Lessons in alliance building: US politics, climate change and #equalmarriage

Ever since the Foreign Office published in 2009 the first international report on what makes for effective collaboration, especially cross-sector collaboration, I have been tracking examples of what I call “value-based” or “values-based” collaboration. The former is what efficiently managed collaboration can produce, the added value that emerges from collaboration which is focused and inclusive. The latter is specifically collaboration that draws on alignment of shared values. Shared commitment shapes behaviour, which in turn gets results.

When I was at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, one of our top priorites was driving climate change and energy security to the top of government agendas. This required building alliances, both from the top-down and the ground-up, especially in engaging different stakeholders.

A good example is the growing climate change consensus achieved in US between 2006 and 2008 when environmentalists and evangelical Christians made common cause on custodianship of the planet. These two groups were closely aligned at least on one unifying meme, “custodianship of the planet”, a phrase that resonated with their distinct constituencies. Language can, and does, make a difference when it rings true to values that are deeply held.

An excellent example now is gay marriage. The Daily Telegraph article captures how and why collaboration between different ends of the political spectrum has worked, in this case appealing to a shared agenda on civil rights and human rights.

What the article does not mention is that such collaboration requires leaders to manage not just what different parties have in common, but also to put to one side differences or work through them. But they must actively manage difference to deliver on what matters most. And this in turn requires that shift in maturity in political debate from what the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein described as the paranoid and depressive positions. “Paranoid” sees the world in black and white, things are entirely good or entirely bad. “Depressive” sees that good and bad are in the same person or situation.

Life throws up synchronity and chance, depending on your philosophy of it. I saw an opportunity to tweet about the seemingly disconnected celebrations in the UK on Saturday 29th June: Armed Forces Day and Pride in London. What do the two have in common? Freedom is worth defending.


“The Enabling State: Collaborating for Success” full version:


Abridged version:


And can be accessed from:

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