Solutions to tough problems like climate change will only come when we take a collaborative approach. Why? Because tough problems transcend any single sphere of interest – in other words, they are “systems” problems. So players seeking to address them must work with others to do so – like it or not.
People we like and agree with are easy to work because, well, they think just like us. But the reality is that working with people who are NOT like us will be much more likely to create the kinds of solutions we seek to “Transform Toronto” into a low-carbon city. Diversity of perspectives not only helps us build a deeper understanding of the problems we are trying to solve, it also allows us to co-create solutions that the majority of us can support, even when we are buffeted by highly changeable political winds.
At TAF, we jokingly call the idea of working with those with radically different perspectives “unholy alliances” – and we seek these out wherever we can, because we know from experience that these relationships can move mountains. Take the example of TAF’s collaboration with Tridel condominiums to jointly demonstrate that building new condos to significantly higher standards of energy performance was technically feasible and financial viable – even in a market that did not value energy efficiency. However, working with diverse parties is often fraught with challenges – from David and Goliath power imbalances, to different cultures, interests and knowledge and from the inevitable bias that we bring based on our personal experiences and values.
We’ve got to work together. It is extremely difficult. We need professional help. Enter the partnership broker.
Supporting brokers in the GTHA
“Partnership brokering” – the task of managing partnerships – is an emerging professional sphere. Since 2012, TAF staff and collaborators and others from many different Canadian sectors have received partnership brokering training from the world-leading thinkers in this professional area: the international Partnership Brokers Association (PBA). PBA has been at the forefront of this work for the last 12 years, drawing from global experience, much of it within the international development sector. The training has allowed local brokers to up their game, using a set of sophisticated management tools and frameworks designed specifically for use in multi-sectoral collaborations. Committed to diversity, partnership brokering applies the principles of equity, mutual benefit, openness, and courage, pushing practitioners to leverage the experience of working together to improve outcomes while also stimulating our own personal growth and understanding.
As we work to accelerate climate action in the GTHA, focusing on the multiple benefits these actions can bring to communities, we see the need for skill-building to create and manage the collaborations necessary to support our success. The solution? We are collaborating with the PBA to create regular Canadian training opportunities in this field, drawing on international trainers while also supporting Canadians to move into training roles and to join in local communities of practices to support and learn from one another.
During 2018-2020, we will host a series of capacity-building events for local partnership practitioners, including opportunities to attend the four-day PBA foundations training course in Toronto. The course provides the basis for advancement to full professional accreditation as a partnership broker. The next training session is scheduled for October 15-18 at Hart House.
Hosting as an Art Form
In an application of the “practice what you preach” approach, PBA is continuously seeking ways to understand and incorporate complementary practices into partnership work. For example, I recently returned from a Partnership Brokers Associates meeting in the UK where I joined a session provided by Art of Hosting co-founder Toke Paludan Møller from Denmark, along with Linda Joy Mitchell who has been practicing the Art of Hosting in the UK and internationally for ten years. The Art of Hosting workshop provided many relevant insights and synergies.
The premise behind the Art of Hosting is that there are more and less effective ways to harness the power of group interactions. Through tools designed to allow participants to self-organize the conversation and deepen the quality of the outputs, the Art of Hosting works to harness the collective wisdom of a group and support better decision-making.
In our one-day session, our group of partnership brokers tried out a few very interesting models. We explored the Chaordic Path developed out of the work of Dee Hock; this model frames up the process of change making on a spectrum that runs from full chaos – or “chamos” – a state of system breakdown and apathy; through to a state of full control, where rigid structures, hierarchy and extreme bureaucracy impede change. In the middle states, the dance of innovation plays out in a more constructive way, enjoying the creative tension between Chaos and Order. Placing our challenges within this simple framework is a useful exercise that can help us recognize what type of management tools are needed at each different phase of the evolution of new ideas.
Perhaps another key tool lies at the very heart of the Art of Hosting – the art of asking the right question. Relaying wisdom from the Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II, Toke shared the question she posed during one of her annual New Year’s addresses: “What if all the conflict in the world was arising because of the conversations we didn’t have?” The Queen’s query lingered with me and resonates more and more as the gaps in public opinion seem only to grow wider.
What are the conversations we need to have now to help us transcend polarized public opinion and create win-win solutions to our climate challenges? Now that’s a good question.