A case study of collaboration, network weaving, social capital and the power of a partnership culture

Sustainabiilty Study Blackstone River Valley National Heritage CorridorBefore network weaving and social capital became the buzz words, the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor was quietly inventing collaboration and community building on a bi-state scale in their small corner of New England.

I wanted to unearth the case study about the Corridor as I believe that nonprofits and their funding partners can learn a lot from their story.

The John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley Heritage Corridor spans 24 cities and towns in Connecticut and Massachusetts. It is the cradle of the industrial revolution in America, the story of the technological and economic shift from field to factory and the subsequent impact on the valleys social, cultural, and environmental landscape.

Without getting into all the details of the enabling legislation, national heritage areas were meant to act kind of like a national park but without actually being a national park. They are truly collaborative efforts, bringing together government at all levels (municipal, state, federal, agency staff, elected officials), businesses, nonprofit organizations and citizen volunteers to achieve preservation, cultural heritage, stewardship, recreational, environmental and community planning goals.

Over the last ten years I’ve had the privilege to facilitate a number of community engagement sessions and staff planning retreats with the Corridor. But what I wanted to point your attention to is the sustainability case study of the Corridor and its network that was a partnership itself (and on which I was privileged to serve as a member) under the auspices of the Conservation Study Institute.

The report is entitled Reflecting on the Past, Looking to the Future. While it was written specifically to provide guidance on the Corridor’s future, it contains real knowledge gems for any partnership or organization wishing to understand the power of collaborative networks.

Some of the findings:

– the importance of having a central network hub to carry forward the vision, provide technical assistance and guidance and to focus on building the strength of the network

– the importance of time to allow partnerships and projects to mature

– the need to build partner and network capacity

– the power of a shared story to carry forward the vision and unite the partners

– the power of an asset-based approach

– the need for adequate and sustaining funding

I apologize that the report is long, but its chock full of great stuff. If you are time strapped, jump ahead to Chapter 6 to whet your appetite and then work your way forward and back. It’s well worth your time.


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