ENGAGE AND ALIGN ORGANIZATIONS WITHIN A NETWORK: “The Partnership brings individuals and organizations together to achieve a shared goal. Otherwise, they tend to become wrapped up within their own worlds and rarely venture beyond their boundaries,” stated Derek Richmond, a Founding Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability

Note to Reader:

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia is the secretariat for the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative (IREI) As such, the Partnership is the hub for a convening for action network in the local government setting. The IREI is a demonstration application of what “collaborative leadership” looks like in practice.

Collaborative leadership uses the power of influence rather than positional authority to engage and align individuals and organizations within a network, and deliver results across organizational boundaries. Success depends on creating an environment of trust, mutual respect, and shared aspiration in which all the players can contribute to achieving collective goals.

The edition of Waterbucket eNews published on June 1, 2021 provided a window into the world of The Partnership as the hub for the IREI network. 

Download a PDF copy of Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Power of Collaborative Leadership


on Engaging and Aligning Organizations Within a Network

“My colleagues and I are often asked who and what is the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia? The answer is in plain sight on the waterbucket.ca website. Still, the 2-part conversation that follows between two founding members – Mike Tanner and Derek Richmond – sheds light on the philosophy that guides the Partnership’s mission-centric leadership team,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“In November 2016, the new Societies Act came into effect in British Columbia. It provided clarity regarding types of societies. This clarity helped “The Partnership” define its identity as a not-for-profit entity. The Partnership is not, and cannot be, a member-funded society. Directors are the only formal ‘members’ and are the only ones to have voting rights.”

Put the Mission at the Centre of the Operation

“We are not building a conventional organization. Rather, we are growing a collaborative network. The difference in visions is fundamental. The network is the ultimate source of strength of The Partnership because the network holds the key to intergenerational collaboration. It is how we build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. In this way, the network is a foundation piece for succession planning.”

“The mission of The Partnership involves bringing the right people together in constructive ways with good information, such that they are in a better position to create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the concerns of community. As the secretariat for the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative (IREI), The Partnership is the hub for a convening for action network in the local government setting.”

The Power of a Network – quotable quote provides context for The Partnership vision for collaborative leadership

“By mobilizing vast external resources, networked nonprofits can focus on their own expertise. At the same time, these external resources enhance the value and influence of each organization’s expertise. They help each network partner respond to local needs and become self-sustaining. And they allow networked nonprofits to develop holistic solutions at the scale of the problems they seek to address.” – Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano, Harvard School of Business, 2008


A Conversation between Mike Tanner and Derek Richmond

During his time at BC Hydro Power Smart, Mike Tanner provided direction to a team of managers and professional staff engaged in delivering complex, multi-technology products and services. At Power Smart, he was an early adopter of the benefits of both energy and water conservation and, the possibilities of “Watergy”. A founding member of the Partnership, he is well known for his leadership and vision as Chair of the waterbucket.ca website. In 2004, seed funding from BC Hydro was foundational. It allowed Mike to coalesce funders under the banner of the Waterbucket,ca Website Partnership.

Derek Richmond had long career in government, first with Alberta Environment and latterly on Vancouver Island with the cities of Campbell River and Courtenay. At Alberta Environment, he  had responsibility for province-wide maintenance and operation of water resource projects. A founding member of the Partnership, Derek is known best for his leadership as Chair, CAVI-Convening for Action on Vancouver Island, from 2011 thru 2016. After the global financial meltdown changed everything in 2008, Derek stepped up to make the Comox Valley a hotspot of Partnership success on the Island.


DOING BUSINESS DIFFERENTLY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: Engage and Align Organizations Within a Network

DEREK RICHMOND: “Mike, in a sentence or two, how would you describe the Partnership for Water Sustainability so that readers will have a sense of who the Partnership is and what it represents?

MIKE TANNER: “The Partnership is incorporated as a non-for-profit society and therefore is a legal entity, yet operationally it functions as a network rather than as an organization in any conventional sense. The work of The Partnership is guided by a network way-of-thinking that reflects our genesis as a water-centric technical committee in the 1990s. Now over to you, Derek, to explain how the Partnership came to be.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “In the pre-society era of The Partnership, we were primarily an inter-governmental committee. We brought together representatives of many organizations who then worked collaboratively for the greater good in delivering the Convening for Action in British Columbia initiative. We did this work under the umbrella of the Water Sustainability Action Plan.”



Collaborative leadership is a foundation piece for achieving the mission of the Partnership 

MIKE TANNER: “When the moment of truth came in 2010 to incorporate the convening for action network of collaborating organizations as “The Partnership”, the Founding Members made a conscious decision to continue our evolution as a network rather than build an organization with all the obligations that entails.”

“We had no intention of falling into the trap where the focus is on fundraising in order to pay the salaries of staff. Rather, we recognized that to be successful in facilitating changes in practice over the long-term, the groundwork had to be done by our partners.  This means that the work of The Partnership must be aligned with and support their organizational objectives.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “Building on Mike’s reference to alignment, this means that The Partnership has a facilitating role. We bring people and organizations together to achieve a shared goal. Our mantra is ‘develop tools, develop talent, and focus on outcomes’.”

“We learned very early in our evolution that it takes a third party to bring people together. Otherwise, they tend to become wrapped up within their own worlds and rarely venture beyond their boundaries.”

MIKE TANNER: “Derek, I believe it would help inform others if you and I take a moment to reflect on the story of how The Partnership got its start. In the early 2000s, as you will recall, the provincial government and Real Estate Foundation agreed to be bold and co-fund Tim Pringle’s idea for implementing collaborative leadership, also known as convening for action.”

“At the time, Tim Pringle was the Executive Director of the Real Estate Foundation. Tim had a vision and this vision aligned with the philosophical think pieces that the late Erik Karlsen (1945-2020) had crafted to guide the process for development of the Water Sustainability Action Plan. Erik Karlsen was The Partnership’s ‘eminence grise’,”

“As a funder, Tim was in a position was to put his ideas into action. Long story short, two provincial government Ministries matched the multi-year funding commitment by the Real Estate Foundation. This gave us the time and flexibility to make things happen.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “That is right, Mike, we had the time and space to learn by doing. A lot of it was intuitive. We tapped into universal principles. We learned through experience. One of our big take-aways was the power of peer-based learning. And that only happens when you bring people together. Especially when it is the right people in the right place at the right time.”

“When leadership is shared among members, rather than turning to one specific leader to guide and be the expert, it is known as collaborative leadership. This involves bringing the right people together in constructive ways with good information, such that they create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of their organizations and community.”

“Collaborative leadership is a foundation piece for the Water Sustainability Action Plan and the success of the The Partnership.”

MIKE TANNER: “Collaborative leadership combined with the network way-of-doing business has allowed The Partnership to be lean and nimble. We have a long history. We have built on the many successes that we achieved during the period 1992 through 2010.”

“By placing the emphasis on growing a network rather than building an organization, it means that The Partnership is that much more effective and adaptable in helping others be successful in achieving a shared goal. When our partners and collaborators are successful, The Partnership is successful.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “We define success in terms of how our partners incrementally make progress in achieving the vision for Living Water Smart in British Columbia. By that, we mean reconnect people, land, water and fish in altered landscapes! Bringing this vision to fruition requires an inter-generational commitment.”

“The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. The role of elders is therefore a lynch-pin for inter-generational collaboration.”



Research into the characteristics that the Partnership shares with “Networked Nonprofits”

DEREK RICHMOND: “When we look back at our journey, it is striking how much of what the Partnership leadership team has done has been intuitive. And when we have been contacted by people from outside British Columbia, they have told us that our ‘Made in BC’ approach to collaborative action is unique. Mike, what have you learned from your research of the published literature to find comparable precedents?”

MIKE TANNER: “Within British Columbia, and certainly within the local government setting, The Partnership has a unique modus operandi in terms of our partnership network reason for being. So, we wondered, how unique are we? With this thought in mind, I embarked on a search of the published literature to look for other precedents.”

“In the process, I learned that the Harvard Business School has been looking at this question of network versus organizational success for a long period of time.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “Now you have the attention of our readers! Please, tell us more.”

MIKE TANNER: “Derek, I learned that professors Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano are co-authors of the groundbreaking 2008 Stanford Social Innovation Review article titled The Networked Nonprofit.”

Their research is validation of what The Partnership has accomplished intuitively. Their findings explain why an organization such as The Partnership is far more effective than conventional entities.”

“The authors note that management wisdom says that nonprofits must be large and in charge to do the most good. But they report that some of the world’s most successful organizations instead stay small, sharing their load with like-minded, long-term partners.”

“The authors conclude that the success of networked nonprofits suggests that organizations should focus less on growing themselves and more on cultivating their networks.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “Mike, it seems to me that the focus of Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano is on non-government organizations – that is, NGOs. The Partnership is a hybrid. As a society, we fit the definition of an NGO. Yet our world is government. How would you reconcile the distinction?”

MIKE TANNER: “You are correct. The focus of Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano is on NGOs. And as you point out, The Partnership is unique because our main focus as a facilitator is on growing and evolving a network that is government-based.”

”Government organizations, in particular local governments, can also be reasonably defined or described as nonprofits. From experience, then, we can draw the conclusion that the research findings for an NGO-based network apply equally well to The Partnership’s government-based network.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “Mike, when you reflect on what you have learned from your search of the literature, can we conclude that the research on networked nonprofits is still in its infancy? And furthermore, that The Partnership can be proud of our trail-blazing and what we have accomplished in the local government setting?

MIKE TANNER: “Yes and yes

DEREK RICHMOND: “Mike, let’s delve into the specifics of what you learned from the research by Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano. What stood out for you, and how does this apply to The Partnership?”

MIKE TANNER: “What is valuable about their research is that they identify the factors that help us to understand and thus explain why The Partnership has a history of being successful in collaborating with other organizations.”

SUCCESS FACTOR #1 – Mission, Not Organization

MIKE TANNER: ”First and foremost, we put our mission rather than our organization at the center of our operation. By sharing the pursuit of our mission with our network of partners, we forsake many conventional organizational benefits, such as control over program implementation, funding, and recognition. At the same time, however, we have far more impact than we could ever have on our own.”

“In an interview in 2016, Jane Wei-Skillern said that she and Sonia Marciano coined the term ‘networked nonprofit’ to describe a particular approach to collaboration, one that was oriented around social impact above all else, that emerged from the bottom up by community members in the field, as a way to address problems more effectively, rather than collaboration for collaboration’s sake.”

“She added that the networks were unique in that while they might have been catalyzed by a few instrumental actors initially, all participants worked in true partnership, as peers and equals to drive toward field level impact.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “Put the mission at the centre of the operation. That certainly describes how The Partnership views our purpose. What is the #2 success factor according to Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano.”

SUCCESS FACTOR #2 – Trust, Not Control

MIKE TANNER: “In a network, the parties would prefer to discuss issues and work through a problem to reach a solution. This leads to a second critical success factor identified by Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano. It is the principle of trust, not control.”
“There is a very high level of trust in a network because there is no formal partnership or documentation. It is just based on the trust aspect because the people involved know and respect each other.”

DEREK RICHMOND: “Trust and mutual respect. Both are absolutely foundational.”

MIKE TANNER: “The collaborators within a network share and help each other through what is called the ‘norm of reciprocity’. This requires that we repay in kind what another has done for us. An underlying norm of reciprocity is by itself a powerful engine for motivating, creating, sustaining, and regulating cooperative behavior. Simply put, everyone in the network is successful when others are successful. And that certainly is The Partnership’s guiding philosophy.”

SUCCESS FACTOR #3 – Node, Not a Hub

MIKE TANNER: “Networked nonprofits share a third trait, say Jane Wei-Skillern and Sonia Marciano. They see themselves as nodes within a constellation of equal, interconnected partners, rather than as hubs at the center of their nonprofit universes. Because of the unrestricted and frequent communication between their different nodes, networked nonprofits are better positioned to develop more holistic, coordinated, and realistic solutions to social issues than are traditional nonprofit hubs.”

“In practice, The Partnership is both a hub and a node. We are the hub for the Georgia Basin Inter-Regional Educational Initiative. Yet there are also nodes within the IREI. What is the correct way to visualize a constellation of relationships? Is spokes on a wheel the appropriate image? Or is it overlapping circles? Does it really matter?”

DEREK RICHMOND: “By virtue of our constitution pursuant to the Societies Act, the Partnership is primarily a tool for facilitation, rather than an organization for membership.”

“The Partnership purpose is to share, disseminate and coordinate information that helps others achieve their goals in accordance with the vision for Living Water Smart. To achieve this, our role is to build and maintain a hub or foundation, from which others can connect, build and expand thus enabling continued dissemination of information.”

“To be successful, the network needs other nodes, each with a contact or ‘ambassador’ to ensure the seamless exchange of information and ideas on a self-supporting, independent and free-flowing basis. Success in water sustainability is contingent upon collaboration; inter-municipal, inter-regional, and inter-provincial. This can only be achieved through working across boundaries.”

“The segue to success is through the ambassadors of the Partnership who are the bridges across the boundaries, connecting to other nodes.”

About the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC

Incorporation of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia as a not-for-profit society on November 19, 2010 was a milestone moment. Incorporation signified a bold leap forward. The Partnership evolved from a technical committee in the 1990s, to a “water roundtable” in the first decade of the 2000s, and then to a legal entity. The Partnership has its roots in government – local, provincial, federal.

The umbrella for Partnership initiatives and programs is the Water Sustainability Action Plan for British Columbia. In turn, the Action Plan is nested within Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan. Released in 2008, Living Water Smart was the provincial government’s call to action, and to this day transcends governments.

Conceptual Framework for Inter-Generational Collaboration

Technical knowledge alone is not enough to resolve water challenges facing BC. Making things happen in the real world requires an appreciation and understanding of human behaviour, combined with a knowledge of how decisions are made. It takes a career to figure this out.

The Partnership has a primary goal, to build bridges of understanding and pass the baton from the past to the present and future. To achieve the goal, the Partnership is growing a network in the local government setting. This network embraces collaborative leadership and inter-generational collaboration.

Application of Experience, Knowledge and Wisdom

The Partnership believes that when each generation is receptive to accepting the inter-generational baton and embracing the wisdom that goes with it, the decisions of successive generations will benefit from and build upon the experience of those who went before them.

The Partnership leadership team brings experience, knowledge, and wisdom – a forceful combination to help collaborators reach their vision, mission, and goals for achieving water sustainability. When they are successful, the Partnership is successful.

The Time Continuum graphic (above) conceptualizes the way of thinking that underpins the inter-generational mission of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.  Influence choices. Capitalize on the REACHABLE and TEACHABLE MOMENTS to influence choices.


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