organizations Establish how will collective decisions be transferred to home organizations? Is decision making authority sufficiently delegated? Who is accountable to whom and how? Identify power imbalances & mitigate them
  • Connectors bring people together Mavens just want to share knowledge & be helpful
  • Mechanisms of Collaboration and Engagement

    1. 1. Collaborative Co-Governance: A checklist approach to collaboration Presentation & Panel discussion to the 64th Annual Conference of IPAC, “Navigating Uncharted Waters: Embracing the Tides of Change,” St. John’s, NFLD, August 19 – 22, 2012.08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 1 University of Ottawa
    2. 2. Top Ten Tips1. Don’t depend on agreements but on people & a collaborative process of inquiry2. When no one is in charge, leadership is usually the problem3. Expect failure. Prepare for it and be saved by it.4. The problem doesn’t lie in changing someone else’s behaviour but in creating shared ownership & changing our own5. Answers are not more important than questions. Answers get in the way. Experts don’t listen. Action is not better than dialogue.6. The vitality of any partnership depends on its diversity and the integrating conversations that go on among its members7. The assumption that ‘government knows best’ is false8. We don’t need more rules, stricter accountability & harsher punishments. We need accountability to be accepted & mistakes to be learned from9. We can not compel people to voluntarily collaborate10. Collaboration is not too hard or too difficult. It’s just that we don’t understand how to do it. Mostly we indulge in fantasies08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 2 University of Ottawa
    3. 3. Cooperation ContinuumCompetition Coordination Cooperation Collaboration Partnership▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ Increasing interdependence & interaction • The degree of cooperation we choose, should align with the issue complexity and level of our inter-dependence – As complexity & interdependence change, the form of cooperation should also change • The form of cooperation should be chosen to help mitigate the tendency towards rational self interest & being caught in “social traps” 08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 3 University of Ottawa
    4. 4. Does your experience of collaboration sound like this? 1. You and your partners clearly share a common purpose 2. Your meetings are focused on collective learning, understanding the issue, and prioritizing your options -- not on making decisions 3. You look forward to your meetings because you are excited by them, they are both creative and productive 4. When you meet together, there are moments of collective transcendence when things just ‘click’ and you all experience new degrees of clarity, energy and enthusiasm 5. You work effortlessly by consensus 6. Your work saves both time & money & creates new resources 7. Your work produces more comprehensive & innovative outcomes 8. Your work produces better quality outcomes 9. Your work ensures stronger support during implementation 10. It is likely the collaboration will lead to life-long friendships08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 4 University of Ottawa
    5. 5. Or is it more like this?1. We were forced into it2. Collaboration was an act of desperation – “Collaboration is an unnatural act between non-consenting adults.”3. People keep asking “why are we all here?”4. You’re tired of repeating yourself; having your partners complain they don’t understand you; & that you don’t understand them5. You feel that you only have a ‘token’ presence6. “We all say we want to collaborate, but what we really mean is that we want to keep doing things the same while others adapt to what we’re doing”7. You spend most of your time trying to make decisions w/o really understanding what’s going on8. Partners frequently don’t show up at meetings and then they complain that decisions were made without them.9. The commitment of your partners disappears right when it’s time to get down to the real work10. Nothing seems to have been accomplished by all of this. The sooner we’re finished with this experience the better08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 5 University of Ottawa
    6. 6. If not the former, why not?08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 6 University of Ottawa
    7. 7. Top Ten Practice Barriers 1. Unclear purpose  Online this may mean an unclear prototype / possibility 2. Unable to continually demonstrate value for effort 3. Lack of champion (s)  There is there no one responsible for building trust & moving info around 4. Unwillingness to invest in relationships  not paying enough attention to people or incentivizing their participation 5. Unable to listen to each other  How do people know they have been heard? 6. Spending too much time on decision making  And not enough on learning 7. Inappropriate decision making processes  Use of coercion, selling, voting, rushing to action instead of consensus.  No failsafe mechanisms 8. People fail to treat partners as partners 9. People are too trusting of contracts 10. Your (their) organization does not fully support the decisions of the partnership.08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 7 University of Ottawa
    8. 8. We Don’t Understand How to Collaborate• We use incorrect assumptions• We lack the appropriate skills• We suffer from a Collective Learning Disability• To collaborate better we need: – A new organizational paradigm – To make use of heuristics – To collect a ‘tool box’ of affordances – To apply an inquiring system of collaborative governance08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 8 University of Ottawa
    9. 9. Top Ten Incorrect Assumptions1. Collaboration will be spontaneous – we won’t fail so we don’t pay attention to reasons for failure – we have faith that a well written contract will protect us2. We need to avoid conflict3. Better leaders are needed to make better choices4. The challenge is in changing the behaviour of others5. We believe we have all the knowledge needed – answers are more important than questions – if we can solve the problems of the past we can predict the future6. We are not all equal (in particular, government is special)7. Good leaders make good collaborators8. Action is the key to success9. Collaborative relationships come at a high cost – although less than the cost of implementing w/o consensus10. Experience is transportable. Each case is unique.08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 9 University of Ottawa
    10. 10. Collaboration Skills• Socialization practices – Pre-collaboration, getting to possibility, shared purpose, trust building• Design practices – Structuring the process w/o structuring the outcome• Engagement practices – Empowerment, personalizing, building ownership & commitment• Trust practices – Building confidence in each other, re-affirming trust & moral contracting• Governance practices – Purpose, principles, people, concepts, structure & processes – Working to consensus & multiple accountability• Operational practices – Appropriate & fair sharing of risks, rewards & workloads• Information practices – Satisfying learning, contingent cooperation & multiple accountabilities• Learning practices – Developing an inquiring system – Developing common language & knowledge – Prototyping, experiential learning, connoisseurship,08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 10 University of Ottawa
    11. 11. Our Collective Learning Disability• 3 Handicaps a) a tendency to wallow in oversimplified stylizations of complex systems b) the reluctance to abandon worn-out conventional management practices c) the tendency to slip into fanciful thinking when it comes to how successful collaboration will ultimately materialize.08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 11 University of Ottawa
    12. 12. An Inquiring System for Collaboration Observational Does the situation need changing? Info Gathering Relationships Learning How do we learn Trust What is the InvestigativeWhile Doing together & evaluate Learning problem? our progress? Doing Feedback How can we work together? Relationship Design 08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 12 University of Ottawa
    13. 13. A Collaborative ChecklistDoes the What is the problem? How will you work How will you learnsituation need together? together & evaluate yourchanging? progress?1. Are there any 6. What is the task at hand? STRUCTURAL DESIGN 12. What feedback & informationaldetectable anomalies? 10. What practices of loops do you need to enable social 7. What are the non-negotiable collaboration and social learning learning?2. What are the salient constraints within the can you use to produce short term 13. What processes of formal andfeatures of the issue community or society? success & long term commitment? informal collective learning do youdomain? have in place?3. What are the causal 8. Who are the stakeholders CULTURE OF 14. How will you gauge ongoing mechanisms at that must be included and how COLLABORATION performance and partner play? will you involve them? 11. What are the conventions & contributions objectively? moral contracts required to 15. How will you gauge changes in maintain a culture of attitudes & behaviours among collaboration? partners?4. Can this be resolved 9. What are the risks and 16. How will you resolve conflicts?by a single actor? potential rewards among the various partners, and how will 17. What failsafe / safe-fail these be aligned?5. Who are the key mechanisms are in place?stakeholders? 18. At what point would you dissolve the collaboration?08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 13 University of Ottawa
    14. 14. Blind Men & the Elephant08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 14 University of Ottawa
    15. 15. Thank you Christopher Wilson Tel: 613-355-650508/26/12 Centre on Governance, 15 University of Ottawa
    16. 16. Appendix – Creating a Collaborative Toolbox • Does the situation need changing? • Effective What is the problem? • How will you work together? all collaboration is • How will youabouttogether & evaluate your learn creating progress? opportunities for • Helpful Definitions effective co-learning • List of heuristics08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 16 University of Ottawa
    17. 17. Does the situation need changing?• Generosity – Demonstrate your cooperativeness by sharing what you know/have.• Shopping the idea – exploring vs deciding• Scenario exercises – “what if…” – Change assumptions & where does that lead you?• Stakeholder mapping – Value networks of tangible and intangible exchanges• The invitation conversation – Invite them to explore an alternative future– no prior commitment – Not just invitation to talk but may lead to joint work & shared contributions – Allow them to say “no”• Set the agenda for your 1st on- or off-line meeting together• Recognize what each participant brings to the table If you’re not part – Potential gifts & assets of organization and/ or person of the problem, – Identify everyone’s cost of participation how can you be – Each person’s contribution to the problem part of the – Tabling ‘your story’ solution?08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 17 University of Ottawa
    18. 18. What is the Issue?• The possibility conversation – What is the future you would like to bring into reality? • Use discussion papers, online mock-ups, “photo shopped” pictures • What new value will be created for everyone? • What issues, problems, harms must be avoided & what can be mitigated?• Business planning – What milestones need to be achieved? – What are the assumptions you are working with & how will you tell if they are right? – Define the ‘pains & gains’ for each partner – Who is best positioned to deal with what risk?• Which stakeholders do you include in the process? – Periodic Those who will contribute; those who can block; those affected by your decisions; & those with Public & relevant knowledge Core Task Force Meetings & Consultations Media – How will you mobilize their support? • Always invite them – Circles of involvement • Let them choose when and how they want to participate• The commitment conversation – What are the promises am I willing to make to this enterprise? – What is the price I am willing to pay for the success of the whole effort? • Reject lip service• Contracting & MOUs – Define the tangible & intangible risks / benefits for everyone? – Treat as learning opportunity to discover your partners08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 18 University of Ottawa
    19. 19. How will you work together?• Structural design – How will you be together? • Changing how you are together today, changes the future you want to share – Build stewardship over leadership • how can I help? – Work by consensus • Agreement by most, acquiescence by the rest Working together • Avoid voting & arbitrary decision making except as failsafe – Use empowered and devolved decision making takes attention – Structure more time for learning than deciding • Questions vs answers • Have 50-70% of time dedicated to learning – 360o accountability • Formal accountability, mutual accountability & imposed accountability (media, public) – Formalize how collaborative decisions are transferred to home organizations08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 19 University of Ottawa
    20. 20. How will you work together?• Culture of Cooperation – Use brokers / trusted mavens & connectors – Use more endogenous (value laden) feedback as interdependence increases • Informal meetings, face-to-face, coffee, meals, networking – Practices of generosity • Don’t take exclusive ownership, you’re not in charge • There is profit from having a reputation of generosity – Monitoring • Coordinator, staff exchanges, co-location, reporting, networking, forums – Application of sanctions • Willingness to confront & deal with deception and misinformation • Define the penalties of non-cooperation – Define & use failsafes • What are the unacceptable conditions if collaboration fails • Who makes the decision if the group can not? • Establish conflict resolution method upfront, contract conditions – Have you created safe-fail spaces? – Celebrations • Define & publicly celebrate milestones08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 20 University of Ottawa
    21. 21. How will you learn together?• Contracting & MOUs seen primarily as tools for mutual understanding not for forcing compliance• Build common knowledge resources, shared language• Use action as a tool for co-learning – Don’t rush to action – Baby steps to build confidence & mutual understanding – Set up feedback mechanisms to monitor progress• Bricolage – Trial & error (heuristic problem solving) – Action, assessment, evaluation & adjustment – Double loop learning • How does implementation change your business model?• Build in necessary staff training – Training in collaboration skills, practices and mechanisms – Change management & technical training• Prior distribution of materials & documents w/ appropriate lead times before meetings – Make meetings mostly about learning08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 21 University of Ottawa
    22. 22. How will you evaluate your progress? • Contracting & MOUs – Vehicles for goal setting, targets and baseline data • Adopt a developmental evaluation approach – Learning as you go • Establish agreeable metrics – Metrics for trust – Metrics for learning – Metrics for results – Re-visit regularly the efficacy of the metrics you use • Establish coordinator / champions – Use as channels for moving both codifiable & tacit knowledge • Coffee, meals, networking – Informal info exchanges often have the biggest payoff • Electronic info exchanges, wikis – Ensure ownership remains with partners & not any one group • Regular reporting – Use champions to circulate08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 22 University of Ottawa
    23. 23. Helpful Definitions• Consultation – Process of obtaining input from the public (usually 1-way) on matters that affect them. In state of disrepute: those consulting pretend to listen & those consulted pretend that their input matters• Cooperation – individuals or organizations support each other in a common interest, instead of working separately or in competition. Informal & often commitment-lite• Collaboration – individuals and/or organizations work together towards some defined common goal. Collaboration is usually to accomplish together what could not be done independently — cooperating in decision making, resource sharing and action. Some joint governance (steering committee) and agreement (MOU) implied• Partnership – a collaborative entity in which participating ‘partners’ formally and legally agree to share risks, costs, benefits and decision making with each other. Joint governance is required & that is usually spread throughout the organizations• Networking – the various practices involving interacting, exchanging and building relationships among people including formal and informal meetings; social media; professional exchanges, etc..No commitments implied.• Social traps – Where people engaged in cooperation act ‘rationally’ to obtain short-term individual gains (free-rider), which in the long run lead to a loss of value for them & the group as a whole – everyone loses08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 23 University of Ottawa
    24. 24. Heuristic Strategies • Meta-heuristics – Change / Vary; Cycle / Repeat • Master Heuristics – Build up / Eliminate – Work forwards / Work backwards • Strategies for Set Manipulation – Associate / Classify – Generalize / Exemplify – Compare / Relate • Strategies for Involvement – Commit / Defer; Leap in / Hold back; Focus / Release; Force / Relax ; Dream / Imagine; Purge / Incubate Source: How to Make Collaboration Work, David Straus, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 200208/26/12 Centre on Governance, 24 University of Ottawa
    25. 25. Heuristic Strategies (cont’d)• Strategies for Manipulating Information – Display / Organize; List / Check; Diagram / Chart; Verbalize / Visualize• Strategies for Information Retrieval – Memorize / Recall; Record / Retrieve; Search / Select• Strategies for Dealing with the Future – Plan / Predict; Assume / Question; Hypothesize / Guess; Define / Symbolize; Simulate / Test• Strategies for Physical Manipulation – Play / Manipulate; Copy / Interpret; Transform / Translate; Expand / Reduce; Exaggerate / Understate; Adapt / Substitute; Combine / Separate08/26/12 Centre on Governance, 25 University of Ottawa