In a recent blog, a professional in a national management consulting firm that works with nonprofits, foundations and other groups waxed positive about attending a recent event and “learning from four really smart and experienced people” about the virtues of “cohort capacity building” – “working toward a shared goal with a group of nonprofits that share some set of characteristics, such as size, geographic location, or programmatic focus.”
These smart people pointed out that, among other things, the cohort approach is often more cost effective than other modalities, such as one-on-one consulting, and that perhaps we need to take the “technical” out of technical assistance and focus more on “well-conceived, well-facilitated forums for people to actually sit and talk to each other.”
Well, duh. SLHI has been promoting that approach for the past 14 years with our Technical Assistance Partnership, or TAP. Teams (cohorts, groups, partners, collaborators, call them what you like) of three to ten nonprofits (and occasionally government and business organizations), are matched up with consultants (facilitators, guides, resource people, experts, depending on the situation), and people “get better together.” There is even a network – a cohort! – of some 200 consultants working in the nonprofit arena who meet both virtually and in real time to share experiences and skills, and learn from each other.
It’s not rocket science, it’s not new, and it wasn’t invented in Washington, D.C. by national nonprofits and consulting firms. It’s been going on in grassroots community development in America since roughly the beginning of the 18th Century. It works.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.