Our work at LRI often involves facilitating complex planning processes with high stakes in which several state agencies and departments serve as co-leads and co-sponsors. These projects often require establishing and facilitating high-level “blue ribbon” commissions. For example, we facilitated the work of the Autism Advisory Task Force in California to develop recommendations for the state Legislature and Governor to provide comprehensive health care coverage for people with autism.
As a result of these various projects, our team has put together a series of recommendations – a checklist, if you will – to manage these kinds of highly complex projects.
(1) tips related to project scoping and overall governance;
(2) tips related to contractor selection and project management; [Go to this section]
(3) tips for standing up and managing high-level commissions. [Go to this section]
When multiple entities are involved, be mindful of the complexity and effort that accompanies such a venture. The time and energy invested upfront in defining what you want to achieve will pay off hugely down the road. Devote significant time at the beginning of the effort to define and document:
Make sure you clearly define what outcomes you and the other entities want to achieve. Develop measures of success. Put them in writing and make sure everyone signs off. You may want to bring in a facilitator to make sure this work is done well.
Develop milestones to keep the project on track. For example, if a comprehensive report on the state of childcare is one of the desired goals, then define when the first draft of the report is due and when the final report is due.
In multi-stakeholder projects, project governance is an important component. At the outset of the project, have an explicit conversation on decision-making—how will decisions be made among the sponsoring organizations? By consensus? If so, what’s the test for consensus? Democratically? If so, is it by majority vote? This clarity of governance is necessary for setting clear expectations and building trust.
At the outset of a project, have an explicit conversation about branding and whether it will be equally shared among sponsors, or if the project will establish its own distinct brand.
Discuss among sponsoring organizations how each perceives the resources they are bringing to the table—for example, some sponsors define resources as dollars, and some define this more broadly to include content expertise and relationships. Moreover, some may feel the funds they are contributing reflect “equal sacrifice” compared to those with more funds to offer.
Have an early conversation about the perspectives and biases that sponsoring organizations bring to the effort regarding what is most important about process and content. This creates the space to air what can be uncomfortable topics and reach agreement on compromises necessary for a successful joint venture.
When one organization in a multi-sponsor project assumes lead responsibility, clearly articulate those responsibilities and the responsibilities of the other sponsors.
As lead sponsor, be cognizant of the need for a process to assure all sponsors’ voices are heard during the process. Take time to confirm decisions made and to celebrate small wins, including successful compromises.
The above-noted recommendations are essential for maintaining positive relationships among sponsors when inevitable challenges or tensions arise.
Pursue a competitive bidding process to select a contractor to do the work for you. A bidding process assures that both you, the contracting agencies, and the contractor are clear about success indicators, scope, deliverables, timelines, process, and skillsets.
A multi-stakeholder project requires expertise and disciplined planning related to:
Recognize that complex planning processes require a variety of skillsets. Make sure the selected team has process and project management expertise, the requisite content knowledge, as well as expertise in multi-stakeholder governance.
At the start of the effort, develop a shared vision and definition of success between sponsors and the contractor. Explicitly explore and define terms used to describe products and deliverables among sponsors and with the contractor in order to build shared expectations and a shared language.
Clearly define and document the contractor team’s specific roles in regard to tasks, responsibilities, and responsibilities.
Clearly define and document decision-making responsibilities among sponsors, contractors, and others involved.
Early on, establish between sponsors and the contractor team an expectation to “press the pause button” whenever there is concern about misalignment or confusion.
Ensure sponsors’ project oversight includes:
If ambitious timelines are being considered, explore alternative scenarios that meet the goal but allow some slack – such as setting tighter deadlines for parts of the deliverable, while allowing other parts to be finalized at a later date.
For multi-sponsor processes that involve a high-level “blue ribbon” commission, it’s important to appreciate the need for significant planning and orchestration of the process, by building in time and expertise to:
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or feedback or would like to partner with LRI, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.