When working together… takes work

Sometimes, working together takes work. Facilitation can help stakeholder groups find common ground to make positive change.

June 23, 2022

How facilitation can help bring brilliant minds and inspiring groups together to make positive change

Part one of a three-part series on multi-stakeholder collaboration

We are better together.

It’s true. When we work together, we can solve complex societal issues. We can make impactful change. We can really make a difference. Sometimes, working together comes naturally. And sometimes, it takes work.

This is something we are super passionate about at Parsons Dialogue.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration: What is it?

We are proud to support several collaborative efforts that involve multiple stakeholder groups coming together to tackle important problems. Whether it’s improving access to social services, addressing air quality concerns or solving labour shortages, these groups typically include industry, government, community representatives and other interested stakeholders. There are lots of different names for these types of arrangements, like partnerships, committees and associations, among others.

They are often grassroots initiatives, brought to life by passionate individuals who see a problem that needs to be addressed and want to make change. Sometimes, they are formal committees struck by governments, or associations representing a profession or industry.

The various group members typically have a shared interest, but they do not always share the same beliefs, opinions and perspectives. In fact, sometimes they can be on the opposite sides of an issue.

Competing interests

Here is an example. A local tourism association wants to develop a new attraction on a reservoir and begins to reach out to organizations that would have a vested interest: recreational users, water sport associations, environmental groups and the local municipality. They start meeting once a month to discuss the possibilities.

Everyone agrees a river attraction would be beneficial for tourism, and that it must be built in the most responsible way. But they don’t all agree on what the attraction should be and who should pay for it. Structure is needed for decision-making, funding and general organization, but the group is stuck on how to move forward.

That’s when they call us.

The 4 Ps: Purpose, Problem, Plan, Principles

Bridging the gap

These situations are often quite complex, and usually can’t be “solved”. Our goal with multi-stakeholder clients is to create the conditions for dialogue, provide good processes and employ reliable methods that will help them navigate that complexity. We do that, using our trusty “4 Ps” framework:

  1. Identify a shared PURPOSE 
  2. Agree on the PROBLEM
  3. Make a PLAN 
  4. Lay out the PRINCIPLES

Most importantly: Throughout the process, we take time to listen and understand each other’s perspectives - which is really our 5th “P”. That’s where the magic happens.

“Having perspective means being able to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s about building empathy and investing energy into nonjudgmental listening in an effort to understand where others are coming from.”November 2021 blog

We have seen these sessions establish broader context, build shared understandings, connect dots, bridge gaps and spark creativity. Through this work, our clients have made incredible strides on big-picture stuff like getting clear on purpose, defining the problem and establishing plans. They’ve addressed crucial details like building sustainable governance structures, engagement processes and administrative practices.

Parts two and three coming soon...

We will continue to build on this idea of multi-stakeholder collaboration in the second and third parts of this blog series. The best part is – you will hear from someone other than me! We are very excited to introduce you to some of our clients, who have agreed to share their stories right here.

Stay tuned!

Written by
Robin Parsons

Robin has more than twenty-five years of experience as an effective leader and strategic thinker. She helps organizations have better conversations that help them work together more effectively.

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About Us

Parsons Dialogue is based in Calgary, Canada, serving clients across North America. We design and facilitate strategic processes that help teams collaborate with clarity and confidence.

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