This week, we are reporting from the winter Olympic games in Sochi. Among stories receiving the greatest buzz is the iconic image of Canada’s Dufour-Lapointe sisters holding hands as they received gold and silver medals in women’s freestyle moguls.  With their eyes on the podium, the siblings benefited from encouragement and a healthy dose of competition.  This image reminds us that coopetition – collaboration with your competition – can yield positive results, not just among siblings on the ski slopes but also between nonprofit partners. Coopetition drives us to improve and work together to raise the bar, creating greater value and better outcomes for all parties.

In our measurement blog series, we introduced theory of change (ToC) as a tool to help social entrepreneurs evaluate the impact of social programs. In this post, we will explore how ToC can mutually benefit “coopetitors,” that is, organizations that often vie for the same resources while working toward the same complex social goals.

Theory of Change – A Powerful Tool for Collaborating

When multiple players work together to plan and implement programs that impact a broad range of individuals, the theory of change behind these programs can rapidly become complicated. Rather than being overwhelmed by a complex ToC, agencies may use the tool as a way to begin healthy discussions about the assumptions and pre-conditions necessary for the greatest impact and collaboration.

Challenged by extreme poverty and a difficult political climate, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a prime example of an environment requiring complex program work.  After recognizing the lack of complementary outcomes the country believed would occur alongside its roads building programs, DRC’s government and international NGOs went back to the drawing board to create a macro-level ToC. During the ToC analysis, they identified pre-conditions to improve development outcomes and provide access to markets through road-building, such as improving the security of the country. Many of these pre-conditions relied on other entities. Recognizing the impact of a broad group of actors including local governments, multilateral organizations and NGOs, the ToC served as a backbone for partners to think about and adapt intervention strategies that could maximize impact.

How Does ToC Improve Partnerships with our Coopetitors?

  • Understanding rules of thumb: Complex problems often involve conflicting goals with various players approaching from different viewpoints and objectives. Creating a ToC can provide coopetitors working on complex issues with a clearer understanding of each other’s underlying assumptions, or “rules of thumb,” to create a framework for working together. By applying these rules of thumb, the ToC offers an opportunity for agencies to learn from each other and find ways to not only co-exist, but to mutually excel.
  • Working together to innovate and adapt: As mentioned in our Six Rules of Coopetition, successful collaborations among coopetitors involve learning and continuous improvement. By debating, testing and improving the assumptions identified in the ToC, agencies can use this flexible, dynamic tool to innovate and adapt their programs.

For social organizations, the ultimate gold medal lies in alleviating social issues and improving people’s lives. When robust coopetition is paired with a well-executed ToC, social organizations will find the podium is higher for all players.  Tell us about how ToC helped your partnership produce better outcomes, and stay tuned next week for our top leadership lessons learned from Sochi.

Special thanks to fellow colleague and TrendSpotter, Elly Brown, for sharing this information with our readers.

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