Lois Chan-Pedley: Collaboration—what it means to me and to the Greens

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      By Lois Chan-Pedley

      Nearly all the candidates in this election are describing themselves as "collaborative". I'm one of them. I want to write a bit about what that means to me, and what it would look like in reality.

      First, let's lay a bit of groundwork. There are five main strategies of working together, and each of them can be legitimate in different scenarios: competition, avoidance, accommodation, compromise, and collaboration. Competition is the typical I-win-you-lose, I'm-right-you're-wrong approach. Avoidance is dancing around the topic without addressing it. Accommodation is doing everything the other person says: you-win-I-lose. Compromise and collaboration are similar: there is an understanding of some give and take that takes place. The main difference is that in a compromising relationship, you may be expected to give up some of your values in order to come to an agreement. Collaboration is where the needs and values of everyone are brought to the table, with clarity and honesty, and solutions are discussed with all the needs and values in mind.

      Until I began my run for office with the Greens, the most extensive experience I had with collaboration came as a result of my struggle to stay in Vancouver. When my family faced the impossible choice between leaving the city we love and having a home with enough space to raise our children, we had to do a lot of research to find a solution that worked for us: cohousing. When we first came across the term, we weren’t sure what to make of it or even how it would work.

      Now, 2.5 years later, we own a piece of land with 24 other families, from across generations and backgrounds. Each household shares equal risks and liabilities and we are all collaborating to design and build both the physical building and our community. Every decision made by the cohousing community is, incredibly, done by consensus.

      My experience with my fellow Green school-board candidates has been nothing short of inspiring. With every platform decision we focused on the best interests of students. My running mates Estrellita Gonzalez and Janet Fraser have taken great strides as incumbents to make the school board a more collaborative place in order to better serve the needs of students and support local communities. In fact, Greens at all levels of government and all around the world have been exemplars of collaboration.

      Make no mistake: the collaborative process is not, and has not been, an easy one. There are constraints and there are obstacles. Collaboration is often messy, with lots of people talking about conflicting needs and wants. It's often time-consuming and emotionally draining, because people bring diverse needs and wants to the table that we all want to balance. It can take a lot of energy to be honest and vulnerable, and it can take a lot to hold judgment at bay and listen.

      So why commit to collaboration when there are easier options? Because the way we have been doing things hasn’t been working. The competition model, while easier, is not designed to address a wide range of needs. The collaborative approach is the best I have come across and the one that most often brings about a more well-rounded, better-thought-out solution that works for more people.

      If you've met me before, you'll note I'm usually very quiet. I tend to use my energy for listening, speaking up only if I think a particular viewpoint is missing. I ask questions to clarify facts and try to discern what's important to the other parties. When I do speak, I do so to assert and state my values, my ideas, and my assumptions.

      I work very hard to honour the values and needs of others as much as my own—what I value isn't the only thing that matters. I work very hard to dispose of the notion that my solution is the only solution, or even that there exists one single correct solution at all. I say I work very hard because it's hard work and I don't always get it right. We're not brought up to know this, and for sure I'll make mistakes, but here I lay down my intentions anyway.

      Intention is probably the biggest piece. For truly effective collaboration, it helps if all parties arrive with the intention to collaborate. That being said, sometimes all it takes is for one party to enter with the intention to collaborate and set the tone. Never underestimate the power of one person's intention.

      Lois Chan-Pedley is running for election to the school board with the Green Party of Vancouver.

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