Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Collaborate for Sustainability

Collaboration is one of the key ingredients for creating a sustainable future. This can be interpreted at every level – countries, organizations, groups, people, thoughts, and even missions and goals. The concept of needing to ‘collaborate’ can also be used within the setting of a university’s sustainable development efforts. DePaul University is one of the most revered private universities in the U.S., and has taken great steps towards promoting sustainable development. One of the steps which must be strengthened is the concept of collaboration, specifically among various departments at the university. Each department brings with it unique goals, people, and ideas, and it also brings resources. Finding ways to combine resources is a smart way to maximize the use of current strengths and assets. Many times sustainability is not prioritized due to lack of time, man power, and resources. Being more creative with what is already within our reach will help move DePaul move forward towards creating a more sustainable future.

Efforts to collaborate, however, are difficult and require great communication skills and proper management. This is true for all levels of collaboration, as is shown in this video by Josh Powell, which concentrates on the various sectors and the complexities they face to work together. It also discusses the need and importance of collaboration to achieve goals. This concept of collaborative governance is also used with other topics and can be implemented for sustainable development.

I recommend the Yale University approach of sustainability where inter-departmental collaboration is vital to the successful attainment of goals. Yale creates networks of both members of the university community as well as local community to become involved in sustainability goal-setting and creating visions for future development.

Another example of collaborative governance is explained in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory Advance Access in the article “Collaborative Governance in Theory and Practice” by Chris Ansell and Alison Gash. They discuss how making various groups come together for decision-making will be successful if a number of factors are aligned. Some mentioned are “face-to-face dialog, trust building, and the development of commitment and shared understanding.” These factors can be applied to the departments within DePaul, and can be noted to include as more efforts in inter-departmental collaboration become common. The full article can be read here.

Another type of collaboration can be through DePaul’s students. Creating more public forums about sustainability, or starting student-initiatives in sustainability (and making them public) will help promote better understanding of the topic, and interest. This approach allows students to be in-charge and govern a part of DePaul’s sustainable development. The grass-roots level ‘buzz’ among students should begin in various departments, and not only in one. This way, the collaboration is starting at the ground-level, and will be able to elevate as the development initiatives begin to grow. The Sustainable DePaul Blog is a great example of a way for students to collaborate for sustainability.

Adding onto DePaul’s current inter-departmental collaboration practices will allow the university’s sustainable development efforts to expand to a larger stakeholder audience, and also create a stronger sustainable footprint.

Posted by Nidhi Singhal
Photo Credit: University of Calgary, Leadership in Learning http://www.ucalgary.ca/iejll/files/iejll/images/fauske.gif

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