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The Whittier Sewer Project: The Promise and Perils of Collaboration

By Ricardo S. Morse and John B. Stephens, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Summary

Cross-sector collaboration is inherently complex and difficult and sometimes today’s success story can be tomorrow’s controversy. This case involves a rural county government, regional water authority, sovereign Indian tribe, and church coming together to develop a sewer facility in order to address both a pressing need as well as provide opportunity that all stakeholders valued. The partnership involved putting significant “skin in the game” upfront and early on the project appeared successful as far as accomplishing the main objective was concerned. But as project implementation continued, some of the players changed, as well as the circumstances (including the onset of the Great Recession). Almost overnight the success story had turned into controversy and the stakeholders were faced with how to salvage both the partnership and the project. The case is presented along four broad phases of collaboration: assessment, initiation, deliberation, and implementation, highlighting the key questions collaborative leaders must face at each stage of the process. 

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