Collaboration: the key to social change

Now here’s a thought:

Collaboration the key to social change

“It’s not technology or money that’s lacking but a culture of collaboration,” Richard Alvarez, president and CEO of Canada Health Infoway told The Globe and Mail recently.

…Wicked problems are complex and deeply rooted and they involve many stakeholders in government, business and the community. No single actor, no matter how much money and clout it has, can overcome such problems. Instead, all the stakeholders must make common cause, contributing skills, influence and resources that can make social transformation unfold.

Achieving social change requires a different set of operating values, according to Michael Edwards, author of Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World. These operating values are co-operation rather than competition, collective action more than individual effort, and patient, long-term support for systemic results over immediate results.

I couldn’t agree more…

The last several days I have been on the road. Monday and Tuesday were spent in a conference room with the curtains closed watching numerous PowerPoint Presentations by Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff. All of the presentations were focussed on fisheries catch monitoring — First Nation, commercial and recreational.

(with some irony the next two days of my trip involve literacy and community development — I’ll have a post soon with thoughts on the importance of the links between all of these)

The two day “workshop” was put together by a ‘committee’ of First Nations and DFO reps. Unfortunately, they may not have got the memo on the ‘operational values’ espoused above:  “co-operation rather than competition, collective action more than individual effort, and patient, long-term support for systemic results over immediate results.”

I don’t doubt that the intention for positive results was forgotten… just that some of the approaches are the same old, same old. For example, one of the first presentations was a ‘concept’ presentation. “Concept” in that there was nothing to share other than the concept of another DFO “strategic framework”. There were some “ideas thrown around” on how a “risk continuum might look like”.

Nothing concrete, nothing overly solid.

The issue I have, is not the fact that the presentation was about a forthcoming document, and was presented in the spirit of trying to let folks know about a “Draft” document coming out that would involve “consultation”.

The issue is that if there is a true spirit with the Department to truly engage in collaborative management, or joint management, or the scariest term “co-management”… then it can’t continue to write Draft documents and “strategic frameworks” behind closed doors and then suggest that they are “open for input”.

If collaboration is not present from the beginning — such as the moment pencil hits paper — then the ‘wicked complex deeply rooted problems’ (e.g. looking after wild salmon) will only continue to fester and knot themselves so tight that all circulation is choked off.

This is not to necessarily sound like another DFO-bashing rant, as I met some very good people that work within the organization with passion and fervor for the issues; it’s more to suggest that we can all do better.

We have to do better.

_ _ _ _ _

As suggested above: everyone involved “must make common cause, contributing skills, influence and resources that can make social transformation unfold.”

As “collaborate” does mean: “To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.”

However that is made very difficult when the player with the majority of the sticks, balls, bats and financial resources lays the first foundation with no input from others and then says — “ok, now we’re ready for your input…”

Once words are on paper — and ‘risk continuums’ and ‘strategic frameworks’ and ‘cost-benefit analysis’ and so on — then positions are entrenched, defensive barricades have been erected, the artillery is ready to fire, and the momentum of the growing snowball rolling downhill is underway.

When there are power imbalances, resource imbalances, 150 years of not-so-good history, and some real barriers to empathy and understanding of other teams — then ‘common cause’ (e.g. the fish and all they support) and social transformations become even more difficult then they already are.

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