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  • Writer's pictureCoCreative

A New Roadmap for Collaboration

[Here for the Roadmap? Download it here.]

On a rainy spring day last April, I was sitting at my desk having an intense phone conversation with a frustrated young woman. She had been working for months to organize a collective impact initiative in her community, and still didn’t know what specific steps she should be taking to lead that work.

“We’ve gotten training in collective impact, design thinking, and these other approaches,” she said, “but we still don’t understand HOW to organize and lead this initiative. It just seems like it’s all theory and no one has a practical roadmap to help guide this kind of work.”

That conversation–and several others like it–prompted a mini research project at CoCreative. Maren, our human insight lead, interviewed more folks leading collaborations and heard much the same theme: lots of theory and models, few practical tools to guide the work, and a LOT of frustration.

So we set out to do something about that; we decided to design a roadmap showing the specific stages and steps in the Collaborative Innovation approach.

Well, that turned out to be really hard to do. As we tried to map those stages and steps, we constantly felt like we are cramming lots of dynamic, evolutionary processes into a straightjacketed, linear process. I even questioned (many times) whether we were giving people what they wanted but not what they needed, which was a recognition that you need to shepherd the emergent intent, analysis, and strategy (however long that takes and however difficult it may be) NOT simply walk network participants through the steps of a process.

But we continued to iterate, test and refine our map, and we learned our way into it. We realized, for example, that we could show BOTH the linear process AND the dynamics that show up along the way. We discovered that by using transparent overlays on the map (the coolest feature in my mind), we can also show the specific work products created along the way and the conditions that indicate that it’s time for the network to move to the next step. We also realized that:

  • Even though the dynamics of place-based work and national or global networks are very different, they all follow the same general evolutionary path. It’s important in both, for example, to establish a clear intent before jumping into analysis, to be selective about who’s invited to the collaboration, and to start making and prototyping initiatives sooner rather than later.

  • While the work looks different for networks setting out to address a social need like addressing food insecurity versus changing a supply chain like advancing climate-positive banking practices, both networks need to understand the whole system (the 30,000-foot view) AND empathize with the experiences of real people within that system (the view from the ground). In the end, we decided to show both steps on the map, starting with mapping the system and then doing the critical empathy work, although these steps could easily be reversed for networks focusing on a social need.

  • We wanted to focus on getting people started in the work together. The majority of stakeholders engaging in collaboration don't want to see loops and circular processes--at least not when they're starting out, so we decided to focus on the linear steps and introduce the spirals and other dynamics in that context. Once people see that the process delivers results, they have always (so far) decided to expand their scope of work and begin another round of work together with a new, more expansive, focus and scope.

  • We start work on many problems by defining a goal that is audacious, meaningful, specific, and timebound. We of course test and refine that goal to ensure that its powerful and meaningful for everyone involved. Once we meet that goal, however, the work of the network is presumably done. Presenting collaborative work as cycles, while it's technically more accurate in some ways, seems to take away from the goal orientation and outcome focus that any good collaboration should have.

And we're still learning, so we'd love your thoughts and feedback as you consider what we've created here. Please let us know!

After many iterations, we are pleased to present our new Collaborative Innovation Roadmap, also available as a printable PDF that shows each overlay as a separate slide.

CoCreative Collaborative Innovation Roadmap

Basic Roadmap

The base map shows the key stages and steps of the Collaborative Innovation process, from defining a clear intent to scaling solutions.

Success Factors Overlay

This overlay adds the key success factors at each step that your initiative should achieve before moving to the next step. For example, if you haven't drafted at least a rough working goal that is big, specific, meaningful and timebound, then choosing a design team might be premature.

Patterns Overlay

This overlay shows the common patterns or dynamics that tend to show up along the way, such as when certain tensions are likely to show up, so that you can address them proactively.

Work Products Overlay

This final overlay shows some of the most common work products that are created to support the work along the way, such as an interview guide for leaders to use when interviewing stakeholders of the work.

To get a closer look, download a PDF of the map.


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