Wednesday
Apr222015

Collaboration is a long term investment for the future 


If I threw out the term “regional collaboration” what would you say?  How would you define the concept?  Could you rhyme off examples of such happenings in and around the Greater Peterborough area? 

My favourite definition comes from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, but I think it has truths that we can apply, in part, to Peterborough:   

There is no single model for regional collaboration, no universal approach that works in all situations. The best efforts are homegrown, tailoring the principles and tools to suit the issue at hand and the unique needs and interests of each region.  http://www.lincolninst.edu/subcenters/regional-collaboration/ 

While that definition gives us the utopian view from 30,000 feet, it is missing a key component.
“Successful regional collaboration needs defined outcomes,” says Ray Dart, Director and Associate Professor of the Business Administration Program at Trent University. “In other words, to see the success of regional collaboration numbers and data need to be presented in relation to the desired outcomes.” 

So if Peterborough, in any capacity, is going to go down the road of regional collaboration, an endgame needs to be established.  In doing so, when the time comes to review or determine the success of the collaboration there is a list of criteria by which to score. 

Let’s apply this idea of an endgame to transit.  The City and County of Peterborough decide to collaborate on a regional transit system.  What are the desired outcomes of this partnership?  Increased transit use thereby decreasing the number of cars on the road?  Allow more people to move from rural locales to urban areas and vice versa?  To make each community in the Greater Peterborough Area more connected through the physical tie of transit?  

Any one of the above questions or several posed together could be the desired outcome.  What this shows us is that to get an answer, many different questions need to be asked.  What is the current use of transit? What is the ridership in the Peterborough area? Is there value in pooling government resources dedicated to transit improvements?  Is there an inherent value in this regional collaboration?  How are expectations managed?

The practice of regional collaboration also applies to how economic development has been approached in Peterborough for the past seventeen years since the GPA 2020: A Vision for Our Future was presented.  In fact, this regional approach to economic development can be seen as the most binding regional collaboration in recent history.  Currently, a scorecard system is in place to record outcomes.  Find more at peterboroughed.ca/about/performance  

A presentation to the 2007 Business and Expansion International Conference referenced work by Harold Baker completed in the early 1990’s on communities in the US, Ireland, France and Spain.  He found:  

  • Multi-community activity appears to be undertaken in order for smaller communities to survive in difficult times and to enhance development opportunities under these circumstances;
  • There is a place in the community for both competition and collaboration, if they are kept in appropriate balance; 
  • Who is invited to the table does not have to be limited to government officials, but should also include private and voluntary groups, and;
  • Patience is a must.

"Regional collaboration is a longer term investment and the benefits are often felt indirectly,” agrees Dart.  “That's why a good view of the desired outcomes is so essential.”

“Collaboration is also about connections,” says Dart.  Through the proposed collaboration how will the group better and more efficiently connect with other groups of people or communities?  Are these connections strategic enough to help the collaborators succeed?  What impact does a smaller connection (two players) have on the broader region? Dart used the example of more integration between Trent University and Fleming College.  “Already we have some integration, but really we’re just scraping the surface of possibilities,” he believes.   If more collaboration were to happen between these post-secondary institutions what would be the benefit to each individually, to the Peterborough region and beyond?

Once desired outcomes are determined, a scale is in place to determine success; the challenge then becomes finding ways to action identified outcomes.  Who will do what project?  Who will commit their resources (people, monetary, etc) to which aspects?  

Regional collaboration has it benefits in that long term there is the potential to be further ahead than where a project would be without collaboration.  However, it’s not an easy road, but one with many challenges.  

I opened a fortune cookie recently, it said “Be patient.  Good things come to those who wait.”  Fair enough and easily applicable to regional collaboration, as long as the waiting is done with purpose and a lot of preparation.

Comment through the "Peterborough Chamber" group of LinkedIn.

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