Bringing together stakeholders, with a range of resources, skills and ambitions, is a core function of many platforms and partnerships. After all, it is this combining of diverse perspectives that is thought to provide the necessary conditions for fostering innovative solutions to complex problems.
Yet it’s not too difficult to see that the involvement of these diverse partners and perspectives, are also highly likely to create some challenges. Among these, is the fundamental question of ‘where are we going’?
Arriving at a shared direction, north star, overall ambition — and then agreeing on the supporting steps along the way — is a challenge of significant importance to partnerships and platforms. Once the grand challenge has been named (e.g. improving the health of the world’s oceans; ending poverty; transitioning to circular economies etc.), what is the unique contribution that this partnership or platform intends to make, and how will it do so?
Generating a clear and shared vision for change, and the activities that will be needed to create this change, is therefore a critical step for platforms and partnerships.
There are no fixed processes for generating this vision or it’s pathway of change. However, consulting and engaging stakeholders through individual or group-based processes is central to any successful approach. In our experience, options that promote this engagement, and assist stakeholders in developing a shared understanding include:
- Identifying key stakeholders and their interrelationships: Stakeholder maps provide a visual representation of the people and groups of relevance to an MSP, and their interconnections (see Miro and Better Evaluation). Stakeholder Mapping is useful for MSPs at various stages of development, including in the early stages of planning and designing an MSP; when seeking to expand the reach of an MSP to include new and different perspectives; or when starting a new initiative or project of the MSP. Stakeholder maps bring clarity to the distribution of power, influence and interest within the MSP and its broader context — helping to inform MSP membership, strategic directions, and areas for action.
- Mapping the system in which an MSP is embedded: A system is defined as a “group of interacting, interrelated, and interdependent components that form a complex and unified whole”. There are multiple ways of mapping these components and their interrelationships, including issue maps and causal loop diagrams — both of which are considered as system mapping approaches. Mapping systems helps those within an MSP learn about what drives the systems their MSP is in, and in doing so, options for what an MSP can do to help promote change.
- Co-creating an MSP-specific Theory of Change: Theory of Change offers an outline of desired changes and the actions necessary to bring about such change. When developed through a quality process, it supports strategy development, adaptive management and stakeholder engagement. In the context of MSPs, it is typical to expect that a complex set of activities will contribute to desired change, and that the catalysing effects of MSP activities will lead to long-term results. This is a departure from other ToCs where linkages between activities and outcomes are often more readily apparent. Spending time exploring the different pathways by which MSPs contribute to change, and the assumptions that underlie these pathways, is useful and important work.
What is working for you in your partnership or platform? What tools or techniques have you used that are helping identify the unique contribution that your partnerships and platforms can make?
Find additional resources on creating a shared vision at dayfourprojects.com, and consider signing up to our free Community of Practice on learning and evaluation in partnerships and platforms.