As the funding landscape shifts at the rate of the economy, many funders are rethinking, if not reinventing, the way they approach their missions and success metrics.
There continues to be a whole genre of problems and issues in every market and community that persist specifically because of the fragmentation and competition among funder grantees. Many funders are realizing that systemic issues cannot be impacted by any amount of fragmented or competitive efforts.
This is not to say that there isn't value in the kind of fragmented and competitive efforts supported by funder RFP and award contests. Much good has come from these over the past decades, but there is a glass ceiling of impact and outcomes that can only be broken through with new kinds of collaborations between and among providers.
More funders are intrigued with the possibility that new levels of outcomes and capacity building will come from new kinds of collaborations.
Thanks to innovative applications from the social network sciences, we now have the tools and principles to build provider networks where collaborations can replace the constraints of fragmented and competitive efforts. In collaboration networks, providers discover what they can do together that they could never do apart, alone, or in opposition to one another.
In strong networks, network members naturally and dynamically align and collaborate in self-organizing ways. They are constantly organizing and reorganizing the assets in the network in new ways to include new members in new efforts. They share responsibility for a commonly-defined future in ways they would never do even with all manners of institutional to-down injunctions and incentives.
Building collaboration networks requires a new set of competencies for both grantees and their funders. On the grantee side of the equation, new collaborations require skill sets like:
How to develop network awareness, influence, and access
How to network weave new kinds of affiliations
How to create vision alignments with other providers and suppliers in the network
How to combine assets in projects to deliver higher level sets of outcomes
How to build the organizational and leadership capacity for collaborative proposals and projects
How to unleash the power of stories beyond statistics for new outcome metrics
On the funder side, new skill sets include:
How to move from a deficiency to strengths and assets based understanding of provider networks
How to weave networks capable of self-organizing new kinds of collaborative proposals & projects
How to frame the new metrics and vision that will inspire new collaborative possibilities
How to evaluate collaborative proposals for collaborative success potentials
How to help build the kind of leadership and board cultures capable of new kinds of collaborations
How to redefine accountability from siloed to collaborative models
As funders and grantees develop these capacities, these networks become stronger, meaning more innovative, pragmatic, visionary, proactive, and agile. As providers learn to share opportunities and resources, they become far more efficient and effective together than they could ever be alone.
Until we build strong provider and supplier networks, funders have no choice but to continue the practice of funding contests, at the expense of systemic impact and grantee-initiated innovations. It is simply amazing what happens when grantees are expected and invited to think together outside the box of standard RFP's and awards. It is even more amazing when they combine rather than protect their assets in service of larger visions of collaborative possibilities. Until funders and grantees develop network and collaboration competencies, they have no choice but to continue old models in hope of new outcomes.
Luckily, none of this takes as much courage as commitment and sense of pragmatism about moving in steps toward a future different from the past. As we see the funding and grantee space transform, we will continue to see their markets and communities transform at the same rate and scope.
from DesigningLife.com. 2010 Jack Ricchiuto