Testing the water for collaboration

Dipping a pale toe into San Francisco Bay:  Ruth Hartnup  on flickr.

Dipping a pale toe into San Francisco Bay: Ruth Hartnup on flickr.

The most important sustainability challenges can only be solved by system change. And system change happens when people work together – collaborate - to change the system.

Collaboration is successful when the collaborators share some compelling aims. It’s not enough for everyone to nod along from the side-lines – they need to be rolling their sleeves up and getting stuck in to the game. How do you help potential collaborators find their shared aims?

Collaboration grids

This is a process I have used with people with an interest in water – too much of it (floods), too little of it (resources) and how good it is (quality).

  1. The session begins with table discussion, with people sharing their interests in the overall topic.

  2. From those discussions, the small groups agree what they see as shared interests, and writes these on strips of flip chart paper. Each shared interest goes on a different piece of paper. It’s great if people can find a mid-level of detail here – more specific than ‘world peace’ and more strategic than ‘build a fish pass on the River Wet’.

  3. These are stuck up on the wall where everyone can read them, clustering the desired outcomes like with like. Spend some time with the group making sure the clusters are right: not too general, avoid grouping things which should really be kept separate. It’s fine for some things to be on their own. Check everyone understands each item, and amend them with the authors’ help if they’re not understood.

  4. Next to each cluster, stick up an A4 grid (see below). The grid can be labelled with the name of the cluster it relates to.

Collaboration grid

Collaboration grid

5. Invite everyone to get together with any colleagues from their organisation who are in the room. Some people might be alone – that’s fine. Others might be in quite a large group – that’s also fine. Some people may even be representing more than one organisation. Also fine! The point is that they need to indicate their organisation’s current view on each cluster, so if they have colleagues there, they’ll need to talk to them so that they come to a single view.

6. Each organisation which is represented in the room, visits each cluster and adds a mark to the grid, to show whether their organisation:

  • Will put time and money into making this happen.

  • Would like to see it happen but won’t put time and money into it.

  • Doesn’t mind whether it happens or not, or doesn’t know enough to have a view.

  • Would not like to see it happen, but won’t put time and money into preventing it.

  • Will put time and money into preventing it.

Note that people aren’t ‘signing up’ their organisation – no names are used, this process just provides a snapshot of which aims, objectives, goals or targets are actively supported by more than one organisation, which aren’t, and which are actively opposed.

7. Encourage people to visit every cluster and make a mark against it – even if they find themselves using the middle ‘don’t know’ option a lot. This is also useful information.

8. Once everyone has made their mark, the group can take a step back and discuss the implications of the results.

There is a free download of instructions here. This exercise is also described in Working Collaboratively: a practical guide to achieving more.

Making the Path by Walking

This post was first published in my Making the Path by Walking newsletter, June 2019. For practical tips on facilitation, organisational change and sustainability to your inbox each month, scroll down to the footer to subscribe.