A few years ago, I was big on collaboration. It seemed like the thing to do. Funders asked about it (A LOT), and imagining a world where we all worked together was enticing.
I went to a few seminars/webinars/lunchinars about collaboration and learned a few things: It’s hard to collaborate around programs, because we’re all fiercely proud of what we do and how we do it and we can’t imagine any other way. It’s also hard to collaborate around funding, because we “build fences” around our funding sources to keep everyone else out. Some experts suggested collaborating around back office and support, as no one was territorial about that stuff and everyone has the same goal: to do it cheaper and more effectively to save resources for the mission.
Guess what I found after working with lots of local agencies? That’s right….Collaborating around back office stuff is hard, too.
It seemed like every collaboration I joined spent lots of time deciding who was in and who was out, and complaining about problems with funding, regulation, or other systems. None of the people involved were bad. In fact, all of them were well-meaning, but it just didn’t generally work very well. But I don’t believe, even given those failures, that collaboration is impossible. (We’ll dive more into this in the future, but I think collaborating across different services and sectors seems to be working best for Starfire right now. Our best collaborations are with companies, colleges and other non-profits that have nothing to do with people with disabilities – at least not that they realize!)
One of my thoughts is that if we could focus on something bigger than our immediate reality, we can better focus on what needs to be done and what we might do together.
I got together with Joe Link and Jo Krippenstapel about a year ago, and Joe mentioned that he would like to see a collaborative where all anyone did was get together and share their stories and get to know each other. We thought that was a terrific place to start, and so we gathered a group of people together and discussed launching “What’s Next?” Basically, we’d invite people to come in and present ideas “on the cutting edge” of serving people with the label of disability. We wanted to hear new stories and ideas (preferably local or regional), then chat in small groups with each other and hear what the message meant to everyone.
In April of 2010, we held the inaugural gathering, where Joe Erpenbeck presented on his work with Asset-Based Community Development. In June, we had some families present on the Good Life Networks, a local group modeled off of Al Etmanski’s work with PLAN of Canada.
This Tuesday (9/14/10), we’ll hear from Dr. Thomas Knestrict, a national expert on family resiliency who has an incredible personal story about his experience with labels. In November, we’ll welcome Hope Dittmeier from Realizations in Louisville, who will be talking about building social roles for people, and in 2011, we’ll hear from David Hammis about the possibilities of self-employment.
All of these people are doing work in the present that is giving us a glimpse of the future.
So far, we’ve had 30-40 people at each gathering. the discussions are lively, honest, and fun. One guy told me that he looks forward to “What’s Next?” more than anything else in his work. He’s been in this field for over 30 years. I hope that energy continues and even grows, because the future is something that seems easier to collaborate around. It’s not here yet, it’s not funded yet, and no one has built any fences yet.