Michelle Lawrence

May 18, 2022, 2:00 PM

A passion for collaboration – it’s just a case of joining the dots


I love the voluntary sector in this country. I’ve worked for and alongside charities for over 20 years and have infinite stories of the passion, commitment and endeavours undertaken every day by people across the country.

Those of us who have worked in this sector, set up projects, started charities, volunteered and fundraised, bring a love for the mission and aims that we and our organisations have set up to achieve. And this passion is vital; it allows us to go above and beyond, to break down barriers, to build something from nothing, to achieve the unachievable… but it can also hamper our abilities to look beyond.

And looking beyond is what we need to do to make the impact that we want to see on the ground.  We need to look beyond our own individual aspects of work, beyond our organisational missions and beyond our organisational walls.

On our own we achieve much. But how much more could we achieve if we worked in collaboration with others?

I have seen so much excellence and problem solving knowhow in action, but have also seen great projects not receiving the support they deserve; ideas lost due to staff departures or closures; reports being siloed into drawers; competition suppressing skills and knowledge sharing; duplication of services and regular reinvention of the wheel.

And whilst our passion is frustrated, the real losers are those we are trying to support. 

So I have been channelling my passion into bringing people together. For the past five years I have been working to help cross sector organisations share ideas, knowledge, resources and skills.

I set up Belong, to help facilitate this, and have subsequently been working to create a simple framework to help bring together groups of charities, community groups, businesses, activists, educators, academics and funders, to maximise the impact of their efforts.

Collaborative working, whilst important, is not necessarily easy. For one thing, people don’t know who to work with – which is even more pronounced when looking at cross-sector collaborations.  Many people don’t have the time to look outside their direct work to be able to create these partnerships. And whilst the benefits are generally understood and accepted, for smaller organisations in particular there are concerns about being swallowed up or overlooked. 

And once you’ve got over these initial barriers, the next stage – in terms of HOW we work together – brings the biggest set of hurdles to overcome. That’s why the framework, Connect The Dots, was created. It is to help overcome the initial obstacles and then to give participants the tools to manage the hurdles.

Fundamental to Connect The Dots are four core principles:

  • All participants have an equally important part to play
  • People are brought together to support a shared vision
  • Clear terms of engagement both protect participants and enable collaboration to flourish
  • If we are to create shared impact, we need simple ways to measure and learn from our efforts

There are eight stages to the programme, which includes needs analysis, engagement, commitment, provision audit, implementation and evaluation. For some we will facilitate and help them through the programme, but that limits the reach and potential of the programme. So we are working to make sure that organisations can use the framework on their own, using self-guided tools.

We are working to make it as simple as possible and collaborating with others to bring on board the best expertise in engagement, facilitation, evaluation and, of course, collaboration.

Collaborations are like any relationship: they take work. Having a framework helps to mitigate the blocks whilst keeping the passion alive.

If you would like help with your impact measurement and building a culture of monitoring, evaluation and learning in your organisation, please contact office@actionplanning.co.uk


Michelle Lawrence

Michelle Lawrence is the co-founder and Trustee of Belong, the Cohesion and Integration Network, a cross sector model she developed to bring together, support and share the ideas, projects, research, knowledge and skills of the organisations and individuals working in the field of cohesion. In 2012 she set up Link Up (UK) to help overcome misconceptions and discrimination. Initiatives look at belonging, identity and changing attitudes.

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