Continuous communication is essential in collaborative partnerships: Part 4

Using continuous communication to sustain collective impact.

Complex social problems, such as obesity, poverty or food insecurity, cannot be remedied through a simple solution crafted by an individual entity or organization. Adaptive problems, like those just mentioned, may be better tackled through a collaborative commitment from a group of diverse and multi-faceted organizations all sharing a common agenda. In a Michigan State University Extension article, an overview of the collective impact framework was highlighted and offered as a structure for addressing complex social problems like food insecurity.

In a 2011 report, John Kania and Mark Kramer highlighted five conditions that are typically present in order to produce true alignment and meaningful change to complex social problems. This article, part four of the collective impact series, will focus on one of those conditions: continuous communication.

Fostering trust and building relationships with partners can be a monumental task and time intensive, but it can be accomplished through regular communication strategies. Engaging in ongoing and consistent face-to-face, electronic or phone contact builds relations between partners and can improve the comfort level of working with one another. By keeping the communication lines open and flowing, partners may motivate each other, engage in co-learning opportunities and hold each other accountable.

Continuous communication can also aid groups in creating a common vocabulary, shared objectives and improve cross-sector coordination. It can also entice partners into seeking out decisions and solutions that are in the best interest for the group. Early on, newly-convened groups may ask themselves:

  1. Is there jargon or specific acronyms that need to be defined for the group?
  2. Can a regular meeting schedule be developed that meets the need of the work being done (i.e. setting a monthly meeting schedule)?
  3. Should the various partners provide electronic updates of their progress?
  4. Are there group guidelines that can be used to insure all partners can work with an open mind, can resolve conflicts and can work collectively?
  5. Is there common ground that everyone can start from?

Even though this type of partnership work may be messy, effort given to ongoing and consistent communication will lead to more informed and trusting partnerships; a critical component of the collective impact framework.

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