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Centre for Building Sustainable Value

Innovating with others: a reflection on collaborative governance

  • Valen Boyd, Michelina Aguanno, Ainsley Gonder, and Rosalie Luo
  • |
  • Nov 2, 2020
Innovating with others: a reflection on collaborative governance

The fifth session of the Ivey Innovation Learning Lab focused on the topic of collaborative governance. As first-year Ivey PhD students, we were delighted to have the opportunity to attend the session. Below we discuss what collaborative governance is, what makes it challenging, and why this session gave us hope for the future.

The session began with a discussion of how cross-sector collaboration can help organizations generate innovative solutions to complex problems. Together, diverse stakeholders can generate more potential solutions and more effective solutions than they could on their own. Indeed, cross-sector collaboration holds huge promise to address complex problems, including grand challenges such as climate change and poverty.

What became clear to us as we listened to the participants discuss the case studies and share their own experiences, is that cross-sector collaboration can often be quite challenging. The diversity of perspectives that can make cross-sector collaboration so effective, is also what makes it challenging to manage. Organizations that engage in cross-sector collaboration sometimes struggle to agree on how to define the problem, to build commitment to the process within their home organization, and to build trust among the partners. Collaborative governance is about managing the collaborative innovation process.

In cross-sector collaboration, organizations step outside of their organizational silos. Without the established structure provided by these silos, collaborators must establish new rules of engagement if the collaboration is to be successful. Good collaborative governance practices can help partners effectively manage the process of collaboration. We heard about some best practices for collaborative governance, including constructing a shared value proposition and creating structure to hold all stakeholders accountable. We also heard participants talk about the need to build trust, to be willing to have difficult conversations, and to really listen to partner organizations.

Keynote speaker Jorrit de Jong’s parting message of the day was: “It’s only failure when you didn’t learn anything!” There are no guarantees of success when engaging in cross-sector collaboration. These collaborations can be difficult to sustain and failure is possible. However, the promise of cross-sector collaboration to address complex problems is undeniable. Good collaborative governance practices can help organizations navigate the ambiguity inherent in stepping outside of one’s own organizational silo. Participating in this session gave us hope that many organizations are willing to lean into the complexity and to do the challenging and exciting work of collaborating for innovation.