CLLs©:  Collaborative Learning Loops

 Denise Berger,​ Ed.D.
 Leadership    Culture      Impact

"Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Idea in Brief:

The problem: Well documented attempts at building collaborative initiatives that bring together multiple stakeholders have been known at times to produce a lot of talk with very little follow-through and action, involvement, innovation, and impact, despite the best of intentions. Particularly in the U.S., which scores very high in individualism and short-term thinking in Geert Hofstede's National Dimensions framework (Hofstede, 2012), we find that societal issues have tended to fall under the domain of either government or non-profits, each sector as its own silo, let alone the private sector that has historically kept itself at a distance. These sectors have often operated with separate agendas, and in many cases have even been adversarial in nature. 

People's approaches to their roles in cultures like the U.S. are focused on the self; they look after themselves and close family members. This is reinforced by decades of an education model that a) promotes learning individually and quietly at rows of desks, thereby promoting competition over communication; b) reinforces problem-solving in linear, thought processes which impede creativity and critical systems thinking; and c) prioritizes maximum individual results over collaboration and holistic team-based project results. Therefore, people coming together from the private, public, and civil sectors struggle to build collaboration that produces meaningful results. 

The argument: The public sector cannot solve the world's most intractable problems alone. It will take collaboration between the private, public, and civil sectors to design partnerships that result in meaningful collective impact, which are greater than the sum of their individual parts (power of three). Successful collaboration is not easy; it requires systems thinking, a central learning orientation, and an iterative process.

The solution: The Collaborative Learning Loop (CLL) Process© prioritizes systems-learning (systems-thinking and a learning orientation) and offers steps to build effective multiple stakeholder partnerships that have the intended meaningful impact and contribution to society's well-being and the environment's sustainability.

Collaborative Learning Loops (CLLs)©:
Building Meaningful Impact in Multi-stakeholder Partnership Initiatives

The Big Idea:
Developing a collaborative learning loop (CLL)© in multi-stakeholder engagements will improve results in designing programs that have meaningful impact in improving people's lives, communities, and the environment.

     The collaborative learning loop (CLL)© is an approach to facilitate optimal partnership development that is oriented around action learning, knowledge sharing, big-picture thinking, and professional learning communities (PLCs). While PLCs have been largely constructed in academia to collaboratively improve education and build accountability for results, the basic premise centers on collaboration for improvement, removing barriers, and focusing on clearly defined targeted results (Dufour, 2004). According to Berger (2013), the CLL is a powerful enabler in the multi-stakeholder process of designing for meaningful collective impact, wherein at least two sectors of society are coming together to partner on a shared concern. In the CLL, the partners are motivated to take advantage of each other's competencies, break down existing mental models, and build a holistic solution while also creating additional opportunities for partnership, growth, and innovation.  Kania (2014), a premier thinker and consultant in the area of creating collective impact, shared with us at Social Venture Partners ingredients for success: 1) have a common agenda, shared vision, and common understanding of the problem; 2) align efforts; 3) agree on the measures of success; 4) engage in a mutually agreed plan of action, and 5) and open communication with continuous points of dialogue and a point person(s) as project manager and leadership authority in the initiative.  The CLL process attempts to break down the steps that tie in with these markers.

     CLLs are cross-disciplinary learning opportunities, which in turn, foster the agility, balance, and coordination across the constituents, and build greater involvement, innovation, and impact in society. When aiming for collective impact and meaningful TBL results, CLLs are externally-focused and comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and constituencies coming together to form partnerships, leveraging each other's skills, letting their guards down, confronting pre-existing biases and mental models, and opening the platform for mutual learning and development to occur, across the different competencies and organizational structures. A CLL can unite parties who otherwise would have nothing in common, except their intention to fulfill a common purpose; unfortunately, intention is often not enough to build a successful result. Most significantly, a CLL creates opportunities to raise the bar, solve complex, global issues, and build powerful, positive momentum. Finally, a CLL cultivates a foundation of mutual trust that lends itself to further opportunities for partnership, development, and growth.     

     The learning process in a CLL is like any other: it is designed to motivate engaged parties to support important programs and gain an intrinsic understanding of how the shared concern affects them. They come together to represent the influences on each person's worldview, values, and internal drivers (Senge et al., 2008), and they open and expose these influences collaboratively and non-judgmentally in order to reorient members toward a new direction (Smith, 2001). Each party brings certain skills and advantages to the equation, and an action-learning approach gives a person practical experience, and makes learning interesting and real (Haugh & Talwar, 2010). Additionally, in a CLL, members learn from their experiences in launching new initiatives and receive feedback from customers, multiple stakeholders, and other members that further improves assimilation of the value system and creates a cycle of continuous development. The key is to bridge the gaps that have historically kept entities from partnering and nurture the environment that breeds organic innovations.     

     Implementation of a CLL follows what Zadek (2001) believes is ''a transition from a buffered dependence on stakeholders towards a bridging dynamic interdependence between a firm and its surroundings as well as with its influential stakeholders,'' (p. 221) and movement from reactive compliance to proactive engagement between business and society. It relies on Knowles' elements of andragogical learning - that adults are self-directed learners, and for adults, learning takes place from the inside out, and it depends on creating intrinsic motivation that arouses interest, creates relevance, develops an expectancy of success, and produces satisfaction through direct and indirect rewards (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2005).To learn more about the CLL step-by-step, download the document attached below.


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