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The Multi-Sector Alliances Party: Not All Fun and Games

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 4/8/2014

It’s been almost a month since the 2014 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz. USA, and, as I suspected would occur, my brain is still processing the wealth of information presented at the event.

Today, in preparation for a feature I’m writing for an agricultural magazine, I’m conducting a phone interview with a USDA plant physiologist. He’s spent nearly forty years studying the effects of climate and weather on crops throughout the US and the world. Currently, he’s leading a research project that includes the U.S., most European countries, much of South America, many African nations, India, China, Japan and Australia. “It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture,” he tells me.

I am reminded of that old Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times.” It seems eerily apropos to this conversation; the reason my interviewee, Jerry Hatfield, describes this as an exciting time to be in the field is that agricultural professionals face extreme and intense challenges right now. In order to feed the world in the next 36 years, agronomists must produce as much food as farmers produced in the last 1,500 years. How will they dramatically increase crop output in a changing climate, with more extreme weather conditions than have ever been recorded? Hatfield says such a feat will only be possible via multi-sector partnerships. The all-hands-on-field approach to ensuring global food security for the next half-century and beyond bears striking resemblance to multi-sector alliances and consortia required to create smart cities and other groundbreaking initiatives.

Suddenly, I am back at the Talking Stick Resort, attending a panel discussion with Mark Mattox, Nancy R. Miller, and Bettina Raymond, CA-AM regarding Multi-Party, Multi-Sector Alliances. Each has experienced numerous challenges in multi-party alliances. Mark cautions the audience to become aware of the organizational nuances that can affect an alliance. Other challenges include:
  • Communicating clearly despite geographic limitations, style differences, different language skills, and lack of internal alignment,
  • Choosing alliance objectives that reflect and feed off each organization’s strategies & aspirations,
  • Choosing alliance leadership roles and governance structure,
  • Coordinating staff and resources from all participating organizations, to avoid duplication of efforts or things falling between the cracks,
  • Clearly defining alliance metrics, so all parties know when the effort is succeeding,
  • Integrating diverse organizational cultures, especially between commercial and non-profit, government, or academia
Of course, as plant physiologist Jerry Hatfield points out, challenges are opportunities. The rewards for exploring such opportunities can be huge, but require deep planning and use of best practices. Check this Front Page Blog later this week for a discussion of the best practices in multi-party, multi-sector alliances.

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