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5 Keys To Creating A Lasting Impact Through Collaboration

This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Many of the problems we face today are so large and widespread, no one organization or agency can solve them alone. Yet, individuals and local organizations work toward solutions every day. At Cisco, we believe that social entrepreneurs with common goals can work better when they work together.

We took our research into what makes collaboration work in a global enterprise and applied it to cross-organizational collaboration between corporations and academic and non-governmental organizations, working for a social benefit. Getting busy people connected and engaged takes a holistic look at culture and business process as well as an effective collaborative technology platform.

A Collaborative Effort by Hospitals Worldwide to Go Green

About a year ago, we began working with Health Care Without Harm, a global network of hospitals and health systems committed to reducing their environmental footprint and promoting environmental health worldwide. We wanted to explore how our technology platform could connect people and create meaningful collaboration around a global challenge with local impact.

As part of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals initiative, more than 4,000 hospitals from six continents defined 10 goals to become greener, more sustainable health care systems. In the first phase, GGHH Connect, an online community supported by the Skoll Foundation and powered by Cisco technology, launched communities dedicated to three of the 10 goals. Members easily create and share content with expert input using a single set of social networking, content creation, and integrated real-time communications tools.

What Gets Organizations to Work Together

To make a difference in a big way with lasting results, we found that these five principles of collaboration — combined with the right technology — were key to the initiative’s success.

1. Build relationships and networks that lead to trust.
Building relationships across countries and time zones requires dedication and intention. Health Care Without Harm provided a backbone organization with a high degree of trust. They built a network of networks by inviting 63 individuals committed to working on at least one of the three community goals to join GGHH Connect and share their work. They also recruited experts, known by the community for their leading work on key issues.

2. Turn human interactions into results.
The first 3 GGHH launched communities address:
• Chemicals: substitute harmful chemicals with safer alternatives
• Waste: reduce, treat, and safely dispose of health care waste
• Energy: implement energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy generation

Areas for content development and curation are balanced with community profiles and expert streams to encourage both concrete work toward solutions and casual conversation. Personal interactions happen within the platform by instant message, emails, and virtual face-to-face meetings. As common activities and interests emerge, social stewards and community managers encourage members with introductions.

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3. Evolve the culture for productive collaboration. Establishing a collaborative culture is essential for an external organization linking diverse groups from different cultures. Health Care Without Harm launched GGHH Connect by invitation-only to members who would be most receptive to a collaborative process. They recruited social stewards from the community to monitor activity, engage in conversations and actively model collaborative behaviors. These stewards share the day-to-day work responsibilities of community members and help make collaboration real and relevant to them.

4. Encourage progress beyond input to action. GGHH Connect is not just about meeting like-minded people to talk about change. A staff-based community manager monitors and facilitates activities to guide members to not only learn, connect and interact, but to produce content that will result in change within their organization. A discussion post may become a solution document with members across the globe contributing their experience and ideas. Work done asynchronously may be completed or presented to a larger audience in a synchronous meeting.

5. Leverage patterns of collaboration. The technology platform gave members a single set of tools to engage in a range of communications. From reading news and discussions to co-creating content and holding meetings, Cisco WebEx Social enabled persistent connections between people who may not have connected any other way. The technology platform also provided transparency into activities that can be analyzed for patterns of collaboration.

What a Difference a Connection Makes

The results have been impressive. More than one-third of members engage as active collaborators. They post news, participate in discussions, share case studies, and support one another’s work. Over half of members participate as observers, responding to emails and viewing information. Several solutions and proposals have even been put into practice by members. For example:

• A hospital in the UK switched to reusable sharps bins at a significant cost savings and estimate that they reduced their plastic waste by 165,000 pounds a year. Members in Latin America plan to use the calculations to launch a program in their countries.
• A member’s question about tracking generated waste as an indicator generated replies from experts and members about what factors to include, how to compare to others, and where to find more resources.
• A member about to attend an internal meeting about energy strategy tapped the group’s expertise to better understand issues and questions to ask.

I believe that programs like the GGHH Connect pilot project show how we can address some of our most challenging problems faster and more effectively by connecting organizations working for change through technology. At the Social Good Summit on Sept. 23, 2013, I will join a panel of experts to discuss the potential of “we” for global collaboration and local solutions.

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