Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Make it simple: a lesson from Myanmar

The more we know the more we can over-complicate things.

More often than not, the way to encourage and strengthen partnership working is to make the process simple for people.

This fact was strongly emphasised to me during a workshop I recently delivered in Myanmar.

The workshop was part of an ongoing project seeking to strengthen partnership working between key stakeholders within the public and private sectors in Myanmar: government officials, leading business people and others involved in their countries economic and social development.

The workshop's approach was deceptively simple: a mix of key public and private sector stakeholders were invited to attend and given the opportunity to work together whilst learning about and practising presentation skills and techniques. Small groups of public and private sector attendees were given the task of researching, designing and delivering a presentation to their colleagues which highlighted and explained their various roles, responsibilities, challenges and priorities.

Obviously, this required attendees to not only prepare a presentation but also listen to and learn from each other: to find out about each other's lives and work and the particular and diverse demands placed upon people from differing sectors.

The focus upon learning about and practising presentation skills proved to be a very effective catalyst for encouraging and strengthening collaboration. Requiring attendees to design and deliver a presentation about topics that were new to them not only concentrated their minds but also encouraged them to listen to and learn from each other. Also, the focus on clear and concise presentation of information drew attendees' attention towards how well they were communicating with each other during the workshop. This led to people more readily asking questions and seeking clarification and becoming clearer in their communication with each other overall.  

Over the five days of the workshop (the length of the event also played a significant part in helping attendees enhance their communication with each other), the improvement in the relationships between public and private sector participants was marked, as was the level and effectiveness of the cooperation apparent between them. Two things in particular stood out: 1. the relationships between attendees became more informal and relaxed; 2. the attendees became more willing to challenge each other's perceptions, thinking and approaches.

The change in the relationships between people is most effectively demonstrated by comparing people's behaviour at the beginning of the workshop with that observed at its end. At the beginning of the workshop attendees behaved very formally, with the public sector attendees brigading themselves at one side of the classroom and those from the private sector doing likewise at the other. Five days later, at the end of the event, people who had not known each other before the workshop were willing to mix freely and participate (enthusiastically) in a karaoke evening!

The relationships between people had transformed, and informality between people was no longer considered a threat to status (or indeed anything else). Also, people's increasing willingness to challenge each other's thinking and perceptions did not diminish or inhibit these enhanced relationships; it was, in fact, a characteristic of them.

So, remember to make it simple. When seeking to encourage and strengthen collaboration between people identify an essential skill or fundamental focus you can use as a catalyst to make it happen. Then place it at the centre of people's thoughts and actions - and watch collaboration grow.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Get the most out of a partnership's latency phase: think about it differently

I have previously written about what I call a partnership's Latency Phase. Essentially, it is a period during a partnership's development within which progress towards results seems very slow or indeed non-existent.

This happens because partners' attention and energy becomes focused upon specific questions about the partnership's interests and goals, its overall credibility and resourcefulness and the competing needs and expectations of partners.        

I identified five ways in which partners can address these questions and effectively manage the latency phase, making it more likely to become a springboard towards achieving their partnership's potential. (To read the full article, which is also a chapter in my book 'Sleeping with the Enemy', click here.)

The five ways identified focus mainly upon addressing trust and relationship issues between partners, acknowledging and addressing partners' differing needs and expectations and managing perceptions about what constitutes progress and what needs to be done by when.    

Recently, I read How to Create an Exponential Mindset by Mark Bonchek. This article highlights that as well as addressing the above issues and changing perceptions, partners also need to change the way they think.

Most of us, because of our education and training, think in in an incremental way: we think logically and methodically about how we can make things better; we seek to see steady straight-line progress towards our goals.

When steady progress cannot so readily be seen, as during a partnership's Latency Phase, an incremental mindset can quickly lead to frustration. This frustration can then cause partners to rush through the Latency Phase without dealing with its issues. In more extreme cases partners may dismiss the worth of the partnership and make a swift and probably premature exit from it.

The incremental way of thinking creates an expectation gap between what the partnership seems to be achieving and what we perceive it should be achieving.   

To effectively negotiate our way through a partnership's Latency Phase we need to develop what Mark Bonchek calls an exponential mindset or way of thinking: a way of thinking that accepts and works with initial uncertainty and apparently slow progress in order to achieve increasingly speedy and significant progress later on.   

Many partnerships are formed to address issues that are messy and difficult and which no single organisation has been able to address effectively using traditional mainstream approaches. Therefore rather than finding ways to make things better, the partners are expected to find ways to do things differently.

Doing things differently requires finding different people to work with in different ways, finding different ways of combining new, existing and sometimes unexpected resources, and being open to different and probably unforeseen opportunities, activities, outcomes and solutions which appear 'as-and-when' and sometimes in parallel. (It requires creating ever increasing triangles of trust and influence and speculating in new partners and apparent side issues.)

Rather than seeking to see steady progress towards foreseeable goals, partners need to see their way through the apparent lack of straight line obvious progress. This process takes time and its outcomes are unpredictable. If, however, partners do see it through they can eventually find themselves travelling increasingly speedily up an ever-increasing exponential curve leading towards a vast array of new and innovative ways of doing things.

The exponential way of thinking encourages us to accept very slow initial progress as a necessary precondition for eventually achieving things increasingly quickly, effectively and, most importantly, innovatively.

(To find out how to develop an exponential mindset read Mark Bonchek's article, the link to which is given above.)

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Clearing the filters and joining the dots: encouraging experts to work collaboratively

Groups of experts can often find it a challenge to think across sectors and work collaboratively.

This is because, very understandably, their training and experiences condition them to see other sectors related to and impacting upon their work through the biased filters of their own expertise and specialisms.         

Here is a great example of how to encourage a group of experts to adjust their filters and begin seeing and 'joining the dots' between the differing sectors that impact upon their work:    


The example is from part of the IMPARTS Project, which seeks to integrate mental and physical healthcare in research, training and clinical services in several major London hospitals.
 
The example highlights three key things:
  1. The power that one strong and emotive issue has to increase awareness and catalyse collaboration and action.
  2. The importance of introducing and analysing strong and emotive issues in a ways that are credible for the intended audience.
  3. Reinforcing key messages with personal experiences, case studies and role-plays. 
The strong and emotive issue selected for attention was the effect of mental illness upon physical health and life expectancy. 

The audience, consisting of experienced and expert health professionals, was presented with research which suggested that, on average, people suffering from mental illness would suffer more physical illness and die ten years earlier than others in the population.

Very importantly, this expert audience was encouraged to look beneath the shocking headline statistics and analyse and assess the research supporting them. A widely accepted and credible assessment tool from casp-uk.net was used to do this. 

The process of methodically and objectively analysing the research, identifying its strengths and weaknesses and then assessing the validity of its findings greatly enhanced the confidence the health professionals had in it.

Once this confidence in the research had been created, its key messages and recommendations could be reinforced through the sharing of personal experiences (which, having been convinced of their relevance and importance, people were now willing to share) and the use of participative case studies and role-plays (which, again having been convinced of their relevance and importance, people were now willing to do).

So, to encourage expert audiences to think across sectors and behave collaboratively:
  • Focus upon a strong and emotive issue.
  • Make it credible and believable in their eyes.
  • Reinforce key messages with personal stories and memorable case studies and role-plays.
This will help clear the filters and join the dots!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Getting the most out of a partnership's latency phase


What is the latency phase?

To start with a scientific example:

When water is heated gradually towards boiling point, there is a period of time, just before it boils, when its temperature stops rising and remains constant. During this phase the energy from the heat applied is being used to change the internal state of the water, to loosen up its molecules in readiness for its transformation into water vapour and steam. Once this internal, hidden activity is completed the temperature of the water begins to rise again, until it reaches 100 degrees and vapours and steam rise into the air. The period of constant temperature observed just before the water begins to boil is called its latency phase.

 
Many Partnerships experience their own version of the latency phase.

Working in partnership with other organisations can be time consuming and resource intensive. Sometimes, a partnership can seem like a gigantic black hole, pulling in all the time and resources around it without any glimmer or shimmer of a reaction. It can feel as if an eternity is passing, with more and more resources disappearing into the abyss and increasingly frenetic activity observable around its edges that is focused upon managing and slowing the flow.   

Eventually, however, after the partnership black hole has spent ages sating its enormous appetite, the seemingly impossible happens. The black hole transforms into an intensely bright globe that radiates energy to all corners of its universe. Also, where previously it seemed to pull time and resources greedily and violently into itself like a gluttonous ogre, it now attracts them without effort because of its magnetic dynamism and the unselfish sharing of its innate brilliance.
 

When is a partnership’s latency phase most likely to occur?

The latency phase is most likely to manifest itself several weeks or months into the life span of the partnership, depending on how often the partners get together. The initial coming together of the partnership will usually be characterised by lots of enthusiasm, fuelled mainly by the newness and novelty of the project and the meeting of new and interesting people. This enthusiasm will carry the development of the partnership forwards for a while: an overall purpose or vision will be agreed upon, and an initial plan of action drawn up. Both during this process, however, and the related process of agreeing roles and responsibilities, partners will start to think more deeply about their place within the partnership and the nature of their relationships with others around the table. They will begin to notice and analyse the internal and interpersonal dynamics of the partnership. The latency phase will probably begin soon after partners begin to think in this way.                 

 
Whether or not the latency phase leads to the positive transformation of a partnership depends very much upon how it is perceived.  

If the latency phase is perceived negatively, as a source of delay and inactivity, then it will cause frustration and people will want to battle through it as quickly as possible. If this happens it is likely that the partnership will not put sufficient energy into the formation of its internal processes and relationships and consequently experience difficulty in transforming itself into an effective, results rich enterprise. If, however, the latency phase is perceived positively, as a phase that can, if given time, work some powerful magic on the internal workings of the partnership, significant attention and energy is likely to be devoted to it, making the previously described transformation much more likely to happen. 

 
What, specifically, is going on during the latency phase of a partnership?

Individual partners are trying to find answers to seven important, fundamental questions:

1.   How can we begin to trust each other?

2.   How can we effectively manage the social and cultural differences between us?

3.   How can we balance the core goals and interests of the partnership with those of the individual partners involved?

4.   How can we effectively address the issues and problems related to partners’ differing environments and localities?

5.   How can we effectively manage the expectations we have of each other and the partnership in general?

6.   What are our individual communication needs and how can we communicate with each other most effectively?

7.   How can we build an attractive, accessible and resourceful platform or foundation for the partnership that will act as an effective focus for its activities?

All the above questions are centred upon a partnership’s internal needs, processes and relationships, and because almost all of them involve the facilitation and management of interpersonal relationships, they can take time to explore, understand and address effectively. Any stakeholders observing a partnership during this time could be forgiven for thinking that it had ground to a halt and become nothing more than a talking shop. In fact, this talk is laying the foundations for future success.   

 
How can we ensure that a partnership’s latency phase becomes a catalyst for effective partnership working?

If we want to ensure the latency phase becomes a catalyst for transforming a partnership into a bright, unselfish beacon of achievement, we need to manage its fragile dynamics very carefully. Five specific things we can do are: 
 
Perceive the latency phase positively, acknowledging the crucial role it plays in helping a partnership develop and realise its potential.

Explicitly explore and address the seven fundamental questions partners tend to ask
during the latency phase (as described earlier).
 
Factor in enough time for the effective management of the latency phase. It is helpful
to remember that a complex partnership arrangement can take a lot longer to achieve
results than a single organisation working on similar tasks. This time will be added to even
further if the complex dynamics of a partnership’s latency phase are not addressed
effectively.

Hold regular, informal meetings between partners at differing locations and times.
An informal approach will help partners relax, form personal relationships and share their
wants, needs, hopes, fears, expectations and aspirations; it will lay the foundations for trust.

Meeting partners on their own patch and at times that fit in with their day to day activities can of itself go a long way towards building trust, gaining better social and cultural understanding, and appreciating differing expectations and communication needs. It will also highlight the practical challenges presented by the locality and environment within which the partnership is working. 
 
Create a shared sense of partnership time. This is perhaps the most abstract but in many ways one of the most powerful things a partnership can do to help ensure its safe and productive passage through the latency phase. We all perceive the passing of time in different ways. These perceptions are influenced by the cultures we live and work within and how important or central an issue or subject is to us. If we are used to working within a fast paced environment we will become frustrated if results are not achieved quickly. If we are used to a slower pace, then not achieving results quickly will not worry us so much. If an issue is important to us it can often, regardless of the actual amount of time involved, feel as if ages are passing before it is addressed. If an issue is not important to us then the amount of time passing before it is addressed is of little or no personal significance, so even long periods of inactivity can go by almost unnoticed.  

These differing perceptions of time and the significance of its passing will all be interacting with each other as a partnership comes together and goes through its latency phase. If these perceptions are not managed effectively they will cause mutual frustration, misunderstandings and perhaps even conflict. 

Encouraging partners to think explicitly about how they perceive, react to and use the time they spend working together will discourage unhelpful preconceptions about what should be happening by when. It will help create a new, shared sense of pace and time that is appropriate to a partnership, what it needs to achieve and how it needs to achieve it.

Discussions about partners' expectations and obligations, together with discussions about the balance and timing of rewards allocated to partners, are practical ways to create this shared sense of partnership time.  


For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition

www.tallistraining.co.uk



Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Creative collaboration is born



Here is an initiative from within the NHS which is seeking to encourage and enable collaboration across the broad community of services that provide and support maternity care:

MatExp - In Your Shoes

When I read Florence Wilcock's first-hand account of the initiative, I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm and energy leaping out at me from its words, images and videos. Then, I quickly noticed how much excellent collaborative practice the initiative contained. 

I will not describe the initiative in detail, I urge you to read Florence's very engaging article for that, but I will summarise the excellent collaborative practice I identified within it.

So far, I have I identified that the initiative:
  1. Created high profile time-limited actions and activities to encourage engagement, feedback and involvement.
  2. Created a sense of occasion and made events enjoyable and stimulating.
  3. Made materials enjoyable and stimulating to use.
  4. Used a very wide range of IT, Internet and social media not only 'after the event' to record and inform but also 'in real time' during the event to engage and involve.
  5. Created an ongoing and publicly available record of activities and achievements which not only informed and engaged but also provided a contextual and qualitative narrative which supplemented and enriched the initiative's ongoing and final evaluation.
  6. Created space to take stock of progress and achievements and identify ways to build upon them.
  7. Provided very easy ways to comment and get involved, both virtual and real world.
  8. Was aware of others' work and willing and able to build upon it.
  9. Was willing and able to not only pass on the baton but also allow others to run with it: to empower others to develop the initiative's ideas and activities in their own ways to meet their own needs and circumstances.
  10. Was open to change and the unexpected and willing and able to embrace and exploit them to advantage.
  11. Had a clear and written-down aim that evolved with and out of the initiative.
  12. Trained recruits and volunteers in the skills required for effective facilitation, consultation and collaboration.
  13. Expected and embraced a significant amount of messiness and chaos and was willing and able to work within in it to tease out valuable and unexpected perspectives, experiences, insights and ideas.
  14. Identified ways to maintain energy, pace, enthusiasm, momentum and progress.
  15. Encouraged and maintained a focus upon practical action and individual responsibility.
  16. Shared personal stories.
  17. Identified stories and scenarios that people not only understood but also wanted to engage with and comment upon.
  18. Ensured that those introducing and driving the initiative modelled enthusiasm, commitment and a collaborative approach.
  19. Continually looked for and created opportunities to widen influence and activity.

In terms of insights about collaborative working good practice, this is one of the richest accounts I have discovered. It is well worth a read.    

MatExp - In Your Shoes

Friday, 6 May 2016

Sleeping with the Enemy - Achieving Collaborative Success: 5th Edition Now Available at Amazon


'An excellent book that outlines the value and benefit of collaborative working...' 

This book is about collaborative and partnership working best practice. It will help you achieve the following:

  • Realise the potential of partnerships and collaborations;
  • Engage effectively with hard-to-reach stakeholders;
  • Lead partnerships and collaborations effectively;
  • Work well with competitors;
  • Identify differing organisational cultures and manage the interactions between them;
  • Manage partnership discussions effectively;
  • Encourage partnerships and collaborations to develop and move forward;
  • Deal effectively with the conflicting demands that lie at the heart of collaborative efforts;
  • Evaluate partnership processes and outcomes;
  • Appreciate and use the four principles that underpin effective collaborative working.

As well as including a chapter entitled 'Why Should the Devil Have All the Best Collaborations?', which explores what we can learn from the way criminals collaborate, the 5th edition offers two new chapters and a new appendix.

The first new chapter explores the concept of trading styles and how they evolve during the life of a collaboration. The second new chapter offers six principles for encouraging and gaining willing and able involvement from key partners and other stakeholders.

The new appendix offers some of the most popular posts from the author's 'Cutting Edge Partnerships' blog. 

'Sleeping with the Enemy' is full of tools, techniques and approaches that you can apply to your day-to-day collaborative activities, and many of the book's ideas are explained through the use of practical examples and short case studies. If you need to set up, maintain and develop a partnership or any other collaborative effort, this book is an indispensable and insightful companion.

To read more and get the book click here.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Bite-size piece from the new 5th edition of 'Sleeping with the Enemy': take risks and invest in apparent side issues

The Eugene Bell Foundation and other NGOs dedicated to eradicating TB from the world are taking the risk of collaborating with the North Korean Government, which is conventionally seen as untrustworthy and unreliable. They are investing considerable time and resources into helping the NK Government treat and cure those of its citizens who have the disease. This task is made even more challenging by the fact that many people are infected with a drug resistant strain.

The gamble of collaborating with the North Korean Government has paid off. All the partners involved have been able to co-ordinate effectively and the initiative has cured 70% of the patients it has treated.

Given the massive size of the above health problem, investing additional time in encouraging a small group of Harvard Undergraduates to raise $5000 to treat one North Korean patient seems laudable but somewhat insignificant (apart from to the patient concerned of course). However, encouraging this type of initiative, although seemingly insignificant within the greater scheme of things, will eventually help achieve the long-term aims of the NGOs and their North Korean partners. This is for two main reasons: 1. it makes the problem immediate, personal and memorable; 2. it raises awareness of the issues amongst (and encourages involvement from) those who are most likely to become valuable advocates and donors or become much needed aid workers and medical staff.


The 5th edition will be available at Amazon within the next few weeks.  

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Bite-size piece from the new 5th edItion of 'Sleeping with the Enemy': challenge taboo triangles

The anti-apartheid movement gained significant ground when Nelson Mandela and PW Botha challenged the taboo triangle involving themselves and the South African Government. For a very long time Mandela's relationship with the Government of South Africa was faceless and impersonal: the state arrested him, passed judgement on him, imprisoned him and continuously endeavoured to control his life and that of his followers and supporters. As soon as another relationship was added, creating a triangle between Mandela, the State and a human representative of the State in the form of President Botha, trust was increased. Mandela and Botha were able to use these reinforced foundations of trust to influence the Government of South Africa towards majority rule.

 
Staying with South Africa, when President Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he challenged the taboo triangle formed by bringing together the State, the victims of apartheid and those who had committed crimes against these victims and violated their human rights. This state sanctioned, very open, emotional and difficult dialogue was crucial for building trust and cooperation between historically opposed communities and enabling the establishment of an effective democracy through which the benefits of economic and social development could be realised.


The 5th edition will be available at Amazon within the next few weeks.  

Monday, 2 May 2016

Bite-size piece from the new 5th edition of 'Sleeping with the Enemy': take a leap of faith

Faith-based organisations, such as the Vatican and the Church of England, have taken a leap of faith and begun collaborating with some very unexpected bedfellows: international and national mining companies. Despite having very different outlooks and speaking very different languages, these two groupings have begun a dialogue which is bringing them together under the banner of environmental and social protection and development. Faith-based organisations and big business mining coming together for joint reflection days and senior church officials visiting mines and taking an interest in their workings would have been thought impossible or unlikely previous to this leap of faith, which is helping gradually change the role of mining companies from one of extraction to one of development partner.




The 5th edition will be available at Amazon within the next few weeks.  

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Bite-size piece from the new 5th edition of 'Sleeping with the Enemy': creating triangles of trust and influence

The British Council consistently employs a strategy of creating ever-increasing triangles of trust and influence. Whatever the focus of their work, and whatever the country, they work hard at creating new relationship triangles between themselves, their original national and regional partners and those their network of partners introduce or suggest to them. A particularly noteworthy example is a 'Justice for All' programme in Uganda, where the British Council's initial national and regional authority partners introduced the British Council to the large number of influential traditional tribal rulers. This created triangles of influence and trust between the Council, the Nigerian authorities and traditional tribes. It was these traditional tribal leaders that most probably played a lead role in introducing the British Council to the semi-formal voluntary police forces and vigilante groups operating at local levels. This created yet another triangle of influence and trust between the British Council, the tribal leaders and the self-appointed semi-formal police and vigilante groups. For a project focused upon creating an environment where 'justice for all' can be a reality, this type of triangular relationship is of immense value.


The 5th edition will be available at Amazon within the next few weeks.  

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Speculate in new partners and experiment with apparent side issues

Being brave enough to gamble with your time and attention, being willing and able to search for new and unfamiliar partners and invest time and resources in apparently insignificant side issues, is a very important thing to do within a collaborative environment. What may initially seem like a frivolous or even risky partner or an unnecessary time and resource wasting side issue may, in fact, eventually lead to the most valuable of outcomes.

Here are some examples:

Goldcorp, the Canadian mining company, took a risk and speculated in new partners by making previously confidential data about mining operations freely available, encouraging a wide range of people and organisations to analyse it and then partnering with some of them to make mining operations more effective and efficient. Areas and issues previously overlooked or assumed to be inconsequential, irrelevant or insoluble were looked at again and analysed from differing perspectives, which led to new insights and innovations that enhanced Goldcorp's business in unexpected ways.

Faith-based organisations, such as the Vatican and the Church of England, have taken a leap of faith and begun collaborating with some very unexpected bedfellows: international and national mining companies. Despite having very different outlooks and speaking very different languages, these two groupings have begun a dialogue which is bringing them together under the banner of environmental and social protection and development. Faith-based organisations and big business mining coming together for joint reflection days and senior church officials visiting mines and taking an interest in their workings would have been thought impossible or unlikely previous to this leap of faith, which is helping gradually change the role of mining companies from one of extraction to one of development partner.

The speculation does not always need to be high risk high stakes. Moss Marine, a company focused upon above-water engineering and logistics, and Phoenix International, a company focused upon underwater recovery and repair, would not have collaborated to their mutual advantage if Pete LeHardy of Phoenix International had not speculated at a networking event, risking an investment of his time and attention by intentionally sitting at a table with people he did not know. He met Michael Moss of Moss Marine and, after several chats at subsequent events, Michael suggested that they collaborate to take advantage of an 'off the agenda' business opportunity (off the agenda in that it was not related to the purpose of the networking events, which was focused upon issues relevant to the supply chain for off-shore wind farms). The opportunity involved repairing the rudder of a mega-ship which had run aground. Phoenix International had the required underwater expertise and Moss Marine had the required above water expertise to make the repair effectively, so it made perfect sense for the two companies to work together, which they did to mutual profit.

Intentionally speculating and investing time in a new contact, and being willing to widen the conversation to include topics of interest to that contact, eventually produced an unexpected opportunity for mutually beneficial collaboration.

Similarly, sometimes partnering needs to be only slightly imaginative to uncover valuable insights and innovations. For example, when doctors and other health experts collaborated to improve cancer treatment in a head and neck cancer unit they made many changes which enhanced the quality of treatment and care. However, patient satisfaction and compliance with the treatments did not improve as expected and the overall improvements to patients' health were less than sought. Only when patients were made partners in the improvement process was a previously under-appreciated 'side-issue' highlighted as crucial to both patient compliance with treatments and the health gains associated with it. 

When patients were asked for their experiences of the available treatments and their views about how things could be improved, they identified one part of the process as being particularly uncomfortable and unpleasant: 

The weighing scales used during patients' assessments were in a public waiting room.

Now, very ill people who had lost weight, and were at least partially disrobed, understandably felt very uncomfortable with this exposure. For some, it was enough for them to think twice about or even postpone attending the clinic, so lessening the effectiveness of treatments.

When the scales were moved to a private room, so respecting patient privacy and dignity, patients became more comfortable with the assessment and treatment regime, less likely to postpone visiting the clinic and more likely to effectively manage their disease and improve their health.  

Often, however, the risks associated with speculating on a new partner are more significant. The Eugene Bell Foundation and other NGOs dedicated to eradicating TB from the world are taking the risk of collaborating with the North Korean Government, which is conventionally seen as untrustworthy and unreliable. They are investing considerable time and resources into helping the NK Government treat and cure those of its citizens who have the disease. This task is made even more challenging by the fact that many people are infected with a drug resistant strain.

The gamble of collaborating with the North Korean Government has paid off. All the partners involved have been able to co-ordinate effectively and the initiative has cured 70% of the patients it has treated.

Given the massive size of the above health problem, investing additional time in encouraging a small group of Harvard Undergraduates to raise $5000 to treat one North Korean patient seems laudable but somewhat insignificant (apart from to the patient concerned of course). However, encouraging this type of initiative, although seemingly insignificant within the greater scheme of things, will eventually help achieve the long-term aims of the NGOs and their North Korean partners. This is for two main reasons: 1. it makes the problem immediate, personal and memorable; 2. it raises awareness of the issues amongst (and encourages involvement from) those who are most likely to become valuable advocates and donors or become much needed aid workers and medical staff.

Some progressive people and organisations within Europe are beginning to speculate about how innovative collaborations between migrants and local residents could help produce social, cultural and economic value.

They have invested significant time and resources into designing and delivering a high profile event in Brussels which brings together people from the widest possible spread of backgrounds, cultures and professions to discuss how residents of host countries and migrants could collaborate at a practical, local level. The aim of this discussion is to not merely help solve the crisis but also make Europe a better place within which all its people (established residents and new arrivals alike) can contribute, live safely and thrive. A more obvious example of being brave and willing enough to seek out new partners (on either side of the resident/migrant divide) and explore problems and potential solutions from very different and perhaps opposed perspectives would be hard to find.

Importantly, the organisers of the above event have sought to manage their brave speculation in new partners and collaborations by focusing on what has already begun to happen in terms of local resident/migrant collaboration, exploring how it could be developed and identifying the insights and ideas it offers which could lead to additional and lasting innovations, etc.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Listen to noise and manage fluctuations

Those of us involved in collaborations need to differentiate between the noise surrounding and permeating our work and the changes and fluctuations going on within it.

Noise is mainly about people and their behaviour. It is about human errors and bad decisions, differing opinions, conflicts and arguments, differing expectations and demands. These can emanate from either outside or inside a collaboration and they will resonate within and around it. If listened to, analysed and learnt from, they will help clarify a collaboration's purpose, enhance its approach and strengthen its resolve.

Fluctuations are mainly about systems and their operation. They are about variations in systems, strategies, processes and administration, changes of role and function, changes to availability of budgets and resources, etc. If not carefully managed, these can cause an irregular rhythm within the heart of a collaboration, within the hub of its key partners, which can interrupt the flow of a collaboration's activities and cause pressures that amplify the resonating noise of human errors, bad decisions and conflicts, eventually creating a cacophonous chaos with terminal consequences.

So, differentiate between noise and fluctuation. Then listen to, analyse and learn from the former and carefully manage the latter.  

Intel sought to detect noise and fluctuations through a system of open and transparent meetings with both internal and external partners. At these meetings partners were encouraged to air their concerns and discuss their conflicts and disagreements. They were also encouraged to comment on the way collaborations were progressing and how well their various supporting systems were working. Concerns were addressed and improvements were agreed during the meetings, which meant areas of concern and conflict (the noise generated by the network of partners) were used as fuel to improve collaboration, and fluctuations and changes in supporting systems were carefully monitored and managed so that they did not unnecessarily amplify concerns and conflicts.

The UK National Health Service's system of Local Involvement Networks enables it to detect noise in the form of concerns, disagreements, errors and unforeseen negative consequences of decisions, etc., and use it to inform the ongoing development of care services. These networks also gain timely feedback about the effectiveness and consistency of the systems and processes that support the co-ordination of services and the collaboration of agencies.

Some collaborations have not only embraced noise but also made it part of the strategy creation process. A local metropolitan council knew there was significant noise being generated around the allocation and use of funds it had obtained to regenerate its area. There was a history of political game playing and less than perfect decision making, and personal and organisational disagreements and conflicts resonated around the allocation and use of the funds and the creation of the collaborations required to use them effectively. 

So the local authority decided to not only listen to this noise but embrace it and make it part of the strategy creation process. They held an open strategy event to which all current and potential partners and stakeholders were invited. People were encouraged to not only air their views and disagreements but also work together to create an effective collaborative strategy for allocating and using the regeneration funds effectively. The process was messy (and noisy) but a strategy was agreed and systems put in place to support it. As these systems were jointly identified and agreed, a strong foundation of transparency, trust and shared ownership was built which helped ensure they were effectively managed and consistently implemented.     

A community partnership in Aberdeen captured the noise resonating within and around its work and identified the fluctuations occurring within its systems by not only creating a citizens' panel that could comment upon its work but also allowing panel members direct access to its day-to-day activities. It encouraged panellists to visit where initiatives and projects were taking place, identify how things were going and how people were feeling and getting on, and pinpoint where any difficulties were being experienced. They were then asked to provide feedback and make suggestions about how things could be done more effectively and how supporting systems could be improved. In this way the noise surrounding the partnership's work was used to generate improvements to its activities and encourage reliability within its supporting systems.  

Various wiki-based approaches, or even straightforward blogs that invite replies and comments, can also help a collaboration listen to, analyse and learn from the noise generated within and around it. The added benefit of incorporating such IT/Internet based systems into a collaboration's noise detection is that they not only add another way of detecting noise but also provide a cushioning distance between the noise and those receiving it, which can help people reflect upon and respond constructively to it. 

It is interesting to note that many traditional institutions have been slow to take advantage of social media's ability to detect the noise generated around initiatives and issues. For example, many governmental and other public bodies have well-established processes in place to document comments made at public meetings or received through postal mail. They do not, however, always have the same processes in place for comments received through social media. Indeed, many of the statutory regulations related to the use of public funds for community engagement require people to arrange public meetings and request comments through postal mail. This can make institutions and their initiatives slow to detect the noise generated by their work and the early warnings it provides about possible errors of judgement and problems with systems and processes. This can lead to initiatives taking action to improve things too late or not taking action at all, so causing significant financial and reputational damage and encouraging dissatisfied stakeholders to take matters into their own hands.   

An example of the above is currently happening in Mexico, where government processes for engaging with citizens and involving them in policy and law making are old-fashioned, top-down and paper-based. Mexicans have the right to propose laws directly to their congress, bypassing local officials, but to do so they must gain 100,000 signatures written in ink on paper. As you can imagine, this is a significant hurdle to overcome and so far, unsurprisingly, only one law has been proposed in this way to the Mexican congress. This cumbersome and inaccessible process has amplified the noisy cries of dissatisfaction caused by the Mexican government's deep rooted corruption and consequential inefficiency. It has also, however, almost completely insulated the Mexican government from the consequences of the noise: muting and smothering it; stopping it from resonating within the corridors of power. 

The Mexican population, realising that its government is insulated from its noisy complaints and cries for reform by barriers of bureaucracy and avalanches of smothering paperwork, is taking matters into its own hands and using social media to get its message across and make change happen. Ordinary citizens have proposed a law that would enhance government transparency and help minimise corruption. They have made the form people need to sign in support of this proposed law available online through social media platforms such as Facebook, and they have asked people to download it, sign it and hand it in at official delivery points around the country. (Helpfully, Google Maps has been used to show where these delivery points are and how to get to them.)

If the Mexican government had done nothing more than initiate and own the process started by its electorate, it would have been quickly able to detect the noise of its population's cries for change and, even more importantly, react in a timely and effective manner, ironing out its flaws and inconsistencies, weakening its underpinning corruption and enhancing its credibility as a result.