Towards a governance protocol to enable inter-organizational collaboration

How can partnerships among organizations succeed?

The problem

Partnerships are vague. Whenever two organizations see the possibility of synergy, they often want to “partner”. But often, it is unclear what this is supposed to look like. Does partnering mean to list each other’s logos on our websites? Or does it mean creating complementary interfaces? Or does it mean doing things together? And if so, how much, and how deeply?

How it can be done

How can we overcome these issues? How can collaboration between decentralized organizations work and benefit from the flexibility they provide?

  • Each circle (aka team) has an aim (its purpose) and a domain (its sphere of influence), defined membership and a place in the system; it will at least have a next-higher (aka parent) circle.
  • On the flip side, a circle can transfer a subset of its aim/domain into a sub-circle. When that is completed, the subcircle has full decision-making power in its sub-domain.
  • Each decision-making circle is linked to its next-higher circle: one or two people are also full members of the next-higher circle.
  • Decisions about circle membership are made by the circle, and decisions about linking roles as well as domains and aims are made by mutual consent in the circle and its parent circle.
  • Consent = no circle member has an objection

1. Basic commitments

When forming a partnership, the partnering organizations need to agree on a baseline of connecting factors to allow for seamless collaboration.

  • Each partner needs to acknowledge the full sovereignty of each organization and their individual circles — no ruling into another organization is allowed.
  • Shared governance protocols (see below)
  • Protocols and interoperability for data/metrics
  • Shared communication platform that can serve as a “marketplace” for potential collaborators to find each other, and for everyone to share information
  • (optional but enhancing) Allocations and budgets have to be transparently shared
  • (optional but enhancing) Shared commitment to conflict resolution and accountability

2. Governance protocols

This is a set of very basic rules that fosters clarity while allowing flexibility and local autonomy:

A. Collaboration = shared decision-making

In this mode of partnering, there is commitment to shared decision making and the accountability to the shared space.

  • Board level (example: partnering organizations reserve a decision-maker seat on the board for a member from the partner organization)
  • Department level — this needs to be used scarcely. Just like the trunk of a tree doesn’t collaborate as easily as the leaves or the roots, the internal structures are best left fully autonomous.
  • Project level

Example blueprint for any collaboration

B. Information sharing = no shared decision-making

In this mode of partnering, there is no commitment to working together or even making decisions together. There may be voluntary self-commitments: individuals share information and come to an agreement on what action could/should be taken in each partnering organization’s space. Yet, since we cannot rule into an organization, no binding agreements can be made. Information sharing can be “just” for sharing and exchanging information, or it can be directed and fed into a non-collaborative or collaborative project.

  • within the hosting organization (e.g. the hosting circle invites 2 people from the outside into a meeting to give mutual feedback) — one-directional or bi-directional
  • in an extra space (e.g. a hosting circle creates a space where different voices come together) — one-directional, bi-directional, or multi-directional with more than two partnering circles.

Comparing with Prosocial’s principles of successful collaboration

Prosocial’s principles of successful collaboration describe how the tragedy of the commons can be avoided and fruitful cooperation can be achieved.

  • Shared identity and purpose: the shared purpose should be clear and ideally also stated when the agreements (“basic commitments”) are made.
  • Authority to self-govern
  • Collaborative relationships to other groups
  • Equitable distribution
  • Fair and inclusive decision-making
  • Accountability (monitoring, graduated responding)
  • Conflict resolution



Sociocracy, Non-Violent Communication, Linguistics

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