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What is the Lifespan of a Collaborative Process?

Added on: 18-Apr-17 12:00am

Author: Miranda O'Connell

I have been reflecting on this question as I come to the end of a wonderful collaborative process working with a multi-stakeholder group who are concerned with the future of the community within which they work, live and play. For eleven months this group has been meeting in person and communicating online and in the process have grown their collaborative fitness and collective intelligence. It has been a privilege to be part of their journey.

The group had reached a summary point where they had provided a formal report to the Local Board with advice on actions that could be taken to improve the community and identifying key success factors for a desired future. The most recent meeting of the group had them reflecting on the collaborative process that had been trod and considering their future. Should the group continue? What would be its purpose? What was each person’s commitment looking forward?

A vigorous discussion took place with a consensus being reached that the vehicle of a collaborative multi-stakeholder group focused on the future of the community is a useful one and should be continued. There was commitment from many of the individual stakeholders to participate moving forward and a willingness and interest in welcoming diverse voices to the process.

The Local Board then separately deliberated on the group’s future. The Local Board thanked the group for its efforts and advice and decided to not further support the group. The rationale of the Local Board was uncertainty of the purpose of the group moving forward and the costs of running such a group.

The difference in these conclusions of the Local Board and the collaborative group bring me to an answer to the question in this blog’s title – a collaborative process will last as long as there is both clarity of purpose and commitment to collaborate. Both ingredients must be present to inspire, sustain and maintain a collaborative process.

Clarity of purpose
Collaborative processes often begin in response to a complex need and the collaborators are driven by the desire to address that need. A fundamental step to walk in a collaborative process is to define the dilemma. This means finding out what the common purpose is for all collaborators. Clearly identifying and agreeing this common purpose provides the glue that binds the participants to each other in their joint search for solutions.

Commitment to collaborate
The commitment to collaborate needs to be held by all participants in the complex system being addressed. This means the diversity of voices that are affected and definitely includes the decision makers who make decisions based on the collective intelligence generated. Commitment means having time, money and a collaboratively fit attitude.

There is no right lifespan for a collaborative process to aim for. Some processes last for decades, others just months. By looking at the indicators of clarity of purpose and commitment to collaborate you can assess where your collaborative process is at with regards to its life cycle.

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