Our communities are in desperate need of climate change. Not the kind caused by greenhouse gasses, but the kind that makes it easier for cross-sector collaboration to occur.
More often than we'd like, the climate is too frigid for cross-sector collaboration. Too many organizations have developed turf protection as their core competency and refuse to engage with others to explore what change could be achieved by adopting and pursuing common goals. Large organizations accustomed to control can be reluctant to engage in a process that is rooted in the awareness that no single organization can control the outcomes within the complex systems that make up our communities. Organizations facing financial challenges simply don't have the resources or capacity to engage in the difficult, challenging work that is cross-sector collaboration. Other organizations may be content to declare programmatic success and ignore the systemic challenges that remain. And some organizations have no interest at all in assuming shared responsibility for addressing complex challenges and opportunities.
In such a climate, cross-sector collaboration isn't possible.
Sometimes the climate for collaboration can be over-heated. This occurs when a large funder (often-times the federal government) offers the promise of a large grant in exchange for a organizations agreeing to collaborate on a project. Such offers can set off a frenzy of collaborations. But the motivation for the collaborative spirit is access to cash, not a commitment to sustained positive change. Once the money runs out the collaboration dies.
Those who recognize that the climate isn't right for cross-sector collaboration need to exercise leadership that leads to climate change. The first step is to understand the root causes of the current climate. One cause of a frigid climate for collaboration is a lack of shared understanding of the need for change. For example, a researcher asked me the other day if there was broad awareness within a community about its recent sharp economic decline when compared to its peers. Unfortunately, the answer is "absolutely not." And the reason is simple. No one in the community measures economic performance. No measurement. No awareness. Civic leaders that want to catalyze change need to build shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our communities.
Another cause for a frigid climate is a lack of trust among stakeholders. Cross-sector collaboration requires organizations to assume shared responsibility for achieving a common goal. No one is eager to share responsibility with someone they don't trust. Civic leaders that want to catalyze change meet one-on-one with other stakeholders to better understand their respective priorities and motives and they work with others to create safe spaces where tough issues can be sorted through. Collaboration moves at the speed of trust. Trust can be built. Building trust is fundamental skill for those that want to exercise collaborative civic leadership.
Increasing shared understanding and building trust are two ways to begin to change the climate and make cross-sector collaboration possible in our communities.