Booklet uses innovation to tackle aspects of collaborations


August 08, 1994|By LESTER A. PICKER

Last year I reviewed a publication from the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation that dealt with what I believe will be a critical issue for nonprofits in the next decade -- collaboration. If nonprofits are to flourish, they will need to find innovative, creative solutions to intractable problems. That calls for strategic partnerships, in which each player adds targeted strengths to the equation.

The Wilder Foundation's booklet was both thoughtful and comprehensive and reflected a commitment to high quality. The booklet synthesized research findings with real-life experiences to produce a nine-part framework for successful collaborative programs. Other Wilder Foundation works, including ones on marketing and strategic planning, have been reviewed in previous columns.

The present work, actually a workbook, titled "Collaboration Handbook: Creating, Sustaining, and Enjoying the Journey," is a significant departure from the foundation's other works, not so much in content as in style.

The authors have obviously invested an enormous amount of effort in this production, and a production it is. Perhaps that is what I find most distracting. The work uses the metaphor of a journey, which is carried forward through each chapter. While the metaphor certainly lends a creative touch to the workbook, it wears thin after awhile and comes across as a bit condescending, especially for those with any prior experience in working collaboratively. The book also makes heavy use of imaginary agency executives, placed into hypothetical situations, which at times are contrived and may further distract readers.

Despite these shortcomings, the handbook is well done. If one can get past the hokey aspects, the book provides a very comprehensive and detailed exploration of nonprofit collaboration, mixing research knowledge with a heavy dose of reality. The workbook is nicely illustrated, adding a warm and human element to the complex issue of relationships that form the basis of any collaborative effort.

The book leads the reader through a step-by-step process starting with getting the right players to the table, to trust-building, specifying results, managing conflicts, evaluation, ensuring continuity and applying collaborative tools to other ends.

The book includes every form a group might ever need to grease the skids of teamwork, from membership rosters to meeting agendas. Along the way there are forms for visioning, desired results and strategies, letters of commitment, conflict resolution, joint agreements, evaluation and many others. The forms packet alone could be worth the cost of the handbook.

Included in the work is a very helpful annotated bibliography on collaboration research and practice. Also included is a synopsis of the Wilder Foundation's previous work on collaboration, which details nineteen factors typical of successful collaborations. These factors are divided into six major groupings, which could be used as a checklist or for a self-assessment by groups.

A nice touch by the authors is the inclusion of marvelous and pertinent quotes on collaboration and human nature by a widely diverse group of people, many famous, some not.

All in all, "Collaboration Handbook" is successful, though it is somewhat inconsistent work, by an effective publishing group. I commend their innovative spirit and willingness to take risks on imaginative new ways to address thorny issues that face the nonprofit community.

Collaboration Handbook can be ordered for $28.00 from the Amherst Wilder Foundation Publishing Center by calling (800) 274-6024.

Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at The Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore 21202. 783-5100

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