Collaboration for Sustainability 4: How?May 13, 2010 Leave a comment
For the past few weeks, in a series of Thursday posts, we’ve addressed what it takes to tap the full potential of collaboration to shift to more environmentally sustainable ways of living and working. We’ve explored the importance of bringing diverse systemic perspectives together and developing shared identities and values as a way of achieving greater ecological intelligence and commitment. And as a friend of mine says, you can bring great groups together with the best of intentions and still end up with nothing or a mess. So what else can we put into place to help ensure we reach the sustainable ends we seek?
Here I turn to a number of different sources for hints:
- Generate a shared vision to guide and hold collaborative efforts together, then “back cast” from there. Taking a “problem-solving” approach instead of a “vision realization” approach may limit and dampen collective efforts. I just had this confirmed by the recent experience of a NOAA Climate Program employee. Incidentally, if you want to watch a compelling pitch about the importance of vision, see Bill Moyers’ recent penultimate sign off from The Journal (we will miss you, Bill!).
- The experiences of Natural Step communities indicate that not waiting too long on action, having some quick wins, and planning in cycles are keys to keeping momentum going and people engaged. This speaks to the importance of getting away from pursuing perfection and being willing to engage in prototyping and tweaking solutions. Furthermore, having people work across “subject areas” (in communities – land conservation, affordable housing, transportation, education, etc.; in organizations – Learning and Development, Marketing, CSR, etc.) helps to ensure that actions have systemic impact.
- Fritjof Capra echoes and extends this last point when he says that networks are key to sustainability. We can maximize the potential of diversity in a system if there is interdependence, a vibrant matrix of relationships, and cyclical flows of energy and information (feedback loops). If actors are disconnected, information flow impeded, and/or decision-making overly controlled or centralized, energy and intelligence is lost.
- Lilian Alessa, Andrew Kliskey, and Mark Altaweel have also identified persistence and consistency as being key to maintaining the resilience of sustainability efforts. Having too much in and out flow of participants can halt progress. So building stable community and strong bonds that keep people engaged is critical.
- In addition, encouraging a “learning orientation” and curiosity throughout the process, will help open people to new ways of thinking and doing, and reduce unproductive blame and competition. This point, and the others above suggest the value of having process stewardship (design and facilitation) that can help create the conditions that will tap the best that individuals and the collective have to offer.
What would you add?