Response (Module 2: group discussion 1)

TuesdayJan 31 at 11:50am

As we delve into the concepts and legal background that defines collaborative governance in the United States, I am curious as to how we navigate and effectively engage in the practice. Agranoff (2017) provides a historical analysis of how governance has transformed to allow for collaboration across different levels of government and non-governmental entities with respect to Dillon’s Rule. 

Though Arganoff provides a sufficient legal context behind the complexity of governance, there is limited to no analysis for the cases where those boundaries are muddied or when nongovernmental organizations exert more influence in solving social issues. Consider Memphis where nonprofit organizations are significantly influential in responding to issues and/or are supplementing for the lack of initiative on behalf of local and state government. Education in Memphis is a prime example of this. Though Memphis-Shelby County Schools offers after-school tutoring through ESSR funding, many nonprofits such as Knowledge Quest, where I am completing my fellowship, offer additional tutoring for students in South Memphis. Part of the reason why this exists is because MSCS does not provide transportation once the tutoring session is complete, thus requiring students to be picked up from school which can be difficult for some families. Knowledge Quest provides transportation in the event a child is not able to be picked up from the tutoring site. 

This example calls into question the nature of the role of nonprofit organizations in collaborative governance. With increased influence and services delivered that are similar to those provided by governmental agencies and institutions, I am cautious as to how nonprofit organizations take on roles that could possibly challenge the government’s power due to its lack of action. In some regards, it seems like nonprofit organizations are competing with the government while cooperating with jurisdictional barriers (Stout and Keast, 2021). Along with answering public concerns through providing services, nonprofit organizations also use certain facets of collaborative governance such as representation which impacts how the community views them. Consider Memphis and Knowledge Quest again. The nonprofit, located in South Memphis, was founded by a native South Memphian who still resides in the area, as an attempt to tackle the root causes of poverty and community instability (e.g., insufficient education, abject poverty with limited opportunities for upward mobility, unemployment, food insecurity, etc.) after his experience of losing his close friend to gun violence. Though the organization primarily serves the South Memphis community, it has gained recognition and reverence throughout the city due to the feeling that the organization authentically represents the community through its values, community engagement, and shared experiences (Greenwood, Singer, and Willis, 2021). Memphis nonprofits similar to Knowledge Quest generate similar reverence. In fact, if you were to ask a resident how they viewed a nonprofit in the area (perhaps even one they benefit from) as opposed to the Memphis City Council or MSCS Board of Education, you would most likely be affirmed of this sentiment. 


So my question is to you all: how do you see nonprofits engage in collaborative governance?

TuesdayJan 31 at 5:35pm

For module 2, I found the article piece “Collaboration What Does It Really Mean” by Stout and Keast (2021) most insightful. Figure 1.1 is described as the “Arc of working together” and is a graphic to explain the “Five C’s” (Keast). In my marketing undergrad, we studied the Five C’s and the reminder has helped shed some light on what collaboration truly is. While collaboration seems easy enough to achieve, the relationship between entities is not simple nor always as beneficial, or detrimental, as it may seem. Here are some examples that I learned to help me apply the different relationships in a real-world sense

Consolidation: It is well known that Disney bought Fox network. This gave Disney the  power-over stance (Stout & Keasy). While collaboration between an entertainment company and a broadcasting company is logical, many believe Disney bought Fox for control of media networks and to push the “secret agenda”. Now this is just a conspiracy theory, but I still like the example to take it from the paper to the real world.

Coordination: This “C” is usually more beneficial, but still falls under the  power-over category. Imagine a small-town bakery. There is one farm that supplies all the flour for the bakery outside of town. While the two parties benefit from one another, they can also demonstrate power over the other. If the bakery threatens to get a new supplier, the farmer must find a way to meet the bakery’s needs. The farmer could also raise his prices and force the baker to find a new supplier or pay the farmer more.

Competition: Airlines will often collaborate to give travelers connecting flights within one booking process. While still competing, both airlines benefit. In the 1980’s the airline industry saw a massive decline. Instead of collaborating in the way they do now, they were cutting prices and lost billions of dollars trying to be the cheapest Airline. The Airlines who did not cut prices gained power ( power-to) because they were not as financially distraught as those who did cut prices.

Cooperation: My favorite example of cooperation is strip malls. Collaboration happens while each entity remains separate (Stout & Keasy). A standalone cellphone provider may not bring much business, but out them in a strip mall with a department store, an electronics store, a bookstore, and a deli and the sales will go up in the cellphone provider’s store. The proximity of other related and attractive stores ultimately all give  power-to  each entity.

Clientelism: Politics is clientelism. The politician promises to provide a good and or service to help and gain more clients, voters. In Figure 1.1, Clientelism is under the  power-for umbrella. This is when actions are geared to altruistic gain (Stout & Keasy).

After reading this, I ask is it possible to have all Five C’s in a collaboration and keep a healthy relationship and organized hierarchy? Is there any one of the C’s that a collaboration could do without?

TuesdayJan 31 at 6:17pm

I found this module’s reading assignments and video interesting and thought-provoking. The Stout and Keast chapters are very much in line with what we at the Assisi Foundation try to do; while our obvious focus is funding nonprofits, to me it is equally important that we facilitate collaborations between complementary organizations. As we’ve read, this can be a delicate process and is almost never as easy as we think it will be. With over 12,000 nonprofits in Shelby County (you read that correctly), there is a great deal of redundancy – yet, often understandably, there are not a lot of “like-missioned” organizations who are willing to collaborate, for fear that it will pose a threat to how valuable they are perceived to be. There are a lot of egos, even in the most beneficent of organizations, and that often leads to an instinct to go hard “power over.” Even with the greatest road map and understanding of the Five C’s, the proclivities of an individual can always throw a wrench in things. For that reason, I have found that coalition building in a thoughtful (and often slow, unfortunately) way is vital.

As an example: I am currently helping to facilitate a cohort of Memphis nonprofits in conjunction with the Kresge Foundation and an organization called Ideas42 (if you’re a  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan, you’ll get the name-check.) The goal is to identify harmful and incorrect narratives surrounding poverty, such as “people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and to replace that with the message that our society is purposely designed in a way that means many people never had bootstraps in the first place. The nonprofits we have convened to help us with this work are Stand for Children, OUTMemphis, Latino Memphis, Micah, Center for Transforming Communities, and Score CDC…very different organizations, with very different constituencies. It took us almost a year of group discussions and difficult, honest meetings to get to a place where the cohort can work as a unified, culturally literate, group of equals, rather than from a “but our mission is more important than yours” place. Removing the variables caused by individual opinions is almost as difficult as tackling the poverty narratives themselves.

Another thing that struck me in the readings – particularly in Stout and Keast – is how the power and position of individuals was only glancingly explored. In politics in particular, the players themselves can definitely be more influential than any governmental structures or rules. Members of Congress, for example, are very much wedded and deferential to the seniority system. If a senator has been in office long enough, they will almost certainly have the committee assignments and the influence that reflects this. This is why Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the country, had an excellent highway system – (awful segregationist, FYI) Senator John Stennis served for 41 years, the last eight as the President Pro Tempore, and was able to funnel enormous amounts of federal dollars to his state. In that same vein, when then-senator Jim Sasser was a senior member of the Transportation Committee, he was able to wield his influence and establish Memphis as a thriving Northwest Airlines (now defunct) hub. After Sasser was defeated in 1994 by relatively powerless newcomer Bill Frist, the hub was downgraded, and we lost our direct flight to Amsterdam – a major blow not only to the airport, but to the city as a whole.

In short, I think it is always wise to remember that, no matter how strictly we adhere to best practices and pure motivations, the intentions and proclivities of individuals can always threaten to shift the balance of power and derail the most thoughtful collaborations.

Apologies – I hit "enter" too soon. My question is if any of you have any ideas or experience with, for lack of a better term, getting nonprofit leaders to focus on the greater good of the mission, rather than on advancing their own organization? I certainly don't mean to imply that this is something that occurs in all orgs, but so many of them offer redundant services, often while not having financially sustainable programming. What do you think motivates organizations to insist on standing alone, even when their constituencies might be better served by them collaborating with like-minded providers?