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Are Shared Goals Enough to Make Collaboration Work?

This summer, I had the privilege of attending the U.S. Health and Human Services Teen Pregnancy Prevention Grantee Conference. The conference was attended by people from all fifty states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Marshall Islands. Conference attendees belong to organizations and departments that receive funding to address unintended adolescent pregnancy from three federal agencies: Administration on Children and Families, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. I went with my colleagues on the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative  to present on behalf of our work on the initiative.

Ashley Nelson

From left: Ashley Nelson (CWEALF), Lorena Morgan (Planned Parenthood), Carmen Chaparro & Denese Smith (Youth Leadership Team- Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative) attended the 2016 “Connecting the Dots: Collaborating to Achieve Lasting Impacts for Youth” conference in Baltimore, Maryland to connect with adolescent health colleagues from across the country and present their work. 

The conference theme this year was collaboration. And many of the discussions that I participated in and witnessed covered issues and strengths concerning collaboration that we commonly encounter in the social service field. Often, whether we want to (or don’t want to) social service agencies work on collaboratives. The reasons for collaboration are diverse. Sometimes agencies are short resourced or can’t do the job alone. Sometimes we really want to help with an issue that isn’t part of our past work or expertise. And sometimes, we are persuaded (kicking and screaming) to collaborate by funders, donors, or constituents. And although we are motivated to collaborate due to the potential benefits and good work that comes of it, we also can experience its challenges.

One challenge in particular that I’d like to talk about is differences in beliefs. Unintended pregnancy (i.e., sexual health education and services) is a fairly hot button topic with many possible approaches. Passionate debates may include: Who should be responsible for educating young people about reproductive health? Is abstinence-only education ineffective? Does giving out condoms promote sexual activity?

As part of the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, I collaborate with diverse partners that have different perspectives and beliefs about these issues. And I have the privilege of working with individuals and agencies whose beliefs may not sync up with everything that my agency nor I believe. But we work together with the shared ultimate goal of improving the lives of young people in Hartford. This approach has been successful. Between 2010 and 2014, the adolescent birth rate decreased by 40%.

But at the risk of being incendiary, I want to pose a philosophical question that some of us in social services (and especially social justice) have wondered: If partners have very different beliefs and philosophies about approach (i.e., what should be done), is a shared goal enough to make a collaboration work? If it isn’t, what else is needed to make the collaboration work?

I’m not going to give an answer to this question! Instead I’d like for you to leave your own opinion in the comments below. What do you think?

By Ashley Nelson, Research & Technology Analyst at 9 Aug 2016, 13:08 PM



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