Successful Collaboration Tips from the Fire Learning Network

Authors: Wendy Fulks

The FAC Learning Network has a sister network, the Fire Learning Network (FLN), which has been in place for 12 years. As a result, the FLN has amassed a treasure trove of resources – many of which could also be useful to FAC practitioners. These are available on a searchable website called the Conservation Gateway (www.conservationgateway.org/fln).

In this post I’ll highlight some materials about collaboration that Nature Conservancy staff compiled for the Association for Fire Ecology 2012 Southwest conference. Lynn Decker (the FLN’s director) and Anne Bradley (forest conservation program manager in New Mexico) presented on “Creating Nimble and Effective Collaborations for Sustainable Results.”

Take a look — this presentation is 100 percent relevant to your fire adapted community work. Lynn and Anne explain the importance of six essential steps: aligning interests, mobilizing resources, engaging members and the community, establishing accountability, taking action and learning together.collaboration_graph

I really like this depiction of cooperation, coordination and collaboration.

There’s also a table that goes into more detail about the differences among these (see Lynn and Anne’s handout). For example, collaborations require comprehensive planning, including measures of success, as well as many channels for communication. The relationships, structure and communications required for cooperation are much less formal, and coordination falls in between. In true collaborations leadership is dispersed and risk is shared equally.

Unsure whether your collaboration is working well? Lynn and Anne provide indicators of good and bad collaborations. (Hint: if your group seems to be making the same decisions over and over, that’s a bad sign.)

In closing, here are the top 10 FLN collaboration lessons learned:

  1. Send the right people to the collaboration. 
  2. Commit to the process.
  3. Start with a shared mission and vision that the collaboration can agree on (even if it is simple to start with).
  4. Ensure that the process is open, inclusive, transparent, accessible and tailored to local needs.
  5. Everyone has something to share and something to learn. Co-learning changes relationships.
  6. Playing nice with others and sharing your toys matters.
  7. Keep the commitments that you make. Ultimately success is about relationships.
  8. Incorporate food, fun and field co-learning opportunities.
  9. Implement the projects. Nothing undermines a collaboration more than not getting to implementation.
  10.  It’s a team effort. You succeed, fail, and evolve as a team. Share leadership and credit.

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