The vision for LeaderResources was to create a collaborative resource development system that would encourage individuals but especially groups to develop and share resources with each other. The concept of “learning communities” would be integral to these resources—they would be “evolutionary resources,” constantly changing as they were improved by users. In order to accomplish this, the resources would be distributed electronically and users would be given permission to adapt the materials to fit their situation.
The business model was to begin as a for-profit company that was entirely funded by sales (no grants or corporate support) to demonstrate that is was possible to create a resource development system that was self-sustaining. The expectation was that for-profit status would also form a corporate culture that was customer-focused, responsive to the needs of the church and a staff dedicated to good stewardship of time and resources—which they had to be or they’d go broke! Once that business model was proven and the culture established, the goal was to convert it to a nonprofit organization to serve the church.
This vision is now a reality. LeaderResources has refined the system of developing and distributing “evolutionary resources.” Evolutionary resources are developed by a specific congregation or diocese and are then offered to others who add materials, revise sections, etc. These additions/revisions are incorporated into the resource which is what new users receive. This is a process of continuous resource development that incorporate the principles of learning communities. A key component of this process is the distribution of resources as downloadable files which generally gives users both a PDF (print-only) file and a word processing file they can use to make adaptations for local use.
LeaderResources has moved from just licensing these materials individually to congregations and dioceses to offering membership programs that emphasize the “belonging” and participation
aspect. The goal is to create a church-wide resource development process based in local learning communities that will ultimately offer the best of what the church can create.
This same philosophy underlies the consulting services and events provided by LeaderResources. Unlike most consultants, we do not present ourselves as “experts” who know something while the participants know little or nothing. Rather we value the knowledge, gifts and experience that everyone brings to an event. Our role is to share what we know, use the skills we have, encourage others to do the same and to facilitate a process whereby the collective group can learn from us and from each other.
Another crucial principle underlying both resources and consulting is collaboration. This principle is inherent in the concept of learning communities.” Many people do not understand what constitutes true collaboration. Individuals and groups often are willing to cooperate—and that is often the first step towards collaboration. But there is a difference between cooperation and and collaboration.
In cooperation, the parties agree to work together for mutual benefit. However, the system remains stable -- the money and the power each party holds remain stable. If you have parties that have disparate power or money at the beginning of a cooperative venture,they will end up with the same proportion of power and money at the end. All parties may benefit, but they tend to benefit in proportion to what they brought to the table.
In collaboration the focus is on the good of the whole or on a good that is greater than the whole. In our case, the focus would be on the good of the church. Collaborative parties each bring something to the table but the power and benefits are not apportioned according to what the parties bring. Because the focus is on a greater good, everyone puts all that they have on the table and everyone works together to achieve that greater good—even it that means that one of the parties loses power or money and another gains power or money disproportionately to what they originally brought. True collaboration assumes that everyone has gifts to give to the effort and everyone will benefit, but at the end, the primary beneficiaries will not necessarily be those who sit at the table.
Cooperation is relatively neat. It still fits into the standard hierarchal systems with neat boxes, clear lines of responsibility, accountability and ownership. Collaboration is messy. The boundaries are fuzzy. The power shifts—constantly. Responsibility, accountability and ownership are all shared and, in the end, ownership is given away. The process is
very disconcerting for those accustomed to working in stable systems. It is, however, the way we must work in the church if we are to incorporate the gospel into our lives. Jesus empowered people. He gave away his power. He called people into being aware of their own gifts and the power they had to use them for the good of others. He held people accountable for who they were and what they did with their gifts and their lives.
LeaderResources is a leader in fostering collaborative relationships. This can be extremely difficult with individuals, groups and agencies unaccustomed to sharing power or risking any loss. In order for us to create a systems change in the church, we have to stay the course and model collaboration in all that we do. This means that:
- Our author contracts specify that others can and will contribute to a program and that their work will be changed by others
- We encourage everyone who hires us as consultants to help them develop a resource to share that resource with the larger church—usually, but not always, through LeaderResources
- When we establish relationships with other agencies or groups, we constantly strive to make those relationship collaborative. We understand that many relationship begin as cooperative partnerships that can only gradually grow into true collaboration. Our role is to be aware of the dynamics and constantly raise the issues and ideas that foster collaboration. When we become aware that a partner is using the relationship in a noncollaborative manner (i.e., to take advantage of us or some other group), we discuss that openly and attempt to negotiate a resolution. Failing that, we withdraw from the relationship.
- We seek to incorporate these principles into our life and work (see Guiding Operating Principles below)
- We are aware that the existing system is designed for competition, even to the point of destroying the other. We know that most groups are totally unaware of this and unaware of their participation in this system. We understand that the system and the people in it will do all in their power to undermine or subvert collaborative efforts.
- We believe that the best way to change a system is by nudging it in an arena that is not necessarily directly related to the subject at hand. We also know that whatever you pay attention to in a system grows. Therefore, we pay attention to those projects, partnerships and processes that are truly collaborative, that foster learning communities and that are aligned with our operating principles. We believe that doing so will have a greater impact on the system than trying to convince people directly.
- Towards this end, we seek to build these values and principles into every resource we produce, into the resource development and distribution process, into how we function as a staff and how we live as individuals. We believe that the process is as important, and often more important than the content. So, we edit resources with the goal of incorporating a collaborative, learning community process into each one. We design our consultations and events to do the same.