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Q: Do We Have the Courage to Collaborate?

We know how and why we collaborate on our way to find consensus. The next challenge will be to apply the principles that matter to move us to new sense of place where collaboration can happen on a much larger scale.

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Think of your place as a series of concentric circles with you in the middle. Your family is close by, surrounded by the circles of your immediate neighborhood, larger community and city. The next ring out is your county, township, parish or greater metro region, followed by your state or province. Zoom out to consider your place in your country and the world around you.

With that image of place in mind, think about what you know about collaboration and the circle of influence where it is most effective. Consider what it will take to apply the lessons we’ve learned and expand collaboration beyond our closest circles.

Start with a simple definition and add a good measure of confidence to take the leap of faith that a team will accomplish more than any one individual. Collaboration happens when we work with others in a coordinated way to produce or create something, but we also need patience, courage and trust to relinquish some control over the process and outcome.

Lessons in Collaborative Learning

There are some lessons we can apply to frame how we collaborate. A look at the interdisciplinary collaborative learning at Evergreen State College provides this list of best practices for collaborative learning:

  • Assume every perspective that has stood the test of time has a kernel of truth to it.
  • Embrace contradiction, asking in what sense a situation can be "both."
  • Engage in shuttle diplomacy, going back and forth between theories, and between theory and empirical evidence.
  • Seek an understanding that is responsive to each of the contributing perspectives but not dominated by any one of them.

This framework for collaboration is particularly relevant when we are hope to move a world locked in extremes to find common ground. In a land of hard rights and waves to the left collaboration helps us find consensus somewhere in the middle.

New Voices of Collaboration

Awais Sufi set out to shape a new nonprofit that would seek to double the percentage of Kansas City schools and students that demonstrate performance at or above the state level over the next 10 years. While Sufi had support from three influential funders, his SchoolSmartKC initiative needed to connect in a meaningful way with the community. “One of the challenges you have in philanthropy is that you are not able to be fully imbedded in the community’” he said “You are an important constituent in the community, but community-driven efforts have to start outside of philanthropy.”

Sufi devoted more than a year to a collaborative approach that examined the local education landscape from every angle. “I went on my learning journey to engage with anybody and everybody that would talk to me. That was just a wonderful adventure. Speaking to parents, to family members, to teachers, to school leaders, to business leaders, philanthropists.”

Murray Woodard travels with members of the Kansas City community on visits to high performing schools around the country. Like Sufi, Woodard seeks to blend the unusual suspects with people who haven’t been to the table, even reaching out to include those who feel they don’t have a voice and those who work in schools. For Woodard, bringing the groups together on school visits mattered, “How can we expect our most marginalized and disenfranchised communities to ask for something they’ve never experienced?,” he said. “At the same time, how do we provide an opportunity for our educators who are working with our kids to find new ideas and solutions?”

Collaborating on the Fly
Diverse groups of people from Kansas City travel the country on Great School Visits to get a first-hand look at high-performing schools and commit to stay involved by sharing what they learn with schools back home.
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Creation by Collaboration

Beyond consensus, collaborative efforts in the future will be measured, analyzed and ultimately judged by results. So courageously casting a pivotal project to the unpredictable winds of collaboration may seem risky by today's standards. Faced with the challenge of developing a practical playbook for the emerging field of entrepreneurial ecosystem building, the first of its kind ESHIP Summit brought together people comfortable with the work-in-progress nature of the gathering.

The trick was finding room in the middle of tight structure and loose imagination; the balance of hard metrics and soft storytelling; and the path between a directed route and wide open spaces. Designing the ESHIP Summit and the playbook of entrepreneurship ecosystems walked that line. To form a community of practice, a diverse mix of backgrounds, skills, experience, motivations and visions of the future were invited to work toward a "collectively held intent … to infuse entrepreneurship more deeply in economies."

The story of the ESHIP Summit is yet to be written, in fact, so is the Playbook for Building Ecosystems. ESHIP Summit participants were given only the first few chapters and, in the spirt of collaboration, will be writing the book together.

Taking Collaboration to Scale

The path to collaboration presents plenty of detours that can take us off course. If we're not careful, the tech tools we've designed to help us collaborate can become distractions or even stop us in our tracks. How we collaborate in the future may be less important than where we come together. Suri, Woodard, and the organizers of the ESHIP Summit brought people together with patience, courage and trust to think and work together in very human ways. As we seek to collaborate in the future we will find out if our ubiquitous social networks are strong enough to connect us beyond our differences. We will see if we can bring patience, courage and trust to scale and take collaboration with it to new levels of consensus.

What Do You Think?

We'd like to know what you think about collaboration. Does technology improve or harm the way we work together? Can you cite examples of how collaboration has made a positive impact?

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