4 Keys to Building a Collaborative Strategy

Solving our community’s most pressing social challenges requires a change in how we do business. It takes moving out of our silos and into impactful collaborative initiatives, intentionally reaching across sector lines to align our efforts, time, and resources to achieved shared goals.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about how to plan for and design a successful strategic collaborations, including identifying the partners, activities, resources and timeline needed to launch a cross-sector initiative. While this is incredibly important work, if you stop after these initial planning activities, it’s like planting seeds without doing any follow-up care and maintenance of your garden – your early efforts are unlikely to bear fruit.  Here are some ideas for how to nurture those early efforts and build a strategic collaboration that is effective and impactful: 

1. Set expectations. Excitement and enthusiasm for a new idea or possible success can drive organizations to get involved in a collaborative initiative without fully understanding the time and/or resource commitment that is necessary to be an engaged partner.  Consider outlining expectations for participation such as data sharing, fundraising, and aligned programming in a signed letter of agreement between the project steering committee or backbone organization and partners.

2. Communicate. It’s easy to underestimate the time and effort it takes to maintain communication across multiple partners, especially when they may not have existing relationships.  Establishing leadership teams and working groups that are charged with sharing information and engaging stakeholders can be an effective way of amplifying your communications as long as you provide clear and consistent messaging for them to use.

3. Evaluate. During the early stages of a collaborative, it’s important to establish a strategy road map, or theory of change, indicating how you expect planned activities will lead to your desired outcomes.  (See Travis County Collaborative for Children for an example). Then, as you move into implementation, data should be collected to evaluate progress made and course correct when necessary.  It’s important to remember that evaluation is not just about the end-game or long-term outcomes, it needs to include all stages of the project, including implementation of key strategies, engagement of partners, requisite policy, practice and system changes, and ultimately final impact.  FSG’s Guide to Evaluating Collective Impact offers tips and examples for assessing the various stages of a collaborative project.

4. Refine. Even with thoughtful and exhaustive planning, there will be some activities that do not produce the expected results.  Concurrently, new and promising ideas will emerge that were not part of the initial concept or plan. The most successful projects will maintain an emergent strategy, embracing a flexibility that allows partners to release or refine activities that are not productive or impactful and embrace new, innovative ideas that hold promise.

To accomplish any of these steps requires an intentional, guided, and coordinated process.  At Mission Capital, we believe the best way to drive implementation forward is with the support of a backbone organization – one that is charged with the foundational activities to keep the collaborative moving forward.  Keep an eye out of a future blog post on the roles, responsibilities and what to look for when choosing the backbone organization for your initiative!

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