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Yes to Collaboration, But How?

Mindmap: An artifact from a recent convening about how to start effective networks, summarizing what the participants learned together. The video below describes this product in more detail.This post was originally published on the Social Transformation Project blog

Like a broken record, progressives have repeated for years that we need to work together and coordinate beyond our traditional divides and “silos.” It is common knowledge. Yet after all these years, effective collaboration, where the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts, is the exception rather than the rule.

Meanwhile, the stakes have increased. More now than ever, the complex and interconnected challenges we face require us to work together in new ways. People and the planet urgently need concerted action from every corner of our society.

Last month we shared some inspiring examples of unusual allies working in greater collaboration and alignment across progressive movements. While promising, these collaborations present real challenges for leaders who often need to learn new ways to build relationships, alignment, shared strategy, and organizational and campaign structures with diverse constituencies.

We are not taught these skills and practices in school or in most jobs, or even in most traditional leadership development efforts. Mainstream North American culture values competition over cooperation, and that shows up even in the progressive sector.

The great news is that there are some very smart people working to figure this out and they’re sharing their learning. One of our roles in this space is to partner with willing leaders and connect them with tools, methodologies and practitioners to accelerate their practice towards ever more effective collaboration.

Here are just a few of the folks who are moving the ball forward:

The Garfield foundation, with Eugene Kim as facilitator, recently convened their second workshop for network practitioners, where people from across the social change sector shared best practices and swapped tools. This gathering was part of my inspiration for this post. The focus of the convening was “the art of the start”: the scoping, trust-building, shared analysis-building phases of creating collaborative networks.

Here is a [video] snapshot of the learning from that convening.

We’ll continue to share our insights and learning as we go, and would love to hear from you. Tell us in the comments, what are you learning about networks and collaboration? Who are you working with? What resources are you finding useful?


Jodie Tonita is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Social Transformation Project.