Collaboration for Sustainability 2: FramingApril 29, 2010 Leave a comment
“To work at this work alone is to fail.”
Picking up from where I left off last Thursday . . . How might collaboration be a key to making the sustainability shift? At its best, collaboration is the act of modeling complex systems at work, and with awareness and intention comes critical adaptive capacity. The goal is to achieve collective and distributed intelligence that can respond in timely ways to threats to sustainability (stressed ecosystems, injustice, etc.) and that can be proactive in creating optimal conditions for future generations to meet their needs. That’s the ideal, right? How do we get there?
The place we tend to begin at IISC when supporting people coming together to get something done is to initially frame the effort, to get clear on the context informing different actors’ perceptions of the issue(s) and to define a shared intention and value. Without this foundation, it is difficult to get moving, or to get key systemic players moving together. This is not simply a matter of creating a compelling case for action. Research from conservation psychology suggests that it is important to help stakeholders create an overarching identity so that they feel like they are on the same team. For example, an initiative that is framed as being purely about environmental protection may not draw the diverse stakeholders that something framed as being about “quality of place” would. Are we trying to “protect fish” or ensure that we will be able to “fish forever”?
Furthermore, a key may be to bring stakeholders together as early as possible to spend time exploring this shared value proposition. The process of doing this can break down many preconceptions, begin to build bonds of trust, and till the soil for new possibilities (as evidenced by the work of our friends and colleagues practicing Whole Thinking and Presencing). Other research suggests that this can also address our individual failings with respect to risk assessment. Studies conducted in Amsterdam show that when people set out to make decisions as a group, their conversations gravitated more to considerations of collective as well as delayed (long-term) benefits. Similarly, studies with farmers in Uganda indicate that when they listened to rainy season radio broadcasts in groups, rather than as individuals, they engaged in discussions that ultimately led to decisions that made better use of forecasts – collectively altering planting dates or using more drought resistant seeds.
In other words, there are indications that collaborative efforts, when launched with deep conversations about shared interest and identity, might build our capacity and inclination to think and act more long-term, that is more sustainably. And of course there is much more to be said about the who and the how, which we’ll take up next week. In the meantime, curious to hear your thoughts/experiences.