Leadbeater: Why Collaboration Works

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Charles Leadbeater briefly summarizes key points about collaborative efforts in the video of the last post, and I’d like to single out a few ideas that are especially relevant to public policy collaboration as well as public participation. This post will introduce the subject and will be followed by others addressing each process in more detail.

Leadbeater offers explanations about why collaborative networks have appeal, what they do well and what they need to work.

  1. Collaboration creates neutral spaces by going outside organizational boundaries. Organizational agendas and policies do not drive the process, and each person can contribute without the constraint of following those prescribed directions.

  2. Collaborative spaces are egalitarian. There are no higher ranking managers who might veto a participant’s ideas or block the desire to explore new directions. Everyone is on the same footing.

  3. They provide recognition and a sense of personal effectiveness. In most organizations people don’t get that. They often come to feel, especially in large centrally controlled settings, that their work is taken for granted or unfairly slighted. In a collaborative network, everyone has their say, and good ideas are recognized for their contribution to the larger effort.

  4. They foster creativity by in-depth and respectful exchanges of ideas focused on a central theme. Most important, these exchanges benefit from the range of skills and perspectives represented in the group. As Leadbeater points out in his latest book, We-Think, groups of like-minded people can often get stuck because they operate from the same set of assumptions. Groups of diverse individuals bring in knowledge and experience from many disciplines and are capable of generating options no single group could come up with on its own.

Leadbeater cites examples of situations or problems that he believes do not lend themselves to collaboration, such as projects requiring intensive capital investment, and argues that most collaborative networks require some form of creative management to ensure that new ideas lead to commitment and the outcome the group was set up to achieve. He also emphasizes the role of a collaboration founder or leader who establishes the platform(s) for communication, identifies the basic goal and nurtures the process without trying to exert control over its work.

As he says, participation and collaboration go together, principally because the motives to participate are so strong in this structure. Without respect and recognition, freedom from domination by an organizational agenda, the interplay with ideas of others, and the rest, there is less incentive to invest time and effort.

The same is true for public participation and for collaborative public policy or governance efforts. What must be added, though, to complete the picture in the policy context is a consideration of the interests and incentives, not only of individuals, but of the communities and organizations that are represented in the process. Later posts will explore these issues in detail.

I hope you’ll offer your thoughts in the comment section on how Leadbeater’s ideas fit into your own experience with collaborative projects.

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