Collaboration between organizations doesn’t necessarily result in innovation.
Innovation requires focus, and collaborations are rife with distractions. Core operations usually get in the way and take precedence over the collaborative task. And since everyone is running lean to begin with, an extra project is often met with the enthusiasm reserved for doing one’s taxes.
Knowing all this, we decided to take the plunge anyway and use a Collaborative Social Innovation (CSI) approach to answer this question:
How can people with complex needs extract extraordinary service from a rule bound, risk averse, multi-agency network of caring specialized organizations?
It felt like a question a lot of people would like answered, particularly those with complex needs. It was also in line with all four main goals in Alberta’s Social Policy Framework, especially number three: “Create a person-centered system of high-quality services.”
It took some time to arrive at a hypothesis to guide our collaboration. But once we did, it had the simplicity that is the hallmark of a lot of good ideas:
IF several organizations who share the same clients or participants can learn to act as one,
THEN those served will experience radically better outcomes.
“Act as one” is a deceptively simple expression. You probably scanned right over it.
Consider: how many organizations do you know that act as one? We doubt you’ve exhausted the fingers of one hand. Now we’re suggesting that a number of organizations can do it. That’s monumental in its complexity. It requires seamless communication, coordinated action and overcoming a number of hurdles.
What surprised us was that with early and consistent involvement of the heads of the organizations, it can happen.
That was our most important piece of learning about CSI. Recognize the value of starting slowly. The steps require time. This learning informs the most important piece of advice we would give others about approaching a project through the CSI lens:
Choose your partners carefully. Spend time understanding their philosophies, histories, structures, cultures and service models.
Melanie Mitra works at Prospect. Here, she is part of the Leading Boldly Network, a network of Calgary non-profits using Collaborative Social Innovation to make progress on complex social problems and impact social change.