Tuesday, March 3, 2015

There's now a name for what we are: Sustainability Management Association

Recently, EcoDistricts released their Top 10 Trends and one was Sustainability Management Associations. In the past, organizations have had Sustainability Management Systems to manage their transition toward sustainability. But now it appears there is a formal corollary practice for communities. It's exactly what the Sustainability Alliance was formed to do.

Here's what we've learned so far...

This is an emerging practice. A google search is not very helpful. The term is too new. But here is what EcoDistricts says (with my bolding for emphasis). Click here to see their original blog post which includes some other exciting innovations including Crowd Resourcing.

Sustainability Management Associations

Here's how Ecodistricts defines SMA's.
Making change happen goes beyond simply preparing a plan. Implementation and lasting success need to be core planning objectives in city planning offices, and that requires a smart governance structure. The Sustainability Management Association (SMA) is a model to build and sustain long-term leadership, capacity and governance on all matters related to sustainability over time within a precinct or neighborhood. The model is based on a collaborative governance approach. There is a sharing of power, decision-making, and project development (funding). No one entity does or should do it all. The SMA ensures that change is guided by strong sustainability goals and metrics, and that performance is monitored and results are reported. This allows stakeholders effectively and accurately determine progress and performance and identify opportunities for continual improvements. The SMA, through its function of building a shared vision and set of integrated sustainability targets for the precinct or neighborhood, is required to coordinate the sustainability efforts and actions of diverse stakeholders within a community. The SMA becomes the dedicated entity to guide the sustainability investments for the precinct or neighborhood. As cities across North America (Portland, Charleston NC, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Ottawa) actively pursue opportunities for SMA-type arrangements in their urban regeneration projects, there is a genuine commitment to advancing governance models that will support collective impact.

What is Collaborative Governance?

If you follow the Collaborative Governance link, you’ll get this description from the National Policy Consensus Center, Policy Consensus Initiative:

Leaders engaging with all sectors—public, private, non-profit, citizens, and others—to develop effective, lasting solutions to public problems that go beyond what any sector could achieve on its own.

What results does it produce?

The best public solutions come from people working together on issues. Collaborative governance takes as its starting point the idea that working together creates more lasting, effective solutions.

Lasting—Solutions developed through collaborative governance won't simply be undone in the next year or legislative session.
Effective—The collaborative governance approach ensures that the realities of the situation are considered and discussed; decisions are not made in a vacuum.
More buy-in—From the outset, all with a stake are involved in authentic ways; all have a role in the final agreement.

Why is it needed?

Accelerating change
Overlapping institutions and jurisdictions
Increasing complexity
A need to integrate policies and resources
How is this different from "government?"

"Governance" is the process by which public ends and means are identified, agreed upon, and pursued. This is different than "government," which relates to the specific jurisdiction in which authority is exercised. "Governance" is a broader term and encompasses both formal and informal systems of relationships and networks for decision making and problem solving.

What does it take?

Collaborative governance requires three elements:

Sponsor- an agency, foundation, civic organization, public-private coalition, etc. to initiate and provide support
Convener/Leader- a governor, legislator, local official, respected civic leader, etc. with power to bring diverse people together to work on common problems
Neutral Forum- an impartial organization or venue, etc. to provide and ensure skilled process managament
How does it work?

The System integrates the principles and network to assure an effective collaborative governance process:
  • Sponsors identify and raise an issue
  • Assessment is made on the feasibility for collaboration and who needs to be involved
  • Leader(s) convene all needed participants
  • Participants adopt this framework for addressing the issue
  • Conveners and participants frame (or reframe) the issue for deliberation
  • Neutral forum/facilitator designs and conducts a process to negotiate interests and integrate resources
  • Written agreement establishes accountability
  • Sponsors identify and raise an issue or opportunity that calls for a collaborative response
This collaborative governance system can work anywhere as long as several key principles are adhered to: transparency; equity and inclusiveness; effectiveness and efficiency; responsiveness; accountability; forum neutrality; and consensus-based decision making.

Collective Impact

The link to Collective Impact takes you to an article by the Stanford Social Innovation Review about Strive, a nonprofit in Ohio focused on education. But this passage is relevant to our work. I’ve bolded a couple places.

Why has Strive made progress when so many other efforts have failed? It is because a core group of community leaders decided to abandon their individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to improving student achievement. More than 300 leaders of local organizations agreed to participate, including the heads of influential private and corporate foundations, city government officials, school district representatives, the presidents of eight universities and community colleges, and the executive directors of hundreds of education-related nonprofit and advocacy groups.

These leaders realized that fixing one point on the educational continuum—such as better after-school programs—wouldn’t make much difference unless all parts of the continuum improved at the same time. No single organization, however innovative or powerful, could accomplish this alone. Instead, their ambitious mission became to coordinate improvements at every stage of a young person’s life, from “cradle to career.”

Strive didn’t try to create a new educational program or attempt to convince donors to spend more money. Instead, through a carefully structured process, Strive focused the entire educational community on a single set of goals, measured in the same way. Participating organizations are grouped into 15 different Student Success Networks (SSNs) by type of activity, such as early childhood education or tutoring. Each SSN has been meeting with coaches and facilitators for two hours every two weeks for the past three years, developing shared performance indicators, discussing their progress, and most important, learning from each other and aligning their efforts to support each other.

Strive, both the organization and the process it helps facilitate, is an example of collective impact, the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.

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