A Collaboration Incubator



Identify an issue in the community that has the potential to benefit from a collaborative process, and which is likely to engage participants and garner long-term support for implementing solutions.

Drawing on the community’s vision, problem areas on Kauai are individually evaluated for: their appropriateness as a strategic point of intervention; their potential for benefitting from a collaborative effort; their alignment with KPAA’s mission and values; as well as the likelihood of attracting funding and producing tangible results and positive action.

The issues need to be compelling enough to interest those who can contribute to solutions as well as those who might be involved in implementing the solutions long-term. As many issues are interrelated, tackling one can spark action toward resolving others, and should be considered for this domino effect.
Once an issue has been identified, an initial, pre-budget case statement is developed to help build support for the collaboration. The planning should include individuals from those organizations or agencies that might consider taking on long-term responsibilities likely to result from the collaborative process.

This stage differs from initial stages in many strategies, in that an organization that is not tied to the subject matter takes the lead in formulating the strategic issue and garnering support for the process from partners. This level of involvement exceeds that of most conveners.

The viability of a collaboration is always contingent on the availability of project leadership to participate in and sustain it.

  • Conduct an initial (pre-funded) problem assessment/analysis to confirm viability.
    Draw on the expertise and viewpoints of individual key leaders of valuable groups to consider the goal and determine one or more related issues or problems that could be a viable.
  • Generate ideas for issues and screen each to determine its viability for collaboration. A viable issue for collaboration meets these criteria:
    • Advances community vision and addresses organizational goals
    • Avoids duplication of existing efforts
    • Offers potential for partnering with other organizations and agencies
    • Has the chance of being funded
    • Is likely to attract interest in participating among issue stakeholders
    • Is likely to result in specific actions that can be undertaken within the next two to three years
    • Attracts individuals/organizations that may be willing to implement actions 
    • Has the potential to generate additional projects related to the community vision
  • Select the strategic issue and develop initial strategies.
    KPAA develops a preliminary plan that: outlines the overall purpose of the collaboration; identifies the participants who should be involved; suggests the individuals or organizations that might implement the action plan created; and proposes a draft of the collaborative process design. The plan also identifies likely champions for the process as measured by their credibility and/or knowledge to attract funding and participants to the collaboration. Modifications can be made based on feedback of stakeholders.
  • Begin to build support for a process to tackle the issue.
    A pre-budget case statement includes a definition of the problem and outlines the benefits of collaboration in a way that is easily communicated and compelling to others. Conversations with the KPAA board of directors, elected officials, funders, and other key stakeholders are designed to generate support for and inform the case statement.
  • There are vague or excessively general project purposes or outcomes in the case statement.
    The more specific the case statement, the greater likelihood of generating support. Where feedback suggests something could be made even clearer, it should be reworked.
  • There is lack of agreement at this stage among key stakeholders about process purpose or intended process outputs.
    It’s risky to move forward until stakeholders important to the process are on board. Look for areas of agreement; consider possible project modifications if necessary.
  • There is an unwillingness to let go of a project that doesn’t generate required interested and support from stakeholders.
    If the timing isn’t right, it’s better to let go of the project for the time being.
  • There is a change in political administration before the collaboration work is completed, yet political support is needed to move forward on the outcomes.
    It’s important to work with the new administration as soon as possible to build support for the effort. Try to avoid the perception that the project was directly tied to the previous administration. Find a way to let the new administration take some credit for the project.
  • While there is value to having a community organization convene a collaborative process, the process may have no legal authority or mandate.
    Securing key stakeholder support helps mitigate the importance of this. The collaborative leadership group needs to understand the limits of its authority up front and can be encouraged to think about how to gain authority, for example, through advocacy.
  • Some collaborative processes attempt to take on too much.
    The clearer and more specific the issue to be tackled, the greater the likelihood for success. That doesn’t mean big issues shouldn’t be tackled. Big issues – like “reform public education” or “reduce substance abuse” – could benefit from collaborative processes, but they need sufficient time and resources.
  • Before getting started, conduct an assessment of past, current, or planned processes that could impact or conflict with the planned collaboration. If there were past processes, what worked? What didn’t? Did the process result in action? What was the outcome? Who was involved?
  • Formalize commitments of potential champions. Try to secure written endorsements that could be used with funders or to attract collaboration participants.
  • If the basic concept has already been endorsed by the board as part of the annual program of work, then the task is simply to keep the board informed. If, however, the concept under consideration was not previously endorsed by the board, then a more extended process might be required to obtain board support.

People on Kauai began to be concerned about what was seen as uncontrolled growth: growth was not keeping pace with the island’s infrastructure, landscapes were being changed forever, traffic problems developed. There was growing interest among several key leaders to begin using principles of sustainability as a basis for planning. At the same time, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) requested proposals from communities wishing to utilize the services of a volunteer Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) to address planning issues. With the County of Kauai Planning Department, County Council, and Lihue Business Association, it was agreed that KPAA would serve as the coordinating agency and submit a proposal to develop a new strategy for sustainable community planning, using Lihue as the focus.

An initial case statement was created to garner support for the project, especially with regard to funds to meet the matching grant requirement and a commitment that county personnel would participate in the project. The case statement proved valuable in communicating the concept to the county administration and departments.

Once support was secured, the proposal was developed. It included: formation of a steering committee to oversee the one-year project; an initial site visit and scoping session by the AIA; a two-day charrette with stakeholders conducted by the AIA Sustainable Design Assessment Team; two public town hall meetings to secure additional input for the team’s recommendations; and preparation of a report by the team. The proposal was approved by the AIA and the effort was launched.

Related Examples

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