A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Clouding Graywater with Collaboration

Peter Adler, PhD, of the Keystone Institute, is one of the world's foremost experts in conflict resolution. This article on the Seven Deadly Sins of Collaboration which can defeat our noblest intentions provides important points to consider when planning a collaborative effort, or help explain where a collaborative effort that one participated failed in some way:

1. Fait Accompli.

Literally, “an accomplished fact.” The sin: disguising a predetermined outcome inside a seemingly collaborative process. Players are convened (sometimes seduced) to participate, they work hard to negotiate, only to find key gatekeepers are checking a box and putting a participatory face on a decision made behind closed doors.

2. Hidden Money.

The sin: disguising or not disclosing the sources of funding for a collaborative effort, which might otherwise influence the decision by some to participate.

3. Stakeholder Omission.

The sin: intentionally excluding from participation one set of unpopular views, voices or perspectives. Sometimes there is a “club” of elites that prefers to keep decisions close at hand. In other instances there are extreme voices on the left or right who are perceived to be disruptive. In a few instances stakeholders are cherry picked to ensure that a deal is forthcoming.

4. Stacking the Deck.

The sin: employing a moderator or facilitator who cannot remain independent and who tilts the playing field in favor of a single perspective.

5. No Rules of Engagement.

The sin: not disclosing how decisions in a given collaboration will be made, how confidentiality and media relations will work, and where the negotiating authorities lie.

6. Excluding Information.

The sins: ensuring that certain kinds of information -- economic, scientific, technical, historical, cultural or legal – are not given consideration.

7. Mischaracterizing the Results.

The sin: misrepresenting the outcome of a collaborative process to others without the group’s willingness or consent. In highly politicized or legalized contexts, nuances and subtleties matter.

Kenneth Cloke, another powerhouse mediator, commented on the article:

"As in other cases, most notably with democracy, listening, and similar virtues, we need to distinguish between saying all the right things while allowing image, pretense and "being nice" to obscure the fact that our hearts are not really in it, and the hard work that is required in order to genuinely collaborate with people - especially those we disagree with. As I read your list, it reminds me of the use of "legal" definitions, i.e., of democracy, which are often used to block the real thing".

My graywater experience echoes Kenneth Cloke's comments that not all *collaboration* is *pretty*. When it comes to collaboration over greywater and greywater-related issues, the water will probably always be clouded by the political melodrama.    

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