By Nate Birt

How Public-Private Partnership Drives Smarter Conservation Ag Delivery

February 1, 2021

How can you transition your public-private partnership from “nice people working together to help farmers and shared ecosystems” to “nice people helping farmers and ecosystems while learning together and driving measurable impact that improves the world?”

It’s a tall order, and one my colleagues and I have been exploring as organizers of a public-private partnership called America’s Conservation Ag Movement (ACAM).

Our partnership – which includes farmer associations, conservation nonprofits, agribusinesses and food companies and with support from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)—has undertaken a novel approach to rapid, continuous learning. And we’re applying those lessons daily to our work. Here are five insights I’ve had on the path to generating a learning engine that better serves farmers with conservation.

1. Listen at least twice as much as you speak—to both your partners and people within your organization.

Public-private partnerships provide a tremendous opportunity for caring, committed people from all walks of life. They also present the chance to learn more about colleagues within your organization.

I have a bias for reading, so I’ve turned to books, such as “Questions Are The Answer” and “Crucial Conversations,” to strengthen my professional ability to probe deeper and navigate relationships.

2. Embrace feedback as a gift.

The more you ask questions and listen, the more likely you are to learn about how your partners view the world and the factors impacting your program. Some of this feedback might delight you while other insights might surprise you.

Trust In Food’s Executive Vice President Amy Skoczlas Cole offers this helpful perspective: “Treat feedback as the gift that it is.” Negative feedback creates space for learning and improvement. Positive feedback provides energy and motivation to keep going.

3. Anticipate the unknown unknowns.

Public-private partnerships are fundamentally a product of people working together. Recognize at every phase of work that programs transpire in unexpected ways, and that’s OK.

Yes, there are terms and conditions we must follow closely. Good financial stewardship and time management are imperative. Yet, you should also build in flexibility and an open mind to be able to pivot when needed.

4. Celebrate the wins.

Part of learning is memorializing the successes we’ve had, so we can pursue more positive outcomes. Keep a journal or a planner. These written reminders are evidence of forward progress.

5. Embed feedback loops into your work.

Consider automating the process of soliciting regular input about how your partnership is faring—from both partners and the people you are serving out in the field. Schedule an alert on your calendar to pick up the phone and call a partner or a farmer. Build a quick Google Form to survey your partners about the next leg of your program.

Few of those lessons likely surprised you, but revisiting programmatic building blocks can be both grounding and provide a framework for the creative solutions that sprout from the soil of partnership.

See the full, original version of this post from our friends at North Central Region Water Network: https://northcentralwater.org/transforming-public-private-partnerships-into-learning-engines/

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