Engaging Diverse Stakeholders
16 October 2013 at 10:23 am
|Dawn O'Neil AM|
One of the most challenging aspects of Collective Impact is effectively engaging diverse stakeholders. And the sector must grapple with this issue and develop disciplines and skills to be effective at collaboration and cross sectoral engagement, according to Australian social change advocates Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham.
“Change is disturbing when it’s done to us; it’s exhilarating when it’s done by us.” – Elisabeth Moss Kanter
There is no doubt that one of the most challenging aspects of Collective Impact is effectively engaging diverse stakeholders. And it is this element that can make or break the success of an initiative. Engagement takes lots of time, can often involve dealing with conflict or interpersonal tensions, confusion or power issues. For these and others reasons many avoid engagement – saying it is just too difficult or citing past experiences that have yielded poor outcomes despite considerable effort.
However if we are going to solve the complex issues facing us as a society and move past the limitations of isolated effort or the duplication of effort that besets the social sector today, we must grapple with this issue and develop the disciplines and skills needed to be effective at collaboration and cross sectoral engagement.
One Australian consultancy that has been effectively working in this way for many years is Twyfords. Based in Wollongong, they have developed a number of tools, frameworks and skills that have helped many private, public and Not for Profit sector organisations effectively engage complex stakeholder groups in Australia and New Zealand to collaboratively create solutions. One of these is a framework described as Collaborative Governance that outlines a process for effectively engaging diverse stakeholders in co-creating solutions to complex problems.
This is more fully described in their unique e-book named, “The Power of Co” which is packed full of concepts, ideas and references as to the mindsets and skills needed to do this collaborative work.
The authors, Vivien Twyford, Max Hardy, John Dengate, Stuart Waters and Tania Jones state that, “We are promoting a system of thinking and a collaborative framework that supports the exploration of complex issues more deeply. We have called it ‘Collaborative Governance’ because it is about collaborative decision- making….This book is our first attempt to describe the model and discuss our experiences of projects where we watched our client organisations and their communities demonstrate effective collaborative practice in both micro and macro situations.
“Over the past 20 years we’ve encouraged decision-makers to have a different kind of conversation with their stakeholders, including their constituents and the people who have an opinion or who may be affected. Our clients now talk to a wide range of parties about a problem and the evidence that supports a need for action. The parties have started working together to create solutions. While it’s been a challenging approach for many, it’s our contention that when people are invited in to help understand and appreciate a particular problem and given the responsibility to step into a place where they can start to build solutions, they are able to rise to the occasion and surpass all expectations.” (The Power of Co; Page 29)
The book covers all elements of the Collaborative Governance framework and provides plenty of case studies and examples from their experiences of doing this work in private, public and community sector organisations over many years.
In Chapter One they outline the Power of ‘Co’ and help us to understand why some problems are complex and how to create enduring solutions.
In Chapter Two they explore the Paradox of Power and the challenge for today’s leaders including elected representatives, corporate directors, executives, and in fact anyone with power to make decisions that affect others.
In Chapter Three Twyfords explain each step in the Collaborative Governance process and describe how these steps build the essential foundations of commitment, co-definition and co-design. They also illustrate how they connect people to each other and build energy, trust, enthusiasm and cooperation to reach the ultimate goal of enduring solutions.
Chapters Four, Five, Six and Seven describe in detail each of the five steps of Collaborative Governance – a virtual roadmap for harnessing the Power of ‘Co’ in many different situations.
The final chapters provide many resources and useful tools that they have used in their work.
In conclusion we would agree with Twyfords that the “Power of Co” is crucial to achieving change in complex environments. But this demands new mind-sets and new tools that pioneering groups like Twyfords and others have developed and generously share so we can all become more skilled at this work.
We commend this book to you as a way to become a more effective facilitator of stakeholder engagement in an increasingly complex world.
About the authors: Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham have just undertaken a Collective Impact study tour in the US on behalf of the Centre for Social Impact. Their vision is to translate Collective Impact into the Australian context.