When your plans are big enough to require buy-in from multiple institutions in order to succeed, and they don't fit under the umbrella of existing consortia, it may be time to create a consortium of your own. It'll take some work to get institutions to join, even if you can make a good case. Here's some things to think about and plan for.
What are you doing?
You should be able to clearly articulate what your consortium is going to do and how it can benefit the institution. Ideally, prepare the message in advance in a couple different lengths-- for example, an "elevator speech", a paragraph, and a one-page write-up. If you have trouble explaining your consortium at any of those lengths, you might want to take another look at your plan and make it more specific.
Your task is more difficult if you're recruiting institutions to lead a development effort whose nature and scope depend on participating institutions' needs. In such a situation, there is a risk that a conversation about commitment might turn circular, as in an anecdote shared by Greg Jackson at Project Bamboo Workshop 2:
UChicago comptroller: "Here's things we need, and when we need them - can we get it?"
Kuali: "Well, this is a collaboration - what will come is product of collaboration. Yes, it'll happen if you persuade everyone."
UChicago comptroller: "I can't get into it unless I know."
Kuali: "Unless you're in, we can't guarantee anything."
Why are you doing it?
Chances are, you're not the first person to try a consortium or project like this. Research what else has been done, and come prepared to explain how you're different, particularly if the institution you're speaking with has contributed to similar projects or consortia before.
Why should they join?
What will your consortium do for the institution, and various groups within the institution? Your consortium might mean different things to scholars (opportunities to learn about technology from one's peers), librarians (less time spent training faculty), IT professionals (having faculty around who are interested in working on digital projects), and administration (less money spent on training, per person). Be prepared to describe the value of your consortium from any of those perspectives. Keep in mind, too, that the case made to scholars may need to vary depending on the kind of institution-- a compelling narrative for a professor at a R1 institution may not resonate with a professor at a small liberal arts college, and vice versa.
If your consortium is focused on building something that will be freely available to everyone when completed, why should the institution invest in the consortium at an early stage (or at all)? How will they benefit? Are there members-only resources? Do members decide what gets built? Do members have access to tools and resources before they're released to the general public? Are members the only people who get tech support?
If you're speaking with faculty or staff who have to make the case for your consortium at their local institution, provide them with the same materials you'd use yourself-- descriptions of the benefits of your consortium from a variety of perspectives and why the institution should join early, both as text that your audience can use in publications at their institutions (e.g. monthly newsletters) and any one-page handouts, brochures, etc. that you've developed.
The answer to the "money question" may depend on how many institutions end up joining. Nonetheless, being able to answer at least some of these questions will help your case.
- How much does it cost to join?
- Does the price depend on the size of the institution?
- Is there an option to donate staff time in lieu of some or all of the membership fee?
- Are there different "levels" of membership, with different benefits?
How will the consortium be guided and shaped? The answer may be different during the initial stages and in the long term. Keep in mind that the cost of bureaucracy and staff dedicated specifically to running your consortium reduces the amount of money that can go towards your actual cause; if your governance model is complex and potentially expensive, be prepared to defend why the money is best spent in that way.
- Are there leading partners that have the final say?
- Is there a committee made up of representatives from member institutions, each with an equal vote?
- Will you do something to ensure that the governance group reflects the diversity of participating institutions, even if some of them don't have the resources to contribute at the highest levels of membership?
- What commitment is there to transparency for your governance board? Will meeting minutes be made public?
- How does the leadership team get feedback from people "in the trenches"? What are the channels for them to respond to concerns?
- How does your consortium connect with and receive input from similar organizations and consortia that could benefit from collaboration?
- Who hires and manages staff dedicated specifically to the day-to-day work of the consortium? (e.g. project manager, website developer, contact person for inquiries, etc.)
- What sort of autonomy will individual partners have to proceed with individual areas of work? What level of sign-off is necessary for decisions to be made? (e.g. do all promotional materials for your consortium require approval from the head of your consortium, or is responsibility more distributed?)