Eight Principles for CoCreating Social Change

Quick, everyone collaborate!
You don’t have to look far in today’s world to see how important collaboration is. On the back of my cereal box this morning was a joint campaign between Kellogg’s and Chime for Change supporting female empowerment; in sport, CoCreate client UNICEF are proudly displayed on Barcelona’s football shirts; conferences such as Opportunity Collaboration grow in popularity every year and the idea of charities working together to create ‘Collective Impact’ is gathering momentum.

But meaningful collaboration is not easy. Many of our clients initially get in touch to request support in creating collective strategies, or to design and facilitate events that foster genuine collaboration. Often, they have had a negative previous experience, when conflicting agendas may have de-railed attempts to work collectively. Or they can see the risk of that happening! So we thought we’d outline our simple process for helping groups tackling pressing social issues to develop solid collective strategies.

Getting tripped up by collaboration
I sometimes start out workshops by asking people “what would you do for work if you won the lottery?”. If I’m working with a business, most people immediately describe a more socially responsible avenue of work. Interestingly, most people working for charities treat the question with surprise and answer that they would carry on doing exactly what they’re doing!

Which is always inspiring, to find people living out their working lives with such conviction.

And yet, the more strongly we feel about something, the harder it can be to create alignment or consensus across a wider group – especially when it comes to creating a more connected strategy within or across organisations. It’s all too easy for this passion to get side-tracked into championing personal successes or defending a narrow set of interests.

The pathway to successful collaboration
So here at CoCreate we developed a series of principles, designed to help us facilitate meaningful collaboration and social change. They’re not rocket science, but they do help. I thought we’d share them in the hope they are useful to others. Here they are:

1. Listen deeply: I mean, really deeply. Listening is a skill and practicing it takes effort. And it doesn’t just happen in a workshop or discussion – listening is also a process that should start well before a meeting or workshop.
2. Strategic intent: We often get sucked into asking or answering questions without even considering if they are the right ones to address! Spend some time figuring out what are the truly important questions that need to be addressed for everyone. Answering these is usually a fast-track to somewhere positive.
3. Find common ground: Too many workshops ignore the human element of collaboration, whereas we believe that building relationships and trust is a vital building block for true collaboration. Spend some time on this and the fruits will be visible during more difficult discussions.
4. Picture the future: Collaboration needs a vision for the future – when we create a shared vision suddenly everyone has something to work towards. Facilitating a creative visioning process for a group of people requires skill to avoid it becoming dominated by single voices or conflicting agendas.
5. Tackle thorny issues: Once you have a picture of the future that people buy into, it’s time to look at some of the barriers or issues that exist in the present. These conversations need careful planning and handling, however they can’t be ignored. Approaching these discussions with courage, humour and humility can lead groups onto rich new ground.
6. Find your influence: As a principle, this is vital for collaboration. We’ve worked with groups who get to the end of a positive workshop, only to decide they had no ability to influence any of their actions. Every group has some influence, it’s just working out how much of it there is, and what needs to happen to grow it. Focusing on actions within a group’s influence and control can unlock leadership and keep a group focused on what they can achieve.
7. Move people to action: How often does action planning get squashed to just ten minutes at the end of a workshop? Yet planning for action is the vital part of the process, so build a chunk of time in for this and ensure people are clear about the timelines they are working on.
8. Create the roadmap: Ensure there is a clear time and process for a map-check. This can be as simple as a call or another meeting, what’s important is for the group to be clear on when they next re-connect to check progress, and who is driving this.

So, these are our eight principles for working with groups collaborating to create social change. Simple and yet we find, highly effective when deployed skilfully. If you'd like to know more or have a story of facilitating collaboration, drop us an email and we can feature it right here on our blog: info@cocreateconsultancy.com

You can read more about some of our work in facilitating positive social change here: