Constructively engaging a diverse group of stakeholders poses many challenges, but can result in numerous rewards, add value and save time. People possessing varied experiences, knowledge, and perspectives make more creative and better decisions. Communities and regions strengthen their collective capacity to find solutions to the most insurmountable challenges and are able to implement more effective and long-lasting strategies when those involved and affected participate in the decision-making process.
Collaboration and cooperation between communities and its citizens are keys to the sustainability of the community and of the region. Why do some communities collaborate well while others struggle to find local leaders who have enough interest in partnering to resolve some of the more complex issues facing a community or collection of communities? Is it a factor of strong community leadership or are other more, important factors at play? These are just some of the core questions of interest to the Regional Council for the Clarenville-Bonavista Rural Secretariat region.
Collaborative Leadership (Chrislip,2002) hypothesizes that “if you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization or community.” If this statement is correct, then what are the factors that need to be present to support community collaboration?
If the single most important factor is strong, well-qualified leaders who think and act collaboratively, then what characteristics must these individuals possess? In this same thinking, collaborative leaders have many qualities in common: motivation; a core set of values and beliefs; knowledge; skills; attitudes; commitment; selflessness; a willingness to improve; and vocational proficiency, to name a few.
Are good collaborative leaders able to inspire others and gain respect for achieving common goals? Do these individuals demonstrate integrity and courage for advancing change in spite of opposition and turmoil? Research suggests that collaborative leaders focus on finding and implementing solutions to problems rather that seeing that their solutions are adopted.
On a broader scale, are all communities ready for collaboration? Assessing the readiness of a community may be as important as having strong collaborative leaders. Will some communities play a different role than others (i.e., regional service centres versus bedroom communities). If not, how do governments and the Regional Council support communities wishing to seek positive, collaborative efforts? The Clusters Project in the Cabot Loop of the Bonavista Peninsula, which is sponsored by the Community Services Council and supported by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, promotes opportunities for voluntary, non-profit groups to collaborate on matters of common interest.
Priority areas include: challenges with recruiting volunteers for community activities; sharing information, strengthening relationships, and creating learning opportunities, in addition to encouraging volunteer leadership skill development. By the same token, while communities collaborate, how do we ensure that everyone is well represented? Equally, if some communities are successful in recruiting enough volunteers to host annual festivals, why are these events not offered each year? Furthermore, why are these practices and knowledge not promoted to other local areas which struggle to host such successful events?
Similarly, how do we ensure the protection of community identity? When the communities of Melrose, Port Union and Catalina came together to form the new municipality of Trinity Bay North, the protection of community identify was an important consideration. Today, there is still a strong desire for residents and visitors to this area to recognize the geographical boundaries between each of the three communities. Likewise, while Clarenville and Shoal Harbour have amalgamated under the municipality of Clarenville, the recent 2009 municipal election resulted in a renewed commitment to distinguish the two geographical areas.
Finally, what role does reputation or credibility and past success play in inspiring others to collaborate? Are some communities or community leaders better able to recruit partners to dialogue on common issues? Successful collaborative efforts often result from a change in approach and attitude.
The Regional Council is committed to engaging citizens in an effort to gain insight on collaborative leadership and examples of communities’ collaborative efforts. From these dialogues, the Council will develop a template which will be used to assess and document best practice examples of community leadership and positive collaborative efforts within the region. It is through these illustrated examples, Council will identify the factors that present for strong, community-based leadership; and support and encourage collaborations between communities and their respective sub-regions. The information gathered will also aid in the development of additional research which will be undertaken in 2010.