A Collaboration Incubator

Group Launch

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Make everyone feel welcomed and valued, focus the group on the purpose and task of the group, and get their agreement on the group charter and communications plan.

The initial meetings of the collaboration group should lay a strong foundation for the work ahead and build participant commitment to the project purpose, goals, and scope. Depending on the complexity of the issue and the anticipated length of the collaboration, this stage might take from one to three meetings, possibly even more for complex, contentious issues, or where there are widely divergent perspectives.

Finding the right mix of people with influence, knowledge, commitment, passion, compassion, leadership, and vision to participate in a collaboration is one of the most important tasks in the process. Blending these individuals into a group that can work together effectively, with a strong commitment to the group’s purpose and sufficient trust in each other to challenge and question the easy solutions, is another.

The primary goals of the initial sessions are to make everyone feel welcomed and valued, focus the group on the purpose and task of the group, and get their agreement on the group charter and communications plan.

If possible early in the process, help the group members discuss and make a decision in an area where they have authority. This builds commitment to the process and reinforces the value of their participation.

  • Convene collaboration participants and orient them to the upcoming process.
    • Provide a preliminary overview of the issue/opportunity that led to convening the collaboration and review the process to be undertaken. Discuss the interest of the convener(s) and funders in this issue.
    • Provide time and activities for participants to get to know one another and begin to build trust within the group.
    • Present and discuss the proposed meeting schedule.
  • Review and ratify a group charter.
    • Review the draft charter with the group including: project purpose, goals, scope, authority and decision making, roles and responsibilities, process design, project logistics, and ground rules.
    • Discuss the draft charter and any revisions or additions that may be needed.
    • Prepare a final charter for acceptance by the group.
  • Review and ratify a communications plan.
    • Review the draft communications plan, including internal as well as external communications procedures.
    • Discuss the draft communications plan, making revisions and additions as needed.
    • Prepare a final communications plan for acceptance by the group.
  • Begin to explore the issue to be addressed by the collaboration.
    • Present and discuss any initial research done by the convener. This can serve as the starting point to identify individual needs, interests, positions, views and relationships to the issue.
    • Identify areas where views and interests are similar (“common ground”) or divergent and where additional clarification and information will be needed. This will serve as the basis for the next phase of exploration and education.
  • Determine if additional participants are needed in the collaboration group.
    • Ask the group if there are critical points of view or expertise missing from the group. If yes, ask for recommendations of people to add.
    • Discuss recommendations with convener and secure decision about adding participants.
    • If needed, invite new members to the group and provide background materials.
    • Provide an orientation to any new group member so they are able to join the group and be already informed of the work done to date and any agreements reached.
  • People meeting in unfamiliar surroundings and with others they don’t know can make them feel uncomfortable.
    As soon as most people are present and as close to the starting time as possible, set them at ease by having food available. This is also a good place to have a pule, especially at the first meeting that launches the collaboration. If there will be no pule, people can help themselves to food and drink when they arrive. Food offers a good chance for informal conversation and initial bonding.
  • Some participants may have been on opposing sides of the issue prior to the collaborative and may harbor ill will toward others in the group.
    Confront this possibility head on. Let the group know this is a new beginning and their willingness to participate gives a chance to find some common ground and new solutions that everyone can agree to. Ask them to leave any previous grudges at the door.
  • Some participants are required to participate but lack the interest or will to authentically participate.
    Disinterested group members can affect others. It may be necessary to talk with them outside the meeting to determine why they are involved (i.e., they may have been appointed by a superior and not specifically invited by the convener). If their participation is important, discuss ways the topic might be of value to them. Alternatively, determine if someone else from their organization would be a better fit or if they can be called upon as a resource on an as-needed basis.
  • Participants may have different levels of knowledge and some may either flaunt their knowledge or disrespect those with different levels of knowledge.
    In launching the group, the different types of expertise that were sought for the group can be discussed, showing value for a variety of perspectives and levels and types of knowledge. While some may be knowledgeable in a certain area, no doubt they will need to rely on the expertise of their fellow group members in other areas. The facilitator can plan activities and discussions that specifically highlight the expertise of those with less formal training and more real-life experience.
  • Some people are unwilling to add anyone else to the group, despite the need for additional perspectives or expertise.
    Sometimes there is a fear that the balance and trust that has been established will be negatively impacted by adding members. If the executive authority believes one or more additional people are needed, share with the group the process to be used to bring the new person(s) into the group and let them know that anyone new will be thoroughly briefed so they are up to speed with the proceedings to date.

The Kauai Planning & Action Alliance (KPAA) received a grant to restore the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s North Shore. To keep the community informed and try to allay some of the concerns being expressed, KPAA decided to form the Kalalau Trail Citizen’s Advisory Committee. Invitations included a draft charter that carefully detailed the purpose of the project, the standards for the trail restoration to be undertaken, an outline of the responsibilities of the advisory committee, an anticipated meeting schedule, a description of how decisions would be made, and the length of the members’ commitment.

The advisory committee was composed of 11 members, most of whom lived on the North Shore, and who represented hikers, environmentalists, hunters, biologists, the visitor industry, and youth. Each signed a commitment to participate, which was an element of the group charter.

At the first meeting, time was allotted for each member to talk about his/her connection to the Kalalau Trial, as nearly everyone felt a deep personal connection to it. The background of the project and the draft charter were reviewed and discussed by the group and, with minor changes, the charter was finalized and ratified.

The contractor hired to do the work on the trail discussed how he would approach the project and had a chance to answer questions. Issues were identified for discussion and resolution at later meetings.

Subsequent to that first meeting, the charter was a valuable reference document when members of the advisory group attempted to expand their responsibilities beyond what was specified in the charter.

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