Cooperation and collaboration are key to creating social change, but are fiendishly difficult to achieve. Dealing with conflict, competition within the field, and power struggles are part of the process, no matter how noble the goals. Consistent messaging and a unified movement can seem unattainable if you have so many cooks stirring the pot that the outcome is more food fight than gourmet meal. As with any interesting recipe, it’s the combinations and the tension between ingredients that make the difference, provided you take the time to make the flavors meld together.
Think of the cause of drowning prevention as Boeuf à la Bourguignonne (beef stew in a burgundy wine sauce). Ruth Reichl’s recipe is my favorite. Several hour of prep work plus two days of marinating, culminating in 3 hours of slow cooking, and a fairly long list of ingredients. It’s not something you toss together, it requires planning and time, but it is worth the effort as each individual ingredient is transformed into something truly magnificent when blended together.
You start with all the diverse ingredients. (Organizations and individuals with common interests.) The ingredients can stand on their own, and be used in different recipes to different effect, but together they take on a new dimension and balance each other for an outcome that is subliminally divine. The main ingredient, the beef, is the issue (drowning). The beef on it’s own can be a bit tough, hard to swallow. You begin to add the supporting ingredients. The wine to tenderize the beef and add depth of flavor. (Positive behavior change.) A splash of cognac adds an edge to the smoothness of the of wine. (Emotions of victims and families of victims adds intensity and urgency to the theoretical.) The sweetness of the carrots offset the piquancy of the onion. (Academics work with the people developing and administering the programs to balance ideals with reality and to instill best practice into common practice.) Herbs and spices provide individual flavors that interact and meld the other ingredients. (Individual community programs to support the change.)
And then it marinates, while each individual ingredient adapts, absorbs, and begins to work with the other ingredients. This is the time when you continue to search for common ground and identify where there are conflicts of interest. At this point you may have to temporarily separate the components, not as individuals, but as groups, to develop strategies for sharing information, adjusting program approaches, and correcting any imbalance. In our recipe analogy, this is where the liquid is in one pot, the vegetables in another, the meat in another. There will be interventions to adjust the intensity of each ingredient or component. The beef is browned – you put your perceptions of the issue through the fire, take a harder and more realistic look at how the issue needs to be presented. The vegetables are cooked together to meld the flavors and create a more unified approach. The wine is boiled to remove the intoxicating effects and make it ready for wider public consumption. The spices are checked and re-balanced. And then you put the whole thing in a pot, add a totally new flavor, the bacon, (the marketing campaign) and let it cook. Slowly, over low heat, stirring occasionally. At the very end you add the sautéed mushrooms (social media) which absorb the flavors of all the ingredients while adding a different flavor and texture. Serve with boiled potatoes and crusty bread to best absorb the sauce (the strategic partnerships that are different but complimentary).
Serve and watch the joy unfold, because the the whole is always greater than the sum of it’s parts.