If you attended our 15-year anniversary celebration last year, you might know a fun fact about me: I’m an ice sculptor. As soon as I could wield a chainsaw, my dad, who has owned and operated Colorado Ice Sculptures for nearly 30 years, proudly brought me along to public ice sculpting demonstrations, competitions, and the cold, dark ice house to practice the trade. After years of apprenticeship I became a full-blown professional.
This past weekend I carved with the Colorado Ice Sculptures team at the Cripple Creek Ice Festival. It was my fourth year participating in the event that brings professional ice sculptors from around Colorado together to create massive sculptures out of 500 blocks of ice, weighing in at 350 pounds each. Aside from being amazed and humbled by the beautiful creations—this year’s theme, Mythological Wonderland, inspired sculptures of fire-breathing horses, chariots, and a slew of Greek gods—this year I was struck by the spirit of collaboration and collegiality among the carvers.
The rest of the year, these carvers are fierce competitors in a tight business market struggling to support six major companies and a number of individual carvers. Each year the Cripple Creek Ice Festival allows Colorado’s sculptors to cast their business interests aside and come together to create an icy marvel of epic proportions—not for a competition, but rather for the pleasure of the work. On Saturday, I was reflecting on the uniqueness of this event with an internationally renowned ice sculptor who was invited to the event to carve on a local team. I asked him if he had ever been to another event with such a collegial atmosphere and no winner or losers. He assured me he hadn’t and was moved by the experience.
I can’t help but draw parallels between this unexpected lesson in collaboration and my current work establishing the Colorado Network of Health Alliances. I’ve written at length about this exciting work, which aims to increase collaboration and collegiality among community health alliances across the state. On a local level, each of these alliances has a similar aim to build collaboration between local health care leaders and organizations. And with good reason: collaboration between organizations—sometimes with competing interests and markets—and across sectors has been touted as an important strategy in creating large-scale social change.
Sometimes collaboration happens in a happenstance way, as with my ice sculpting peers in Cripple Creek, but in my experience, collaboration is a serious endeavor that takes planning, commitment, and hard-earned trust. After poring through a plethora of literature and drawing on our long history of working in communities, we’ve come up with seven best practices around successful community collaboration:
- Compiling a team of leaders from many sectors who have the power to make change
- Developing both a shared purpose and a vision for change
- Establishing shared understanding (based on data) of a problem and the context of that problem
- Adopting an opportunistic and patient approach toward solutions
- Maintaining optimism and a commitment to social justice
- The presence of a backbone organization to coordinate efforts
- Agreeing on shared measurement and evaluation
In working with the various health alliances across the state, I can proudly say that each can serve as a model of collaboration for others to learn from. We’ll continue to highlight the great work of these groups and search high and low for others to invite into our statewide network. We’ll also strive to provide the best insights into how to collaborate successfully by drawing from our experience in communities across the state—including from unlikely sources like Colorado ice sculptors.