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Control is the Enemy of Collaboration

Whether you are trying to assist a small community or develop a large region, your only hope of making a sustainable impact lies in getting the cooperation of others. There are those who recognize that diverse support and participation with unity of purpose can overcome many challenges. They often underestimate however, what it takes to make such unity happen and point to half-hearted, ill-conceived attempts to foster real collaboration as proof that others are unwilling to cooperate. But the devil is in the details. Collaborative efforts involve understanding and respect for the interests of all parties.

Many organizations start off with a commitment to shared action, but experience roadblocks from within. There are policies and procedures to be followed, agreements to be approved, rights of organizations that must be protected and liabilities to be avoided.

At the heart of these roadblocks is control.

Who controls decisions and budgets? Who gets to protect their own interests at the expense of others? By the time agreements are signed, the effort to support joint action can get hijacked by efforts of the parties to protect themselves – from each other – to the point that nothing meaningful gets done.

The best way to get businesses, governments, and communities to cooperate towards a common goal is to establish a neutral space and unique set of rules that facilitate cooperation. I have developed many public-private partnerships over 30 years of development work and learned that you need unique, customized processes to bring organizations together that are not used to working with each other. They need decision-making structures to democratically determine how to combine the best of their abilities and leverage the efforts of others who can help. In place of command and control, they need organization and facilitation.

Give people a neutral, conducive space to collaborate in new ways and suddenly a world of possibilities opens up in front of them. Diverse and often divergent interests begin to cooperate in a way that benefits all and not just a privileged few. They start to find new solutions to old problems and discover that the benefits of cooperation extend well beyond the immediate challenge that brought them together in the first place.

If you find yourself in a place where cooperation is elusive and yet the only way to a better future, then try stepping outside of your box to explore different ways of working with other companies and organizations. The Hamakua Institute can help. We are working with the ACCESS Facility of the Netherlands to develop new spaces for reaching genuine collaboration that can produce sustainable results.


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