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Collaborative Community Development: A Primer for Companies

Use this primer to drive sustainability in communities where your firm operates.

How Companies Can Support Their Regions Through Collaborative Community Development

This report presents a new model of community relations: collaborative community development. It draws on two Chilean case studies: Calama Plus and Creo Antofagasta.

Each case is a long-term effort currently unfolding, and already offering important lessons for community relations professionals, public affairs managers, and CEOs.

For additional details, including full case studies, see the full report.

Collaborative community development has three main characteristics:

  • collaborative governance, which engages diverse stakeholders in project definition, development, and management;

  • many companies, including competitors, working together; and

  • a long-term focus on a territory, rather than short-term focus on individual stakeholders.

This approach allows companies to build long term relationships with the community by creating shared value and sustainable development in a territory. The approach results in a favourable atmosphere for business, because a more sustainable and developed area attracts investment and human capital. Companies become better positioned by being more tightly linked to the area’s future. The collaborative effort results in shared responsibility for achieving the desired outcome and provides synergies.

Who Should Use this Approach

Collaborative community development is particularly appropriate for companies that:

  • have high social and environmental impacts

  • operate in communities with significant development needs, whether urban or rural

  • share the territory with other companies, especially if they also have social and environmental impacts, causing cumulative impacts

Understanding Collaborative Community Development

In collaborative community development, companies work with government and citizens to define, develop, and jointly implement long-term benefits for a territory as a whole.
Central to this approach are:

  • high-level governance that establishes how decisions will be taken and by whom. The governing body acts as a board. It is usually composed of representatives from government, the private sector, and the community.

  • a collaborative intermediary organization (CIO). The CIO is a team that provides day-to-day management of the collaborative initiative and project portfolio. The CIO executes governance directives, coordinates across different actors, leads initiative design, manages projects, and supports citizen participation.


Figure 1. The Collaborative Intermediary Organization’s Coordination Role


Collaborative community development differs from other forms of corporate community relations along key dimensions; Table 1 describes these differences.


Table 1. Collaborative Community Development Vs. Traditional Community Relations


Implementing Collaborative Community Development

Collaborative community development isn’t easy. A company enters a long, complex process in which it develops agreements with the government, citizens, and other companies in order to create projects with a large scope. Here are eight core steps for implementing this approach.

Step 1. Viability assessment:
Here, the company taking leadership assesses whether enough companies are interested in collaborative community development in the territory to form a consortium, and whether the local government is willing to be involved.

Step 2. Business and government engagement:
The leading company must gain formal commitment from government and other companies

Step 3. Governance design:
Once committed, companies and government, sometimes with citizen representatives, must clarify the initiative’s objectives and establish its governance design.

Step 4. Establishment of baseline:
The collaborative intermediary organization (CIO) must collect information on the existing local development plans for the territory. Aligning the collaborative community development effort with local development plans provides coherence and increases the likelihood of success.

Step 5. Territory assessment and visioning:
The CIO must lead a participatory assessment of the territory’s development needs, working with citizens and government to define a vision of the territory and identify possible actions to attain it.

Step 6. Refinement of project portfolio:
Once possible actions are identified, the project portfolio is refined through an iterative process between citizens, government, and companies. Experts also play an important role. They may be included in the multidisciplinary team of the CIO and in technical committees.

Step 7. Social approval:
All involved must assess the final portfolio of projects and approve or prioritize them; this involvement provides legitimacy to the process.

Step 8. Implementation:
Project implementation takes time. Planned communication and intermediate initiatives can give the overall project continuity and presence.

About this Research

This research was inspired by the Leadership Council of the Network for Business Sustainability Chile (CBS). NBS Chile is Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) hub for Latin America. The report is an extension of larger empirical research authored by Dr. Verónica Devenin, at the University Adolfo Ibañez (Chile), with guidance from members of the CBS Leadership Council.


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