The World of Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations – Sarah Rusholme, Nature Connections

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When I started as Nature Connections project leader, I naively thought: “Here’s a chance to drag out my science communication credentials and dust off my interp-planning hat”. Imagine my surprise when, six months later, rather than messing around with signage and scripts, I find that I’d stumbled into the world of “multi-stakeholder collaborations”.

Management-speak aside, what sits at the heart of these collaborations is an organisation realising that it can’t achieve what it wants to achieve on its own. If you reckon you’re only going to get the innovation, impact, scale, or profile you want by working with others…and others feel the same…then you need a multi-stakeholder collaboration or MSC. Sounds like Nature Connections, right? 


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The literature agrees that are three things that make an MSC work: setting a firm, fair framework; transparency; and mutual respect. If you’ve got these you’re probably on the way to achieving trust and sustainability – what the Sustainable Learning Centre calls “the glue of successful collaborations”. But that’s not all you need….

Carmen Malena, reviewing effective multi-stakeholder collaborations for the United Nations found that once the first flush of excitement at getting a group working together has faded there are potential pitfalls as energy drops and the grind phase begins. As familiarity grows, lethargy and even conflict can pop up.  From interviewing veterans of many, many MSC she agrees that clear measurable outcomes agreed by the group are essential – but recommends not being precious about allowing outcomes to evolve as aspirations or external factors change.
All partners are different, bringing different skills, insight and perspectives. They have different motivators for participating and different priorities for the project outcomes. Ensuring that bigger partners don’t out-shout the others is important. Conversely, smaller partners can be more agile, turning around decisions faster. So Carmen recommends making sure MSC structures and collaborative cultures are equitable. We’re all in it together: diversity and different perspectives are what makes the project rich and innovative.


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Getting the right partners in the right frame of mind is essential. For Nature Connections the former rests in the planning phase. The latter is about escaping the humdrum to a space where partners can think beyond being competing businesses to the project’s goal: communicating Wellington’s unique eco-stories together.

And, keeping it all heading in the right direction is the project team: neutral, and working to keep the momentum up, protect the project’s vision and values whilst keeping an eye on the budget, timeline and outcomes. Experienced MSC broker Nickolas Luff says that a good multi-stakeholder collaboration team should be “pushing and giving a spark of energy to the initiative”. It’s a complex art: keeping relationships alive, interest bubbling, and information flowing, all the while respecting that each partner is heads down, bums up running their business. At Nature Connections, we’re all about whatever makes partner’s lives easier.

So – there you have it. Nature Connections is a multi-stakeholder collaboration, and we’re in good company.
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