The Big Idea: Developing a collaborative learning loop (CLL©) in multi-stakeholder engagements will improve results in designing programs that are successful in planning, implementation and having meaningful impact in improving people's lives, communities, and the environment.
The problem: Well documented attempts at building collaborative initiatives that bring together multiple stakeholders have been known at times to produce a lot of talk with very little follow-through and action, innovation, and results, despite the best of intentions. Particularly in the U.S., which scores very high in individualism and short-term thinking (Hofstede, 2012), societal issues tend to fall under the domain of either government or non-profits, each within its own silo, and the private sector historically participating on the periphery. The public, private and civil sectors have often operated with separate agendas and action plans, and in many cases, have even been adversarial and mistrustful, each of the other. Being a culture driven by individualism also means that people are focused on the self, first and foremost; they look after themselves and close family members. This is reinforced by decades of an education model that a) promotes learning individually and quietly at rows of desks, thereby promoting competition over communication; b) reinforces problem-solving in linear thought processes which impede creativity and critical systems thinking; and c) prioritizes maximum individual, quantitative results over collaboration and holistic team-based project and qualitative results.
The argument: The public sector cannot solve the world's most intractable problems alone. It will take collaboration between the private, public, and civil sectors all working together to create design-to-implement-to-impact-to-learning solutions. These partnership endeavors are not easy, but they are critical because of the power of three: that collaborative impact is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
The solution: The CLL© Model prioritizes systems learning (systems-thinking and a learning orientation) and offers steps to set up multi-stakeholder endeavors for success.
What is a CLL©?
The CLL© Model is an approach to facilitate optimal partnership development is oriented around problem identification, knowledge sharing, project management, multi-stakeholder accountability and professional learning communities (PLCs). While PLCs have been largely constructed in academia, the basic premise centers on collaboration of all kinds that remove barriers and achieve clearly defined, targeted milestones and results (Dufour, 2004). The CLL is a powerful enabler in the process of designing for meaningful collective impact, wherein at least two sectors of society are coming together to solve a shared concern (Berger, 2013). In the CLL©, the partners are motivated to take advantage of each other's competencies, break down existing mental models, and build holistic solutions while also creating additional opportunities for further partnership, growth, and innovation. Kania (2014) shared five ingredients for a successful endeavor; these make up the backbone of the CLL©.
1) have a common agenda, shared vision, and common understanding of the problem;
2) align efforts;
3) agree on the measures of success;
4) engage in a mutually agreed plan of action;
5) maintain open communications with continuous check-ins and a point person(s) as the project manager and leadership authority for the initiative (FSG, 2015)
CLLs are cross disciplinary learning opportunities, which in turn, foster agility, balance and coordination across the stakeholders, and the CLL model promotes greater involvement, innovation and collaboration. When aiming for collective impact and meaningful triple bottom line (TBL) results, a CLL is externally focused and comprised of people from diverse backgrounds coming together, sharing a common purpose, leveraging each other's skills, confronting pre-existing biases and mental models, and opening the platform where mutual learning and growth breed success and occur across the different competencies and organizational structures. A CLL can unite parties who otherwise would perceive that they have nothing in common, except for a similar intention. However, intention is not enough to build a successful result. Most significantly, a CLL creates opportunities to raise the bar, solve complex global issues, and build powerful, positive momentum. Finally, a CLL cultivates a foundation of mutual trust that lends itself to further opportunities for partnership, development, and growth.
The learning process in a CLL is like any other: it is designed to motivate engaged parties to gain an intrinsic understanding of how the shared concern commonly affects them and to collaborate toward viable solutions. Each party represents their unique worldview, values and internal drivers (Senge, etal., 2008), and yet, they move through the CLL with openness and non-judgment in order to build a collective and unifying direction (Smith, 2001). Each party brings certain skills, resources and advantages to the equation, and through an action-learning approach, together learning and movement through the project is real (Haugh & Talwar, 2010). Members learn from their multi-stakeholder experiences in launching of the new initiatives, allowing for proximity to the issues, and feedback from different stakeholders. The key is to bridge the gaps that have historically kept entities from partnering, and to nurture the environment that breeds collaboration and innovation.
Implementation of a CLL follows was Zadek (2001) believes is "a transition from a buffered dependence on stakeholders towards a bridging dynamic interdependence between [the participating organizations] and their surroundings as well as with [their] influential stakeholders," (p. 221) and movement from reactive compliance to proactive engagement between business and society. It relies on Knowles' elements of andragogical learning - that adults are self-directed learners, learning takes place from the inside out and it is dependent upon creating intrinsic motivation that arouses interest, creates relevance, develops expectations of success, and produces satisfaction throrugh direct and indirect rewards (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2005). See more details in the link to learn more about the steps in the CLL Model.
DuFour, R. (2004). Schools as learning communities. Educational leadership, 61(8), 6-11 Retrieved from http://www.plainfieldnjk12.org/pps_staff/docs/dufour_PLCs.pdf
FSG Collective Impact Framework, 2015.
Haugh, H.M. & Talwar, A. (2010). How do corporations embed sustainability across the organization? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2010, vol. 9, no 3., p. 384-396.
Senge, P., Smith, B., Kruschwitz, N., Laur, J., & Schley, S. (2008). The necessary revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Smith., P. (2001). Peter Senge and the learning organization. Message posted to http://www.infed.org/thinkers/senge.htm.
Zadek, S. (2001). Partnership alchemy. Engagement, innovation and governance. In J. Andriof, & M<. McIntosh (Eds.), Perspectives on corporate citizenship (pp. 200-214). Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf.