I am preparing for the Canadian Evaluation Society Conference June 11 in Toronto, Canada. I am presenting a paper I co-authored with folks from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) on Performance Improvement and Assessment of Collaboration: Starting points for networks and communities of practice. I chose a Think Tank, rather than a standard presentation, because we are only at the start of our understanding…so why not use the knowledge in the room to help advance our collective thinking?
When researching the paper, one of the first challenges we came across was distinguishing between all the types of collaboration. In general, it’s a tangle of terminology.
However, the first lesson to share from our research and consulting is that the fine distinctions between these terms are of limited value in determining how to improve performance and how to help organizers and participants account for the time and resources invested in the collaboration. Rather, as a manager or evaluator, one should focus on key attributes that are critical to designing for and assessing performance.
I won’t share the whole paper here but in summary, the paper focuses specifically on collaborations of individuals seeking knowledge and support for purposeful individual or collective action (CoPs, knowledge networks, campaigns and so forth):
- Whether there is sufficient social capital for participants to exchange information, learn from each other and work together;
- Whether individual participants believe and can demonstrate that their knowledge and skills have benefitted from the time invested; and
- Whether there has been progress in advancing solutions toward a shared challenge.
We suggest that four areas to explore in strengthening performance assessment and improvement of networks are:
- Focus and Extensiveness;
- Understanding of Structure and the Evolution of That Structure over Time;
- Social Capital; and
- Activities, Outcomes and the Concept of Value Creation
We also suggest a few tools that might be relevant for assessing networks, however this is really my question for the group of Evaluators, among a few others:
- What tools are you using to assess networks of individuals collaborating?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the tools?
- What new ideas do you have to strengthen this area of practice?
- What are the potential pitfalls that we as evaluators should be aware of?
What might be a good question or two for a Think Tank on this subject? Do you have an idea to share? I would love to hear your thoughts and welcome your advice as I prepare the session. Once again the paper can be found here.
Thank you in advance! I will be sure to share the outcome with you after June 11th!