Case study authors Wendy Yallowitz (RWJF) and Andrew Wolk (Root Cause) offer a behind-the-scenes look at collaborative learning in an interview on Glass Pockets' "Transparency Talk" blog.
In 2009, grantee More Than Wheels engaged in a merger conversation with Ways to Work as a potential path to growing both organizations. Both organizations use the opportunity to purchase an affordable, fuel-efficient car as a mechanism to put low-income families on the path to greater financial stability, health, and well-being. They also were both seeking the right strategy to increase their reach and impact, and grow their models to scale.
Frequently, merger explorations surface significant challenges that lead one or both parties to conclude that merging is not a feasible or desirable outcome. It turned out that this case was no different. The ultimate decision not to merge, however, proved to be the jumping-off point for both organizations to engage in a rich series of discussions and information exchange that may have proved more valuable to their long-term growth and sustainability.
Root Cause and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation prepared a case study to analyze the experience of More Than Wheels and Ways to Work and provide a framework for collaborative learning, an alternative to merger negotiations based on the learning of the two organizations. Collaborative learning is a structured, facilitated learning process with a degree of depth that is similar to merger conversations. Through exchanges guided by a skilled third party, nonprofits learn about strategies and programs that could otherwise take years to discover on their own. They apply this knowledge to strengthen their own organizations without necessarily following through with a merger.
As was the case for More Than Wheels and Ways to Work, this form of learning can have a substantial impact on an organization’s ability to learn faster and grow smarter.