Finding a common language

What we're readingSeveral recent research reports in the access to justice sector highlight the need for collaboration between organizations that have different but equally valuable expertise – for example, legal service providers and community agencies. Community legal clinics in Ontario are long familiar with this need, as they’ve been working with their local community partners for many years to expand their public legal education and information (PLE) reach to vulnerable communities.

However, a recent – and thought-provoking – article by Kate Marple of the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (U.S.) highlights one major challenge to this type of collaboration: identifying and articulating need and mission in a mutually understandable fashion. As she states, “this can be difficult when the language that industries and organizations use to describe their work makes similarities opaque.”

Her article, based on her experience helping health care providers and legal service providers work together, suggests ways to overcome “language barriers” between different sectors. Some key points:

  • Abandon the what for the why. When establishing intersectoral partnerships, focusing on what each organization does and how they do it tends to highlight differences. Instead, it’s a good idea to focus on shared goals such as providing or restoring dignity to vulnerable communities and people. This will help highlight common grounds and make decision making and partnering easier.
  • Figure out how your work serves their mission statement. Put yourself in the shoes of your potential partner and explain to them how your work will help fulfill their organizational goals and promote their values. In addition to promoting buy-in from new funders or partners, this shift in thinking might lead you to think more creatively about your own work and goals.

For more information, check out CLEO’s Connecting Communities tip sheet on setting up successful PLE partnerships.

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