The Prez Sez…
By Ann Forstchen, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Conservation organizations face complex and dynamic issues; many without definitive solutions or a distinct end point. These issues can rarely be addressed alone so collaboration is a critical tool for the conservation of fish and wildlife.
Partners, stakeholders and citizens play an important role in conservation policy and decisionmaking, and through teamwork we can improve our conservation actions. It’s worth our time to look at collaboration a bit more closely and see how we can best use this joint effort to achieve our desired conservation outcomes.
Collaboration can leverage diverse expertise and resources; broaden thinking and increase creativity; share and spread new ideas; reduce silo’d thinking; and improve problem solving capacity. But partnering typically doesn’t happen organically— it needs direction, leadership and accountability to ensure that it is adding value. And it takes time, resources and skills to be effective. In fact, negotiation, mediation, facilitation and meeting management skills can be learned and improved through training and practice.
Effective cooperation creates a shared understanding of the issue and can develop a shared commitment to the solution. It is perhaps best used when we’re faced with an adaptive challenge, such as when an issue is unprecedented or at least not routine; there’s no obvious solution or process to use; and shared resources are needed.
Collaboration means opening our doors and minds to new and different people and ideas. We should embrace the diversity of many perspectives— they will contribute to a more coherent and complete understanding of the issue.
As with any relationship, we need to spend the time to build trust among the parties in the coalition. We should explore and understand each other’s perspectives, constraints and needs, and ensure that the expectations of the coalition are clear.
Having a clearly articulated shared purpose is a critical prerequisite to successful partnering. Finding that common goal(s) will take time and resources; but if you don’t, you’re just meeting to meet. As the number of collaborators increases, so do the different values, opinions and perspectives that need to be considered. Plan for and manage the added complexity of having many voices at the table.
Successful teamwork has a focus on both the process and the outcomes. Remember that collaboration is a means, not an end. Joint efforts can help us steer away from interest group competition and focus on common ground. Collaboration helps us transcend organizational boundaries and be more creative and adaptable in developing solutions to our conservation challenges.
Please reach out to OWP members who can help you find training for effective coalitions or help you design and implement your collaborative work.