Regional development of an agriculture agenda is truly an essential part of the business stimulus dialogue. But, like managing any regional initiative, the creation of such ventures requires much more delicate facilitation than one might expect.
The aim of any successful regional business initiative is two fold: meet the needs of each individual stakeholder WHILE AT THE SAME TIME create a common platform among multiple stakeholders. It’s sort of like blending multiple scores of music together to create an orchestral piece.
The problem is, regionalism is still understood / perceived as a fancy word for merger, and merger naturally implies LOSS. And ‘loss’ brings along with it conscious and unconscious fears.
It’s important that any regionalism effort first be articulated and developed as a partnership initiaitve where no one will lose. They might CHANGE, but they won’t lose. It is also important to honor people’s fears.
Launching the work is the hard part. The approach we use at CTP is Synergistic Improvement© and encompasses three (3) phases:
Phase 1: System Audit and Asset Mapping
Phase 2: Visioning, Leadership and Stakeholder Mobilization
Phase 3: Integration and Accountability
These phases ensure successful regional agenda development effort; or, as we call it: reciprocal partnership or consolidation.
A skilled facilitator should be able to facilitate the unfolding of these phases using process and culture building techniques to make sure what is created is rooted in the SOURCE (i.e. the stakeholders) and NOT in the priorities set by others who “supposedly” know better and have done all the right research.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION: This implies that the most important aspects of any regionalism effort is getting all the respective stakeholders AT THE TABLE, not just the ones with which we are comfortable.
In agriculture, that would include everyone in Tier One (1) of the production network, including grain provider, farmer, immediate support sources (pesticide companies, equipment providers, etc…), emerging agriculture students, and immediately impacted corporations. If cows or produce could speak – I’d make sure they were at the table, too.
Tier Two (2) stakeholders could also be engaged, if you really wanted to ensure systemic innovation. These stakeholders might include: academic representation, national association representatives, federal agriculture regulators, corporate industry leaders, and EVEN competitors.
This intentional multi-stakeholder / multi-sector representation construct is the framework within which change and benefit can occur for everyone. And the honoring of everyone within the intended industry paradigm also ensures the process unfolds with respect and dignity.
I don’t know many merger efforts where respect and dignity are a priority.
CREATING THE CULTURE: In addition to getting the right stakeholders at the table to support the foundation, it is imperative that HOW this group works together is skillfully guided.
The culture in which change and planning unfold will determine the end product.
Culture building dynamics must be woven throughout to affect: individual reflection, communication sharing and trust building. Some of the most proven techniques in culture building today include Appreciative Inquiry, Gestalt, Open Space and Transformative Change. Good technology applications can also really make a difference.
Here, the foundation of WHO (is involved) and the culture of HOW goals are developed (the flavor of the process) blend together to set the stage for implemented the WHAT (Phases 1, 2 and 3 of development). If all this is aligned, planning becomes a place where synergy is released and innovation is born.
All in all, a thorough approach to building a partnership agenda ensures the aims of regionalism can be met: cost savings, innovation, and sustainability.
When we realize that regional economic development is, at its core, a psychological process intended to build a new system, we can look at these processes much differently and, therefore, develop constructs where everyone shares in the passion for change and campaigns on behalf of its success.
The fear factor is so true. As is the need to build trust. And breaking down fear and building trust can only come, as you suggest, through dialogue and relationship building. That is why it is so critical, in my opinion, that we build at system to support regional action that recognizes the barriers and breaks them down. I don’t think that system exists today – we see examples here and there, but we don’t have a way to engage enough people in the right way so that we build momentum.
In your experience, is the “who” that does the convening matter? I’ve seen in other parts of the country a single organization build expertise and credibility as the convener (citizen-led organizations). Do you have other examples?
Thanks for this post!
Laura Steinbrink Director, Regional Partnerships [email protected]