Measuring Success in Multisector Collaboration – Lessons Learned

The factors or indicators used here as measures of successful multisector collaboratives were taken in part from the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation's indicators in Collaboration: What Makes It Work? (Mattessich, Murray-Close, and Monsey 2001), from the National Network for Collaboration (Bergstrom et al. 1995), and from Cleveland State University's Center for Neighborhood Development planning principles (Burkholder, Chupp, and Star 2003), combined in a new ten-point framework for Detroit's LISC's SIA collaborative:

• Committed catalyst(s)

• Stakeholder engagement and buy-in

• Effective leadership

• Cooperative culture

• Democratic decision making

• Supportive communication processes

• Supportive structure and policies

• Favorable social and political climate

• Sufficient resources and capacity

• Sustainability systems

It is premature to draw any conclusions about Detroit's SIAs. But the following is what LISC has been learning thus far.

Committed Catalyst(s)

The development of a collaborative begins with the need to take a different route to address a challenge or achieve results that, in the eyes of the initiating organization(s), cannot be fully realized any other way. Planning collaboratively can have many benefits for the neighborhoods and communities. That discussion also described the challenges and limitations inherent in the collaborative planning process. Consequently, the organization or group of organizations that initiate a collaborative not only must agree on the need for taking a collaborative approach but also should have identified a clear vision that will ultimately resonate with stakeholders. Further, the catalyst organization(s) should bring to the table a high level of commitment to providing leadership and support to a process that will be, at times, both rewarding and difficult.

As the catalyst for the SIA collaborative effort in Detroit, LISC took steps to prepare itself for embarking on this journey by ensuring that there was cross-sector, stakeholder support for moving in this direction. In launching SIA, LISC announced its commitment to provide leadership for a minimum of three years to help establish the new model. The organization then convened a wide range of community-based stakeholders in each SIA and invited them to participate in the new planning process – knowing that a number of the organizations coming to the process would be sitting at the table with local CDCs for the first time. As the catalyst, LISC provided necessary planning and implementation resources, understanding they would be used to leverage support from other stakeholders.

As is often the case in transitioning from vision to reality, implementing SIAs proved to be more challenging than anticipated. For example, just as Detroit LISC was preparing to make the strategic shift to a new planning and investment model, the organization was facing internal organizational challenges that ultimately led to the decision to take a brief hiatus from implementing the SIA initiative. The three-month interruption provided LISC an opportunity to clarify internal roles and responsibilities and develop processes to ensure that the new planning process would meet the needs of stakeholders. Having taken a temporary but necessary step back, LISC, as catalyst, was prepared to provide leadership and support for collaboration.

Stakeholder Engagement and Buy-In

Critical to the success of any collaborative is its ability to engage a cross section of stakeholders over the long term. In Detroit's multisector collaborative, this requires conducting outreach to engage diverse stakeholders – residents, organizations, businesses, financial, educational and faith-based institutions, and others – and securing their commitment to actively participate. To support this, LISC created a preplanning phase to afford CDCs and other stakeholders an opportunity to gain a clear understanding of the SIA strategy, conduct a quality-of-life assessment in each target area, complete a stakeholder analysis, and develop a work plan for the planning phase. The preplanning curriculum was facilitated by consultants provided by LISC.

An assessment of the extent to which SIA stakeholders are engaged and have “bought-in" to the process thus far reveals mixed results. To LISC's credit, the preplanning phase may have helped to promote and strengthen stakeholder engagement and participation. When surveyed on stakeholder support for the collaborative, the overwhehning majority of SIA stakeholders reported that they believe that their organizations will benefit from collaborating. However, despite efforts to encourage broad community involvement, a significant proportion of SIA stakeholders thought that all of the individuals and organizations that should be a part of the collaborative had not yet been engaged. Further, although LISC sought input from CDCs and other stakeholders in developing the new strategy, interorganizational dynamics in one of the SIA target areas in particular impeded that area's ability to participate.

Other factors to consider when assessing stakeholder engagement and buy-in include participation levels and the establishment of a shared vision. It is one thing to reach out to stakeholders to get them to collaborate. It is another to sustain high levels of participation as the process moves forward. So far, the SIA stakeholder model appears to be maintaining strong participation among stakeholders, but in some target areas, participation can be inconsistent and uneven. Regarding the establishment of a shared vision, which speaks directly to stakeholder buy-in, survey responses were mixed, perhaps due in part to the early timing of the survey.

Effective Leadership

As catalyst for the SIA strategy, Detroit LISC is clearly in the position of providing leadership for this effort. For purposes of measuring the effectiveness or success of a collaboration, however, leadership is not defined in such narrow terms, but refers to those individuals and organizations that have taken on important roles related to supporting or advancing work collaboratively. This might include residents who reach out to and engage other residents in the process, as well as organizations that build bridges and cultivate relationships.

Effective leadership in this context is also intended to refer to leadership that encourages team building, including the development of coalitions as needed, and promotes consensus building among stakeholders. Effective leadership might also mean that the effort is largely community-led and that stakeholders who are of the community are taking an active role in planning. At some point during the planning process, effective leadership will likely involve the willingness to take risks to move in new directions or forge new relationships.

The evaluation of LISC's SIA strategy is still under way and has not yet measured all of these dimensions of effective leadership. However, when stakeholders were asked whether they thought that the “leaders" had the skills to work with other stakeholders, survey responses indicate that while a majority agreed or strongly agreed that collaborative leaders possessed the necessary skills, more than 30 percent reported being neutral or having no opinion. Perceptions of leadership likely will be addressed and will improve over time.

Cooperative Culture

The success of a collaboration effort can also depend on whether a community has worked cooperatively before. Communities experienced in working as partners – not as independent, self-contained entities, or worse, as competitors – benefit from higher levels of trust and respect, and greater flexibility. These communities also tend to do well in other areas important to the viability of a collaborative.

Overall, the majority of SIA stakeholders reported having a history of working together collaboratively. However, there was variation among the SIA target areas on this issue. While there was broad agreement within most target areas that there was a history of working together collaboratively in their communities, one target area in particular stood out as not sharing this perception. In terms of respect and flexibility, other indicators of a cooperative culture, the majority of SIA stakeholders agreed that there is mutual respect among members of their collaborative and that collaborative members are flexible in terms of making decisions. Trust is an area from which all SIAs could benefit.

Democratic Decision Making

A democratic process for making decisions during the planning process may be implied but should be expressly stated as one of the core features of collaborative planning. This means that stakeholders should be involved early on, before crucial decisions that influence the balance of the planning process are made. Early in the process, stakeholders should also determine how decisions will be made – that is, whether by majority or consensus. The decision-making process, including guidelines for resolving the inevitable conflicts that may arise along the way, should be clear, communicated to all stakeholders, and adhered to (Burkholder, Chupp, and Star 2003).

One more aspect of a democratic decision-making process worth noting has to do with stakeholders' ability to fully engage in the decision-making process as informed participants. In other words, it is not enough to simply provide stakeholders' an opportunity to share in the decision-making process. To ensure that the collaborative's decision-making process is one in which equality and balance of power is maintained, decisions should be made in an environment where all stakeholders are well informed about issues before those decisions are made. If the dynamics of the collaborative are such that neighborhood residents, for example, are asked to help make decisions about issues in which they may have a limited background compared with some of the other stakeholder groups, or vice versa, then care must be taken to ensure that, to the fullest extent possible, stakeholders have a certain threshold of information going in. In prioritizing strategies, for example, some stakeholders may have more information than others. Consequently, some stakeholders may hesitate during the voting process to quickly gauge how others, particularly those they consider to be better informed, will vote. Avoiding this situation might require additional effort in terms of educating members of the collaborative before making key decisions, but it will help ensure that the collaborative make decisions that are made by stakeholders who not only are participants in the process but are fully informed participants.

To date, data have not been gathered from Detroit's SIA stakeholders addressing democratic decision making as an indicator of collaborative success. However, when asked whether or not sufficient time was provided to discuss issues within their respective organizations before making decisions, less than one-quarter of SIA stakeholders agreed that there was.

Supportive Communication Processes

For obvious reasons, communications are crucial to the success of any collaborative planning. Open, clear, and frequent communication patterns must be established early on. Formal communication processes within the collaborative – regularly scheduled mailings and e-mails as well as communication to the broader community – must be developed. In addition, the utilization of informal channels of communication, such as allotting time for purely social purposes to promote better communication and, ultimately, stronger links among members of the collaborative.

Overall, preliminary evaluation suggests that a majority of SIA stakeholders believe communication is open and that the collaborative utilizes both formal and informal channels. Even so, there was variation in stakeholders' responses, suggesting that communication can be strengthened. There is room for improvement in the frequency and extent to which SIA leaders communicate with group members.

Supportive Structure and Policies

Another characteristic shared by successful collaborations is the existence of an organizational structure and policies that support and guide the collaborative (Mattessich, Murray-Close, and Monsey 2001). In any collaborative, it is important that its members have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. There is also a need to establish and adhere to a set of operating policies and procedures that guide the collaboration functions. These might include guidelines for resolving conflicts. In addition, some collaboratives find it useful at some point to establish written agreements or memorandums of understanding as well. These agreements can be particularly helpful in clarifying stakeholders' roles and commitments as multisector collaboratives move from planning to the implementation phase.

The development of a supportive organizational structure takes on even greater importance, where stakeholders in each SIA are charged with establishing a governance structure to provide a permanent framework for redeveloping the community. Early data indicate that SIA stakeholders would benefit from greater clarity around their collaboration-related roles and responsibilities. There also appears to be uncertainty among stakeholders that a clear decision-making process is in place.

Favorable Social and Political Climate

Researchers also agree that the success of collaboratives such as the SIA also depends, in part, on the social and political environment in which it is taking place ( A favorable social and political climate is one where the overall mission of the collaborative is supported by, or at least not opposed by, key community stakeholders such as political leaders, organizations, and institutions who control resources and public policy (Mattessich, Murray-Close, and Monsey 2001). This support tends to have a positive impact on the development of effective collaborations. A favorable social and political climate can also have a positive influence on the sustainability of collaborations.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of SIA stakeholders agree that the political and social climate was right for LISC's new multisector planning and investment model. This widespread consensus may be due to factors such as recognition in the broader community that the myriad challenges facing the city's neighborhoods necessitated a coordinated, multisector response. Faced with economic uncertainty, Detroit would need the support of all stakeholders in neighborhood revitalization. Socially and politically, stakeholders appeared to understand and appreciate the mutually beneficial nature of the new SIA collaborative model.

Sufficient Resources and Capacity

Clearly, even if the collaboration is doing well in terms of the success factors or indicators described in this chapter, without sufficient resources and organizational capacity, the model is doomed to fail. The process of developing and working toward a shared vision is one that requires financial, in-kind, and technical support. The need for funding resources to support planning and implementation efforts is obvious. However, the need for in-kind and human resources in community-led collaborations may not always be readily apparent. For example, human resources in the form of technical support might include planners, architects, and organizational development consultants. Training and capacity building can also be part of the technical support package. Additionally, members of the collaborative should be prepared to provide in-kind support, often in the form of meeting space and staff support.

As a major initiative of Detroit LISC, the SIA strategy was launched with significant resources that included $40 million over three years for grants and loans, and TA, including capacity building. In spite of resources LISC brought to the new initiative, SIA stakeholders expressed mixed views about whether they believed sufficient financial and human resources were in place. However, given the depth and breadth of the challenges within each target area, it would not be fair to expect that any one organization would be in a position to immediately provide the level of financial and human resources needed to achieve the outcomes identified by the collaborative. As the catalyst organization, Detroit LISC had always envisioned its role as helping stakeholders leverage additional resources.

Sustainability Systems

Finally, the long-term viability of collaboratives requires that certain systems be put in place to sustain them. The development of strategies for maintaining and/or building membership, for example, is needed to ensure that the collaboration continues to thrive. Resource development is of critical importance, given the ongoing need to maintain the level of financial, in-kind, and human resources required to continue the work of the collaborative. The development of a process to periodically review current strategies and identify new and emerging issues and opportunities is important to the sustainability of the collaborative as well. As new issues arise or circumstances change, it is important that a process be in place to keep abreast of how these changes will affect the collaborative.

Conducting an evaluation of the planning and implementation process can be very useful in helping collaboratives learn more about what is working well, what the challenges and limitations of the collaborative are, and what changes or course corrections should be made to strengthen the collaborative. Evaluations are also critically important to the collaborative process because they can be used to measure the extent to which desired outcomes are being achieved. Additionally, because funders appreciate the value of evaluation – and increasingly require them – the incorporation of evaluation into the collaborative model, as seen in Detroit, can help stakeholders strengthen their case for receiving financial support.

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