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  • Partnering To Tip Systems

    Partnering To Tip Systems

    (image via Kozyndan)

    [Previously published on the Social Innovation Generation blog, the original motivation behind this post was to highlight an upcoming Partnership Brokers training in Toronto that SiG is helping to promote. However, once I started writing, I was struck by the fundamental role partnerships play in social innovation, particularly when building solutions for systemic/complex challenges. The resulting post looks at partnering through a systems lens and highlights two models that encourage cross-sector/multi-stakeholder partnerships. This post was updated on Nov 16, 2012: new training dates for the Partnership Brokers training were added at the bottom of the post]

    When developing solutions for complex systemic issues, social innovators know it is futile to operate in silos.

    “We act like systems in creating large-scale problems but we act like individuals in trying to solve them” – Eric Trist, Social Scientist and Co-Founder of the Tavistock Institute

    In a recent talk, Dan Hill of Helinski Design Lab explains that ‘wicked’ or complex problems are unclear and interdependent, with no client to take responsibility “except the entire human race”. We are very much all in this together, so what better way to take a whole-system approach and pull in wisdom from different perspectives/stakeholders than via partnerships.

    Here are two progressive models for tri-sector / multi-stakeholder partnering…

    1. Constellation model

    (image via University of Virginia)

    This model for complex organizational collaboration, developed by Toronto’s own Tonya (CSI) & Mark Surman (Mozilla), is an excellent tool for managing and collaborating across multi-organizational partnerships. The beauty of the model is that it allows multiple interested stakeholders to form a ‘working group’ of partners without having to create a separate umbrella organization. Not creating a separate entity allows the groups to 1) minimize infrastructure and administrative costs 2) avoid creating competition for their own respective organizations and 3) avoid confusing their clients/customers/user groups. It is a way to pool resources and skills, create a shared voice, coordinate strategy, jointly fundraise, and take an action focus towards a shared goal, all while preserving organizational autonomy. Thus, the model is ideal for long-term complex solution building.

    (image via CSI)

    2. Collective Impact

    Most simply, ‘Collective Impact’ can be explained as a coordinated effort by multiple parties towards a unified goal. Kania and Kramer have identified five conditions for successful collective impact: a common agenda (agreement of primary goals, common understanding of problem, shared vision for change),shared measurement systems (consistent metrics and activity reporting),mutually reinforcing activities (coordinated and different activities performed by different stakeholders), continuous communication (common vocabulary, building trust, frequent meetings that are taken seriously by executives and often guided by external facilitators), and backbone support (separate organizational support staff to coordinate, plan, and manage the initiative).

    “Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated impact of individual organizations.” – John Kania & Mark Kramer (Collective Impact, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011)

    Constellations and Collective Impact are effective methods of managing and navigating multi-stakeholder/partner collaborations. However, they require a deep commitment from partners in terms of time, energy and financial resources. While there are other nuances between the two models, what stands out is that one uses an umbrella or ‘backbone’ organization while the other avoids one. Also, both methods behave like issue-agnostic labs.

    Partnering is not new and there are a number of other useful models including funder collaboratives (ex. FCYO), public-private partnerships (also: PPP, P3, or P3), public sector/citizen partnerships (co-production), etc. For more on partnerships, check out The Partnering Initiative for excellent resources on when to partnerthe cycles and principles of partnering and the benefits & risks of partnering.

    (Note: If you really want to amp up your partnering skills, UK based Partnership Brokers Association is holding a 4-day certification training in Toronto this November on the art of building/managing partnerships.) <- if you missed it, this training will be returning to Toronto in April 2013!

    What challenges have you had with cross-sector/multi-stakeholder partnerships and how did you over come them? What possibilty to you see for these kinds of partnership models?

    - Satsuko

    Examples of the Constellation Model in practice:

    For more on the Constellation model see:

    Examples of ‘Collective Impact’ in practice:

    For more on Collective Impact see:

    Related posts: Lab Landscape [Part 1]: Mazimizing The Potential Of Innovation Labs In Canada (explores lab dynamics which are similar to those of Constellation and Collective Impact partnering models) and Innovation At The Intersect Of Art & Society (great example of how a tri-sector partnership can bring delight to citizens)