There are a great variety of reasons to organize people

Sometimes it's to discover something - Sometimes it's to accomplish something

Sometimes it's to connect people who share a common world view

Sometimes it's for people who share a common world...

(but have remarkably different talents and views)


Multi-stakeholder partnerships

It's Collaborative Work between groups of stakeholders that "don't speak the same language".   It takes art, patience and a sound method to get them to immerse themselves in the environment of the problem or opportunity that they need each other to respond to.  

They find there's more to the reality than they thought, and to each other.  

They often make the error of not continually rediscovering their purpose, like nature does.

They can't achieve their purpose without a successful combined effort

- If you know of good experience or methods not mentioned here,  please comment on the Partnerships blog post,
- Follow link to return to Outcomes and Metrics "Transformational Dashboard".  

Individual approaches

Research papers

Partnership support organizations

Scientific models of the change and adaptation cycles of nature


Basic problems

A.   Coordinating different views of common problems that no one can solve by themselves takes a partnership in a exploratory learning process.  

How economic markets coordinate multiple views and capabilities is a bit like how nature builds partnerships, effortlessly and invisibly.    In nature and economies no part needs to understand how all the different parts are connected.   People have more difficulty building partnerships because each builds their own information world, mostly unaware that they don't connect, untill you need them to and you can't. 

Humans have also unwittingly accumulated a great deal of misinformation that way, in part resulting somehow in our economic activity disrupting the great systems of nature.    So...  half the task is to immerse ourselves in how the natural systems do and don't work, a group learning process that connects different views of that common reality, using observation to connect different worlds of information.    For environmental strains the task is to find how to begin correcting the market steering mechanisms by hand, while we look for our how they can be trusted to work on their own again.    

The other half of the problem is that people have not been taught how to recognize natural systems or how they work by themselves, or why they don't when they fail.   That's a good way to say what the prior problem was.   That our way of living in private information worlds somehow kept us from seeing what we were doing in the physical world.   Without noticing let our profit motive and economic markets disrupt the natural order, and it's unlikely we'd have done that knowingly.  

So because we're missing a language for how nature works, it's very hard for different people to see the same subject when immersed in the same problem. That means first learning to point to the same physical subjects, the clear evidence of the natural orders we're working with, and then succeed in agreeing on what the right thing to do is.   There's even a basic common error in our ideas of cause and effect.  

People tend to think of "systems" of nature as "fixed rules of pushes and pulls", like equations.    It's clear that natural systems aren't fixed, though, but continually changing, and most often have actively learning rather than controlled parts.    So natural systems are more influenced by discovered connections between opposites, complementary differences, like workers, work places and materials that collected and distributed.   It's those discovered or accidental connections between complementary opposites that form the core of all natural systems and economies.   Equations are exceptionally useful tools, but to treat them as being the system they offer an image of is a fundamental error people seem to make over and over.

So, that's the reason for *immersion*, to reorient and accelerate your learning of the natural process by exposing your awareness to the whole complexity of the system.  You use "your sense" to help find "it's sense", being sure anything built independently by natural processes will seem a little foreign.  Then you begin to think both rationally and intuitively about any system and its environment as a whole.   It ends up feeling really nice to no longer be stuck trying to make sense with nothing but scattered and uncertain facts to go by.

B.   People may be "timid" and not ask the key questions they need answered, not realizing how often others are using terms differently from how they do.   (adding to a list of barriers to productive conversations between stakeholders) 

Finding fault is a classic method of intimidation... so watch how you do it.   Finding mistakes is the best news you could get though, if like seeing a shape in the road ahead as a person or other warning, and you can stop in time.   Finding errors of reasoning have the value of more quickly leading to the new questions you were searching for but couldn't find.   

People are also hesitant to ask what should be obvious questions sometimes because of how people develop separate languages and world views.  We often don't notice the meanings of other people's languages and world views, or even that they have them, or feel embarrassed to ask questions everyone else acts as if we should already understand.  

Our familiar ways of thinking are both delightfully and problematically quite personalized and segregated into relatively small and closed communities, each acting like a "separate reality" as an information world.   I think that's the origin of the "ivory tower" or "silos" problem, and affects the intellectual communities more because they develop their own independent meanings for things.

A particular hurdle for understanding natural systems science, is needing to use fairly general terms in pointing to physical things as the detailed subject.  In making pottery, farming or in cooking or any other craft, simple words that refer to the complexities of the materials are always needed.   For understanding natural systems a word like that is the term "growth", that refers to the complex accumulating organization of a developing environmental system, as well as the shape of the curves of some records of its changes.  When you think about both the thing that's growing and the path that growth is taking it raises a great many questions, and a search for ones that can be answered.

So, because language is simple and the world complex it seems one also needs to "loosen up a bit" and more frequently feel free to ask the fairly obvious "dumb questions".   People do that somewhat more easily in personal contact, of course, with a better sense of each other as individuals.  But there are lots of inhibitions that let groups form into disconnected cells of self-agreement, both allowing independent new thinking and preventing it.   

Facilitators are valuable, as are stakeholder representatives that are "boundary spanning" individuals.  There are structured "social games" to get people to cross fertilize, understand each other's languages and open up to each other.    There seems to be a considerable teamwork facilitator industry, with many leaders using personalized methods that are not well cataloged anywhere, and no industry organization to do that job.  

That makes the search for the right team building method one of the first difficult team building tasks, like so many of them, feeling a little like groping in the dark is the only way to find important connections...    When it works, of course, people realize that they may actually be talking about the SAME reality after all!  ;-)


jlh Jul 2010, ed Oct 2012