4 Back to identity

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Figure 4 Who am I?

In this discussion of inter-organisational collaboration, we have talked as if the interests and concerns of collaborating organisations are fixed. However, experience and history both tell us that this is not so – organisational identity shifts over time. Voluntary organisations which provide services for children and families provide an example of this.

Many voluntary children’s organisations began life as orphanages. As society has changed its thinking about childhood, welfare and poverty, these organisations have changed to deliver community services to families and support parents in taking care of their children. At the same time, many of these organisations separated from the faith, political and philosophical contexts in which they were established: they now reflect the more secular and multi-cultural nature of contemporary society. Some have entered into contractual relationships with public agencies, and this too impacts on their priorities and ultimately their identity.

As voluntary organisations change, they bring different values, priorities and interests into their collaborations with other organisations. So, the relationship between children’s voluntary organisations and local public agencies, for example, can be seen as a continually shifting dynamic relationship, in which the changing identities of each impact on the other. The interesting question is, then, how these changing identities impact on the endeavour to work collaboratively.

Activity 8 Changes in identity

Timing: (20 minutes)

Think about the voluntary organisation you work for (or one you know well). Can you see changes in its organisational identity in its recent past or longer history? How might those changes impact on that organisation’s collaboration with other organisations? Tell us in our discussion forum [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   about how you see the relationship between shifting identity and inter-organisational collaboration. 'Make sure you post your comments within the correct thread for this activity.


There are numerous reasons for changes in organisational identity. As indicated above, such changes can be understood as relating to changes in wider society, but they also relate to the ways in which the individuals involved in organisations interpret and respond to societal change. In other words, organisations and collaboration between organisations are continually re-made by people and by the processes through which people engage with one another. One way of understanding this continual re-making is to see it in terms of leadership practice.

Practice of the week: nurturing

We hope you have fun designing your collaboration garden, but there is a serious point to be made (honestly!). As you continue to collaborate on behalf of your own organisation with colleagues from organisations of different sizes, with different cultures, purposes, and values, we suggest you reflect on the following questions, but also allow these questions to impact on the way you contribute to the nurturing of collaboration:

  • Who is doing the nurturing? Is this a task for a specific individual (for example, a partnership manager), or are individuals from different collaborating organisations nurturing the collaboration.
  • Is anyone doing the pruning and weeding? It is all too easy to avoid tackling some of the difficulties in order to avoid confrontation. Why are some organisations pulling their weight more than others? Why do some never send a representative to the meetings? Who represents which organisation anyway? And when will we stop talking and get something done? These are some of the difficult pruning questions that we often avoid when working across organisational boundaries.
  • How is this nurturing impacted by the different organisations involved in the collaboration? Or is it simply a result of the energies and commitment of individuals?
  • How can I contribute to the nurturing of collaboration – both by tending and by pruning and weeding?

3.3 Leadership as the management of tensions