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4 Tips on Collaboration for Changemakers

Last night I had the pleasure of facilitating our third event at the Impact Hub Islington on ‘what is ‘good’ work?’ Our previous two events were held in a more traditional format of panel discussions. Last night was a more participatory event focused on the intriguing topic of ‘The incredible possibilities of digital collaboration’.

It was a rich and fascinating event. Here I share some of the insights I gained as 4 top tips on collaboration for change makers. These are as relevant for digital as non-digital collaboration. Ultimately this is about coming together in various forms to increase our impact as changemakers.

1. Reach across divides – bridging ‘us and them’

For collaboration to really have an impact we need to reach across divides. This has particularly been brought to the forefront around recent political upsets. How to reach people who are different to us? How to reach across divides? 64 Million Artists shared their story of doing exactly that. Their mission is to awaken creativity and a sense of agency in people all across the UK – from all walks of life. And this includes people who may not be online or as digitally savvy as you and I. How they’ve done this is in two key ways.

The first is to tap into existing networks where there’s an overlap with their mission. For example they’ve worked closely with National Lottery funded Leicester Ageing Together – a programme aimed at reducing social isolation in older people. In partnering with different organisations they always go and listen to the language the organisations and people themselves use. They then use that language to share their aims. Using people's own language is a brilliant example of ‘meeting people where they are’. Co-founder Jo Hunter shared how they use the language of 'innovation' when they work with senior academics at King’s College in London whereas in working with community groups they emphasise creativity and building community.

Food for thought

  • Who can help you reach across divides in your work as a changemaker?
  • And how can you better speak the language of people you’re trying to reach?

2. Share the power

How can we reclaim our power from digital behemoths such as Google and Uber? Oliver Sylvester-Bradley of Open Coop shared with us inspiration from the world of platform coops. These are online platforms that are actively putting age-old cooperative principles into practice in the digital world to take power back from the big boys and share it more equitably. He spoke passionately of the need to reclaim shared ownership and decision-making to make this work. One example is the music-sharing cooperative platform Resonate. On this artists and fans co-own the platform and all have a vote regarding how the platform will evolve. They also share the profits – a great incentive to invest time and energy should you wish to!

As changemakers, challenging powerful players can be difficult but online and offline cooperative platforms seem to me to be an important part of ‘walking our talk’ as changemakers. Tools like this are ways for us to actively build and demonstrate the type of world we want to be living in. This is much more fun than just complaining about the injustices of the extractive capitalist system we see around us today. I for one am definitely going to check Resonate out!

Food for thought

  • How can you use processes and tools to share power in your work as a changemaker?

3. Trust is vital

The third of our brilliant ‘resource people’ last night was Kirstie Wielandt of Greenpeace. She shared how she trains people to work collaboratively in super effective global virtual teams. To be effective the teams need to build trust and have a shared container and vision. To create this, in her experience, there’s no substitute for coming together in person initially to ‘form’ the group. They also encourage people to bring their whole selves to the virtual collaboration by having online ‘water cooler’ spaces where people can chat about non-work related things such as their families or what they got up to at the weekend. Such spaces are the glue of teams and trust-building. The more we share, the more we trust each other and can work effectively together.

Food for thought

  • How can you deepen trust in collaboration you're involved in?

4. Everyone’s voice counts

When designing last night's event we wanted the format to also demonstrate the topic – collaboration. Most of the evening was held in small discussion groups with our ‘resource people’. We also had a fourth group – a coaching circle. This was a space for group brainstorming around digital collaboration challenges. The format meant everyone got to engage with the speakers, ask their burning questions and also share their insights and knowledge in the coaching circles. For me this is a vital part of powerful collaboration – valuing the wisdom and experience that everyone brings. In today’s age of complex challenges no one expert has the answers. Instead if we value the experience and perspectives we all uniquely bring, together we can find solutions.

Food for thought

  • How can you enable everyone’s voice to be heard?

Thanks so much to all our ‘resource people’ – Jo and Laura from 64 million artists, Oli from the Open Coop and Kirstie from Greenpeace. Thanks also to the wonderful Julia Oertli, Head of Programmes and Partnerships at Impact Hub Islington and all the rest of the organising team. And last but certainly not least thanks to Sophie of Elysia catering for fantastic food sourced from what would otherwise be thrown away at Borough Market.

Stay connected and collaborative and do join the next part of the ‘what is ‘good’ work?’ conversation at the Impact Hub Islington on 29 November. You can also join the conversation online here on our Facebook group.

A member of Impact Hub Islington since it was the only one in the world - there are now over 120! - Debbie Warrener works as a leadership trainer for changemakers and wannabe changemakers. Her work is about enabling those concerned about the need for change in the world to step into their full potential, passion and purpose. Find out more about her work here: