A major foundation convened 40 mission-driven leaders who were committed to revitalizing their neighborhood. The goal was to discuss developing a coordinated community plan, which would allow them to better align their work to achieve more sustainable solutions to improve the economic vitality and prosperity of this area’s residents and communities. Philanthropists, non-profit executive directors, religious leaders, government officials, public sector program officers, entrepreneurs, residents involved in civic associations, and corporate executives gathered together to discuss the needs of the community.

Like many urban neighborhoods across America, a major employer had relocated to the suburbs, taking many of its high-paying jobs with it and leaving a once thriving community with significant challenges to face. This neighborhood is only miles away from a thriving downtown with an unemployment rate less than six percent, and a median income of $60,000 a year, yet these residents’ lives looked nothing like those who were moving into the million-dollar condos only a few blocks down the street. While their new neighbors were spending $5.00 a day on their morning coffee, these residents were missing more than three meals a week because of their lack of resources. The statistics looked grim. Census data revealed higher rates of poverty, unemployment, opioid overdoses, crime, infant mortality, and chronic disease. Due to limited public investment in this community over the years, blighted houses, failing schools, and a prevailing sense of desperateness among many of the residents prevailed.

Yet, there was hope. The city in which this neighborhood was nestled had individuals and institutions committed to changing the lives and circumstances for those who reside in this neighborhood. There was a strong desire to invest in infrastructure and programming to turn around some of these bleak outcomes. As the leaders began to share with each other their individual work, creative solutions and partnerships began to emerge.

Their path forward to collectively revitalize their neighborhood began with a collaborative strategic planning process. Strategic planning is critical to advancing any organization’s mission, vision, and aspirations. And setting a strategy for multiple organizations working collaboratively to address a specific, complex issue such as poverty, is even more crucial to effectively and efficiently bring about positive social change. Yet, collaborative planning is also exponentially complex, as each organization brings its own culture, experiences and mindsets to the table. Measurement Resources Company helped the community described above, and many others like it, successfully lead strategic planning initiatives for both individual organizations as well as multiple organizations and groups of stakeholders, to identify the goals that will move their missions forward.

Based on our decades of facilitating strategic planning efforts across nonprofit organizations, government agencies and social enterprises, we have identified five key considerations to help those working collaboratively with multiple stakeholder groups across several organizations successfully achieve consensus on the guiding goals to maximize resources and social impact. These factors go beyond our seven strategic planning tips, and reveal the best communication and collaboration progress required for success.  

  1. Be soft on people, hard on the problem.

When approaching your strategic planning efforts, it is important to be intentional about using processes that are designed to focus on the problem(s) you are trying to solve. Processes that reduce the potential for personality conflicts, while also attending to various personal strengths and styles (introverts vs. extroverts), are essential for making full use of the collective talents and powerful thinking of all involved. While some will bring a more visionary approach, others will surface things that are more tactical in nature—and both are equally important components of the strategic planning process. (For more related to being “soft on people, hard on the problem,” check out Roger Fisher and William Ury’s book, Getting to Yes.)

  1. Commit to a client-centered, data-driven approach.

It is easier to focus on a community challenge, when the strategic planning process begins with conducting a Current State analysis to identify the current assets, strengths and weaknesses that will either propel or introduce barriers to achieving the collaborative’s strategic objectives. Measurement Resources helps collaboratives by gathering census data, secondary data, and qualitative data from key stakeholders through facilitated focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews, to build a comprehensive snapshot of the landscape. Stakeholders typically include thought leaders in the sector, elected officials, customers of the organizations, partner organizations, funders and donors, organizations’ internal planners and implementers, and members of the community who need to be aware of the group’s objectives and future plans.

Through these discussions, the organizations have the opportunity to validate assumptions, better understand the finer nuances and perspectives of all parties involved. The data collected helps to focus on the problem and provides the baseline for stakeholders, both to begin the planning process and to track future success. It also helps identify where gaps in services exist, so that those gaps are addressed as part the planning process.

  1. Create a safe space.

In the book, Crucial Conversations, the authors emphasize the importance of having a pure intention and establishing the planning meetings as a safe space for all participants. By demonstrating mutual respect and by acknowledging the interests and goals of each of the stakeholders, the stage can be set for successful collaboration. Facilitators and participants alike must be given the opportunity to openly articulate their interests and goals, so the group can more effectively identify its mutual purpose.

  1. Generate options for mutual gain.

When visualizing the ideal future state of a social challenge and developing the strategies and underlying tactics, personal agendas and positions must be set aside. All parties involved must commit to solely focusing on where mutual interests intersect and overlap. Additionally, all groups are responsible for generating creative possibilities that center around mutual gain.

  1. Replace “either/or” with “Both….and” thinking.

Scientific studies have shown that by replacing “either/or” thinking with “both…and” thinking eliminates the negative effects of adrenaline and forces our brains to move to more complex ways of thinking about things. This allows for a much more expansive approach to solving the problem at hand. When a collaborative strategic planning process start with a data-driven approach, “Both…and” thinking becomes easier as “both…and” thinking starts with really listening to the various stakeholders needs, gaps, and desires. Then it takes the best and most passionately held parts of each party’s position and combines them with that of others to produce a new and better alternative. Covey calls this the “Third Alternative” in his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. He states:

“The Third Alternative isn’t my way, it isn’t your way—it’s our way. It’s not a compromise halfway between your way and my way; it’s better than a compromise…. The Third Alternative is a better alternative than any that have been proposed. For example, it is not do we focus on building out programs which provide fresh food to hungry people or quality early childhood education programs. Instead, it is developing a program where fresh food is delivered to quality early childhood education programs and distributed to the children and their families.”

If you are interested in learning more about approaches to collaboration and partnerships, Partnership Academy has compiled a comprehensive list of resources that span several important topics, such as conflict management and team building.

To learn more about Measurement Resources’ approach to strategic planning, we invite you to contact us to explore how we can help guide the process from performing a Current State analysis and facilitating meetings to developing the final collaborative strategic plan.