Collaboration - how can we work together?

What is collaboration, why is it important?

In most of the cases, various stakeholders are involved in the process of community development. Of course, the community people themselves should be main actors who take initiatives and continuously struggle for overcoming their own problems. From the viewpoint of sustainability of any development activities, it is inevitable that the community people have to keep ownership from the beginning to the end. The other stakeholders can act as facilitators, resource persons, advisors, mediators, or donors.

As we agree that the community people themselves should be the main actors in community development, then, the issue of collaboration will be the matter how the community people can collaborate with the other actors such as donors, NGOs, government bodies or institutions (local and national), private companies, academicians, journalists or mass media. The word “collaborate” literally means working (labor) together (co-). So, the matter of collaboration in community development can be explained as “how the community people work together with the outsiders”. And if we look the matter from the outsiders viewpoint, it can also be said that the outsiders should facilitate the community people so that they will be able to construct good collaboration with the outsiders.

However, it is not easy for the outsiders to help the community people building good collaboration with the outsiders because in many cases, the outsiders themselves are also the major actors in collaboration. In any collaborative actions, all the actors involved have their own interests, objectives, values, or missions which differ from one to another. The interests or missions of the outsiders often differ from those of the community people. For example, if a government agency wants to have forest conservation activities in collaboration with the community people, the interests of both parties (government and local community) differ or even contradict each other. The government agency (such as forest department or environment ministry) wants to protect the forest for bio-diversity conservation, whereas the community people need to conserve the forest for their daily life (food production, water resource, etc.). Both parties need forest, but the meaning and objectives are different. If the government agency does not consider the community people’s perspectives and interests, although the ultimate goal (conservation of natural resources) is the same, the community people will not agree with the outsider’s idea to protect the forest because they may (mis)understand that the government agency will stop them entering the forest.

Thus, facilitating collaboration with the community people is not an easy task for the outsiders. If the outsiders take initiative, set objectives and strategies, and ask the community people to work with them, we can not say that it is a real collaboration case. The following chart shows “gradation of collaboration” based on degree of the both parties’ involvement.

Box A indicates the activities that are thoroughly initiated, planned, and managed by the community itself whereas the box E shows activities totally done by the government institution. Box A and E do not need any collaboration with the other party. Then, box B indicates activities that are initiated, planned, and implemented by the community but some assistance from government exists. On the other hand, box D shows activities that are planned by the government but the community people participate in as “participants” of the activity. In both of the cases (Box B and D), the ownership of the activity is still held by the major actor (community in the case B and government in the case D), and the other party is only participate in through various forms (just attendance, providing opinions, monetary assistance, or others). In many cases, the activities fall onto the box B or D are considered as collaborative actions, but if we define “collaboration” more strictly, they are not the exact cases of collaboration. Of course, we can not deny that there are some collaborative relationship between the two actors in those cases (box B and D). However, it is important that the both parties should participate in the process on equal basis. So, it is obvious that the box C indicates the real case of collaboration. What is it? Let me introduce an interesting and useful principle of collaboration that emerged through the field experience of Japanese community development activities. The Yokohama Code describes six important principles that the real collaborative actions should follow. This Code was established by Yokohama city government together with the residents of the city when they discussed about the issue of collaboration between the local government and the citizens’ groups.

6 Principles of collaboration (Yokohama Code)

(1)Principle of equality (both parties to stand on equal stance)

If we need to solve any problem through collaboration, it is important to construct equal relationship between the both parties. They should realize that the relationship between them is not a vertical but a horizontal one. The collaboration should be established on a basis of free will of each actor.

(In some cases, governmental institutions have all the powers to control the projects and give instructions to NGOs or local organizations for implementation. The NGOs or local organizations have to follow those instructions. If so, the relationship among them is vertical, and it can not be considered to be equal relationship.)

(2) Principle of respecting voluntary actions (to respect voluntary action of the citizens)

In any collaborative activities, it is very important to make full use of advantages of citizens’ actions such as flexible measures towards public issues. Voluntary spontaneous actions should be respected.

One of big advantages of collaborative activities between governmental and non-governmental organizations is that NGOs or citizens’ groups have flexibility creativity based on their voluntarism. The government side should respect those voluntary will and creativity so that flexible and appropriate services will be provided.)

(3) Principle of developing independent actions (to help citizens’ actions become independent)

In our local communities, it is important that independent citizens’ organizations having enough capacity to plan and implement own projects independently. The actors in collaborative activities should not depend on each other too much and they should not have cozy relationship among each others. If the activities are implemented by independent actors, collaboration becomes meaningful.

(For NGOs or local organizations, income from collaborative activities given by governmental or public agencies is not a small one. Thus, it is a general trend that those NGOs tend to rely much on such public money. However, if NGOs or citizens’ organizations depend too much on government projects, their independency and voluntarism might be influenced and the creativity or flexibility will be decreased as a result.)

(4) Principle of mutual understanding (both citizens’ groups and local administration to understand the strong and weak points each other)

It is very important that the both parties in collaboration should understand, realize, and respect the essential facts of the other parties. If each actor understands the other actor’s strong or weak points well, all the actors will be able to play their roles firmly.

(Collaborative activities will have larger impacts if the parties involved can maximize their strong points and cover their weak points each other.)

(5) Principle of sharing objectives (both citizens’ groups and local administration to share common objectives fully or partly)

All the actions to solve public problems through collaboration should have objectives of serving for a large number of general public. At first, both parties in collaborative activities should understand and confirm the common objectives of collaboration.

(Of course, each actor participates in collaborative activities has own interests and objectives that might differs from the others. However, if the activities have to serve for public interests, all the parties have to share the common goals and objectives.)

(6) Principle of transparency (to open the relation between citizens’ groups and local administration)

The relation among the actors in collaborative activities should be transparent and open to the public. It is important that the basic data or information about collaborative activities should be opened, and it is also essential condition for collaborative activities that any groups or organizations will be able to participate in the collaboration if they meet certain requirements.

(There are various kinds of NGOs or citizens’ groups that have own specialties and expertise, and some of them might not be known to governmental organizations. So, it is important to open all the information about collaborative activities to the public so that any of NGOs or citizens’ groups can have chance to participate in.)

Some tips for building better collaboration

a) Partnership building

If one party of collaborative activity is stronger in terms of authorized power, social position, or economic capacity, etc. than the community people, the outsiders who want to collaborate with the community people should be very careful to construct real “equal partnership”. The powerful ones tend to dominate the process, and the weaker ones just follow what the others request or decide. It is not a horizontal equal relation, and if such a relation is once constructed, it is not easy for all the actors to participate in the process with full voluntary will and initiatives. Thus, real “horizontal” partnership building is very important. In order to build equal partnership among the actors involved in a collaborative activity, it is necessary for them to have mutual respect and to share all the information with each others.

b) Collaboration from the beginning
Before implementing any activities, the process of preparation is a key for successful collaboration. If only one party has been involved in preparatory process such as research, analysis and planning, the other parties feel that the activity (project) is not their own but they are just requested to participate in the process partly (mostly only for implementation). Therefore, it is very important that the major actors should be involved in the process of one project from the beginning. They have to conduct research, analysis, and planning jointly. If all the major actors are able to share the issues, vision, objectives and strategy as a result of joint preparation, their active participation will be ensured.

c) Importance of initiatives from those who really implement
In some of the cases of collaborative activities, government (local or national) initiated the process and planed the project, and NGOs or local community organizations are requested to implement it according to guideline or instructions prepared by the government. In such cases, creativity or flexibility of those NGOs or local community organizations is not easily emerged because they do not have enough space to think by themselves. One of the reasons why governmental agencies or institutions require collaborations with private voluntary organizations is that flexibility and creativity of those organizations are very important to provide effective and efficient public services. If so, it is vital that the government should give enough opportunities for the implementing organizations to take initiative to create innovative or alternative ways.
d) Complementary relations
It is obvious that any collaborative activities are required when single party can not fulfill their objectives by their own actions. They require someone else to cover their weakness or to strengthen their skills or knowledge. We can say that there should be complementary relations among the actors in collaborative activities. Thus, if some organizations plan to start collaboration with the other organizations or institutions, they should be aware of what they can do and what they can not do. The partner of collaborative activities should be selected on the basis of understanding about what the other parties will be able to complement the weakness of the first party.
e) How to ensure independent actions
Based on Japanese experience of community development, local voluntary organizations or NPOs (Non Profit organizations) are always faced to financial problems. It is not easy for them to accumulate enough funds from general public in Japan. Then, the governmental assistance is not small for them from financial perspective. However, if a NPO or community-based organization starts to be rely too much on what the government can provide with them, their creativity or flexibility might be hampered. On the contrary, if such NPO or community-based organization will become independent financially through participating in collaborative activities, they will be able to continue their activities with their own fund. It is necessary that the government agencies or institutions who want to have collaborative activities respect independence of NPOs or local community organizations so that the sustainability of the activities might be ensured.
f) Accountability and transparency
It is important that all the process of collaborative activities should be shared among the actors involved. If the plans, strategies, research results, analysis, activities, impacts, and problems occurred in the process are shared among them, each actor will be much responsible for their actions, and it will become easier for them to help each other. And if the collaborative activities are related with public services, the information about the activities should be opened to the general public as much as possible. It is necessary because the collaborative activity will have greater impact on the society and there are many stakeholders in such activities.

By M. Nagahata (i-i-network)

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