A Dialectic

Thoughts on Collaboration in Global Development

The Posner Center Symposium 2019 wrapped up with an Oxford Style Debate, in which global development thought leaders took opposing sides of the motion, “Collaboration is a best practice in global development.”

The teams put aside their personal (or rational) views and instead took a clear stance in favor of or opposing the motion. The result was a raucous, engaging discussion that edified and invigorated post-Symposium discussions.


On the one hand

On the other hand

While it’s certainly easier to go it alone, I don’t think we’re going to be able to solve complex problems without the diversity of opinion that comes from collaboration. Collaboration leads to the diversity of solutions that we need.

Collaboration actually stifles innovation. When you collaborate and arrive at a shared consensus about development, it creates a straight and narrow theory of change, agreed by power structures, that does not allow for innovation and new ideas.

I have never met a company, an organization, a government, or an individual, who knows everything. So, collaboration is simply the way we pull together the various tools needed to get things done.

Let’s face it, NGO collaboration meetings take a lot of time. That time is really expensive and it’s an inefficient use of resources.

Complex and wicked problems need collaboration. The issues we face today require collective ingenuity and adaptive solutions. They can’t be resolved by technical fixes or mandates from on high done in isolation.

Risk is not born equally amongst all parties in a collaboration. In fact, women and people of color actually unequally share the burdens of collaboration.

We need to start with community as the primary provider, not only of expertise, assets and strengths, but also direction. It’s the only thing in the end that’s going to help us get through solving the wicked and complex problems that we have today.

In collaboration, often, decision-making power is not held equally. This leads to many unintended consequences, both positive and negative, but mostly negative.

Typically, when we see struggles and challenges in collaboration, it’s because time hasn’t been spent building high-quality, trusted relationships.

Inherent in the term “best practice,” and the idea that “collaboration is a best practice,” is a value and judgement that collaboration is best. Why do we make that value judgement and who decides what is best practice?

When we are collaborating, we need to think about these things. Mission, not organization. Humility, not brand. Trust, not control. And node, not hub.

Just because a company has a contract with a nonprofit to deliver services, that is much different than this idea of collaboration, which is to share a theory of change.

If your collaboration is going to disrupt a system, you need to ask yourself: What is the value added by collaboration? Are you being a negative disruptor or an amplifier?

The selections above were curators by the editors of Catalyst and are intended to present the strongest arguments from both sides of the debate. The editors made minor stylistic and grammatical modifications to the quotations in order to contextualize them within this infographic.