A Collaboration Incubator

Explore and Educate


Ensure that the group develops a well-informed understanding of the issue and knows about available assets related to the issue.

The goal of this stage is to ensure that there is comprehensive understanding among participants about the issue and available assets related to the issue, so they can:

  • Clearly view the causes, parameters, and impacts of the issue
  • Expand the common ground, in hopes of finding mutually acceptable solutions
  • Gain insight into the relationship between this and other community issues, so that solutions arrived at might also advance other community goals
  • Build motivation to stay involved during implementation

To fully understand the challenge the group has been tasked with, members review:

  • A summary of recommendations from previous planning on the issue
  • A list of existing assets related to the issue, such as programs, experts, resources, incentives, etc.

Once the group has a well-informed understanding of the issue and knows about available assets related to it, participants subsequently create a written problem definition and description.

Based upon the work of the group, a written summary is prepared; it serves as the foundation for visioning and action planning.

  • Clarify and define the issue.
    • Lead discussions and activities to address questions such as those below and begin to develop a written “map” or documentation of the problem that reflects how various aspects are related. 
      • What is the problem?
      • What created the problem?
      • What are the impacts of the problem?
      • What regulations, if any, govern the problem?
      • Who is involved with the problem?
      • Who is responsible for addressing the problem?
      • What are the related social, economic, and environmental issues that could be helpful to consider when crafting solutions?
    • Secure group agreement of the problem definition. If consensus cannot be reached, use a polling tool, such as contained in the Sample Charter.
    • Determine whether additional input from the group members’ constituencies could add value or clarity to the discussion. Group members may be asked to accept an assignment to solicit input between meetings from their constituency or other stakeholders, and report findings at a subsequent meeting.
  • Identify the relevant assets to resolve the problem that are currently available.
    • Assess the policies, organizations, programs, and funding in place that could be applied to the issue to create an asset inventory.
    • Begin to identify the challenges faced by existing assets and gaps in needed assets.
  • Build capacity in collaboration participants.
    • Assess what additional information (technical, cultural, economic, etc.) the group needs and consider how it might be provided (speakers, site visits, studies). A self-evaluation, either verbal or written, could be conducted to ascertain from group members whether they feel they have the information they need to move to the next stages.
    • Ask participants to do additional research for presentation at an upcoming meeting. For example, have any best practices been established for the issue? In any previous planning on this issue, what recommendations resulted? What solutions were tried? What was the outcome?
    • Encourage participants to attend relevant workshops or conferences that would increase their understanding of the topic. Ask them to share highlights and insights with the group.
  • Confirm the problem definition.
    • Before moving to the next stage, confirm that the problem definition is still accurately stated: Is the problem definition created at the beginning of this stage still accurate?
    • Based on feedback from the group, there may be a need to modify the problem definition.
  • Confirm the process.
    • Ask the group: Do you have the information you need to move on to the next stage? Does the meeting format, activities, and facilitation provide what you need to do your work as a group member?
    • Based on feedback from the group or the broader group of stakeholders, there may be a need to modify or redesign the process. Additional meetings may be needed.
    • Feedback from the group or broader group of stakeholders may necessitate changes that have budget impacts. The funders and any project sponsors should be informed of design changes; the need for additional support needs to be discussed. Other funding sources may need to be secured.
  • While work may be needed between meetings, participants may be unwilling to do it or may accept an assignment and not follow through.
    Be strategic about assignments; do it only when necessary and ask for volunteers rather than requiring it. One of the most helpful things can be asking participants to solicit feedback from their constituents on issues or ideas. Provide a summary of assignments people have accepted and be clear about deadlines. A phone call in advance of when someone is supposed to present findings may be helpful as a follow-up and encouragement to get the task done.
  • Adding new participants after a certain point can be problematic.
    The group charter could include a rule about this. It can be disruptive to a group that has met several times for new people to be added; the group dynamics change. However, in the group launch stage it may become clear that one or more additional stakeholders are needed in the group. Secure the agreement of the group to add new members and meet with the new members outside the group to orient them. At the first meeting they attend, plan activities that introduce them to the other members and start the process of building trust.
  • It’s not always clear when you’ve explored and educated enough and it’s time to move on to the next stage.
    There’s no easy answer to this; it may be dictated by the number of meetings allotted in the process design. It’s helpful at each meeting to check in to review what has been learned and what more is needed. This would also be covered in meeting notes. For some people, the exploration is never enough – they want to go in great depth. Offer a reminder that additional research can be a part of the action plan to be created by the group.
  • Consider when to introduce people to the action plan template to be used in the next stage.
    While for some people this may not be an issue, the action plan template can look intimidating to others at the beginning of the exploration stage. By waiting until the end of this stage to share the action plan template, people are likely to be invested in the issue and want to find a way to generate solutions.
  • Field trips are a great way to help collaboration participants understand the issue more fully; they can demonstrate things such as the impact of the issue and possible solutions being tried.
  • Hold meetings in locations that will help connect people to the issue; bring in a speaker who helps reinforce the relevance. For example, in exploring the concept of the ahupuaa system, a meeting was held in a canoe hale and a cultural practitioner served as the speaker. This was followed by canoe rides so people could look mauka at the ahupuaa.

Kauai Planning & Action Alliance (KPAA) and the County of Kauai partnered to create a three-year drug plan to combat the problem of crystal methamphetamine. The effort was carried out by four committees — drug prevention, drug treatment, law enforcement, and community integration — and a coordinating committee, the “Drug Action Team.” All groups were composed of government and nonprofit representatives and citizens and met monthly. 

In defining the problem, the facilitator drew upon the experiences and knowledge of the committee members, most of whom worked in some way on the drug problem, but found that additional information was needed to clearly understand the scope of the problem. Personal interviews augmented input from committee members. Where data was available, it was incorporated into the problem statement and where there were gaps in data, this often led to the creation of an action step, so that systems could be established to collect data to measure success in implementing the drug plan.

At key points in the problem identification phase, resource people were interviewed or invited to a committee meeting so they could provide their perspectives on the problem. Special attention was given to seeking culturally-relevant solutions because, at that time, few programs had been established as best practices for Hawaii.

KPAA’s commitment was that the resulting plan would include goals and action plans for each of the four committees as well as for the Drug Action Team.

Related Examples

Related Tools/Resources

Please enable JavaScript for full site functionality. Click here to learn how.