Posted Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 6:24 pm

“It took a lot of time to build trust. People had distrust for years. You can’t undo that in a few meetings”

“They don’t invite people like me to their tables. I went to a meeting and it was all clearly dominated by the same folks who have all the resources and don’t know our community.”

“Everyone thinks they are special and doing something no one else is doing. There is so much organizational pride. But all your special efforts are missing the mark, and we have to talk about that.”

Last summer, I spoke at a conference of funders convened by the Collective Impact Forum. To prepare for the event, I contacted several trusted leaders in different communities who had been involved at various levels in collective impact initiatives. I heard enthusiastically about the promise of collective impact, but I also heard comments like those above that led me to a conviction: collective impact efforts must be as rigorous about culture as they are about data and strategy if they wish to achieve enduring change.


Coming to Believe in Collective Impact

I came to believe in collective impact from a cognitive dissonance I increasingly experienced during two decades of work in the nonprofit sector. It culminated in April, 2010, when I awoke to a headline that my hometown Milwaukee had the worst 4th grade reading scores for African American children in America. That same day I received a newsletter from a well-regarded youth organization boasting about the outcomes it was achieving for the children they served. I could not reconcile why we had great programs achieving outcomes, and yet the city-wide numbers did not seem to ever change.

My former organization Public Allies partnered annually with more than 500 local nonprofit organizations in 23 communities. We saw the great impacts of so many groups first-hand, but we also we were confounded by the issue siloes, geographic turf wars, and egos that prevented any real progress on solving complex community problems. Issues like education, economic security, housing, and health are not fragmented in peoples’ lives, but the systems that serve them are. They are even fragmented at the neighborhood level. We had a project once that hired youth as community organizers to map out the assets in their neighborhoods, and the youth were shocked to find that the teachers and principals at their schools, local pastors, youthworkers at nonprofit agencies, and other neighborhood leaders did not know each other. Without more comprehensive efforts, it seemed that isolated impacts of organizations rarely sustained or spread.

In 2010, I began writing my book, Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up, and sought examples of truly comprehensive collaborative efforts. Through our Allies, I learned about the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati and The United Way of Greater Milwaukee, which led efforts to bring organizations together in initiatives that had begun actually moving the needle on city-wide numbers in regard to education and teen pregnancy prevention. The White House Council on Community Solutions, which I had been appointed to, also began around that time. We decided that rather than look for great programs to scale, that we should find communities that actually had moved the needle on long-term problems. As we began our exploration, John Kania and Mark Kramer of FSG’s seminal article “Collective Impact” was published in The Stanford Social Innovation Review and greatly influenced our work. Our own research on community solutions which we published in our Council’s 2012 White Paper on Community Collaboratives reinforced and built on the lessons they shared.

Today there are hundreds of collective impact efforts in America and abroad that are seeking to apply the basic 5-part structure that Kania and Kramer presented: (1) Common Agenda – common understand of the problem, and a shared vision for what it takes to make progress; (2) Shared Measurement – common data and evaluation tools to support planning, learning and progress; (3) Mutually Reinforcing Work – coordinating and synchronizing work across agencies to ensure accessible, comprehensive, and non-duplicative work; (4) Continuous Communication – coordinating dozens of organizations through regular meetings to coordinate, share, learn, and adjust their work; and (5) Backbone Support – an organization with dedicated staff capacity to convene, coordinate, and align the efforts of the collective. These ingredients together were an innovation that separated collective impact from traditional collaborations that were often limited side projects for organizations rather than the center of their work.


Building a Collective Impact Culture

Another ingredient often included with the five above is a charismatic, influential, and catalytic leader who can bring leaders to the table to establish a collective effort. This type of leadership may be important for launching an initiative, but it will take other types of leadership to build and sustain it. Authentic, adaptive, inclusive, and collaborative leadership styles are essential for these efforts to truly move the needle. At Public Allies, we spent 20 years building thousands of such leaders, and evolved 5 core values that help leaders at all levels work better together. When I view collective impact through the lens of those values, principles and practices emerge that will create a greater culture for enduing collective impact success.


1. Collaboration

“Collaboration is not a natural state in the nonprofit sector,” a staff member at a backbone organization started, “Nonprofits have always been rewarded for differentiating themselves as better than others, especially in this increasingly competitive funding environment. One cannot turn a switch and expect these attitudes and behaviors to change instantly or former resentments to be forgiven. You have to pay attention to the dynamics, call out the elephants in the room, surface and resolve conflicts. It is a very human process.” Another backbone leader shared, “After every meeting there is someone whose ego has been bruised and another who is frustrated by the process, and I spend a lot of time just keeping everyone at the table and committed to the process.”

Collaboration doesn’t just happen because we put people around a table and say: “Create a common agenda and strategy – go!” Effective collaboration is about building trust, and there must be an intentional effort to build it by getting members to own their own and understand others’ motivations, interests, concerns, and leadership styles. There are many tools groups can use to build such trust. Trust building cannot be viewed as an event you do and get over with, but as an ongoing process that is integrated into the work and managed by the backbone facilitators.

Some believe that the absence of conflict means a collaborative is working well. In M. Scott Peck’s classic community building guide, A Different Drum, he describes this as pseudo-community. To create an authentic community, you must surface and address conflicts and differences. That is why it is so important to intentionally and continually build trust and pay attention to team dynamics. If you don’t, the conflict will happen outside the room – people leaving the meeting and complaining about each other and the process. If you build trust, those differences will surface in the room and produce greater learning, innovation, and progress.

Key Recommendation: Collective impact efforts should ensure that team building is part of their ongoing agenda with a goal of creating transparent and trusting environments.


2. Inclusion

Just as collaboration is not natural to the social sector, inclusion sadly is not either. The structure of collective impact efforts often bakes exclusion into its core. Some efforts begin with a steering committee of influential business, government, and nonprofit leaders who are not representative of the communities they are serving, have little direct experience with the issues they are addressing, and don’t even represent or reflect the people directly working on the issue. When the steering committee, backbone, and committee leadership lacks diversity, it sends a message that inclusion is not valued. A backbone leader from a large urban area shared: “If we avoid the issue of race, we end up with caucuses of people of color not trusting the process. It continues to break down trust if not dealt with directly.” Communities are of course demographically different, so inclusion goals will vary by community, but who is at every table matters.

At Public Allies, we taught that diversity and inclusion are actions you are accountable for achieving, not ideals you hold internally. Collective impact efforts that are committed to diversity and inclusion need to address it at several levels. First, they need to bake it into the structure and ensure they have diversity at every level from the steering committee down, and not just a few token people but representation that fits the community. Second, they need to ensure that organizations with diverse leadership – large and small – have equal voice and participation, especially those at the grass roots. Numerous studies indicate that the larger a nonprofit or foundation, the less likely it is to have women or people of color in leadership, so we must be careful not to just have the biggest players at the table. Third, in our most racially diverse communities, groups need to apply a racial equity lens to their work not just by analyzing the disparities that may exist for the problem they are tackling, but by understanding how power and privilege may distort how they see the problems, solutions, expertise, and goals. This becomes easier when you have diversity at the table, because when you change who is at the table, the table itself (the norms, conversations, and perspectives) will change. Leaders demonstrate their commitment by holding themselves accountable for who is at their tables and making the conversations about inclusion and equity explicit.

Key Recommendation: Make sure you demonstrate inclusion at every level from who sits at the tables and sets the agenda to how you analyze and organize the work of the initiative.


3. Community Engagement

A backbone leader shared a story of a community engagement effort that ultimately failed: “We tried to get community to buy into our process, but realized afterward that we really should have been getting them to own it.” Many collective impact efforts have begun to build in community engagement efforts, but often these are limited to “voice” – inviting limited input or feedback from community residents. Some of these efforts are important and worthwhile – one collective impact effort hosted community forums in low-income zip codes sharing result data with community members to find out if it matched their lived experience. Such efforts are a start, but true, enduring change must be owned by community.

A neighborhood-based nonprofit leader shared, “The (collective impact) initiative doesn’t respect community elders and the other grass roots people who know the community and are trusted. They do the frontlines work every day.” If we want to create needle-moving change, we must recognize that community residents – family members, friends, neighbors – are on the front lines of producing outcomes and change informally every day. This includes residents themselves and small faith-based and community efforts often staffed by volunteers or neighbors. As John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann of The Asset Based Community Development Institute and Maurice Lim Miller of Family Independence Initiative have so well demonstrated, we need to view community members not as clients of service but as producers of service and partners in our outcome delivery systems. If we want better outcomes for families, we must engage those they trust most. This means that efforts must consider true community organizing that builds resident leadership and participation as a critical strategy for collective impact.

Key Recommendation: Move beyond voice to partnership, engage an organizing effort to recognize and support resident-led activities that produce and reinforce the outcomes you seek.


4. Continuous learning

At a Stanford Social Innovation Review roundtable, a backbone leader shared: “The beauty of a collaborative approach is that for the first time you finally air your dirty linen. You have to look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked. You look at your vulnerabilities.” This last word is one I’ve heard many times from backbone leaders – vulnerability. To truly collaborate, learn, and grow together we must be vulnerable. This again is not a normal practice in nonprofits that fight to get recognized for their singular excellence and impact. If we have been effective at collaboration, inclusion, and community engagement, we can build the trust necessary for this.

I often tell a story of a presentation I did on “worst practices” of leadership that included a list of “things I suck at.” Before sharing it publicly, I shared it with my employees. This was really scary, but as everyone viewed the list ‒ which included my aversion to conflict, my challenge with time management, and my shyness with strangers for example ‒ they all began nodding. The truth is that the things we suck at aren’t a secret. People are rarely surprised by the feedback they receive in 360 reviews, but we are scared to view the feedback because it will reveal that we aren’t fooling anyone. If you are always late, everyone notices. If you dominate every discussion and don’t listen, everyone notices. This also goes for organizations – our shortcomings and mistakes are hiding in plain site.

When we own our mistakes, shortcomings, and failures, we open up the possibility that people can talk about them with us. When we don’t, they talk about them without us. We will be more effective if that feedback is shared in the rooms. In a data-driven process like collective impact, we must own that our efforts – good as they may be – have not been enough, and we must open our ideas, work, and results to others’ feedback. That vulnerability opens the door to more honest innovation, learning, and progress.

Key Recommendation: We need to create an environment where leaders can own what hasn’t worked as well as what has, and use data together for continuous improvement.


5. Integrity

“We have to hold everyone accountable to the same standard. Everyone has to own their responsibility and they’ll be called out if they are not meeting it,” a backbone staff member shared. Integrity at its core is about being accountable to those we work with and those we serve for what we say and do. In collective impact, it is important that such accountability is shared. This is a results-based process, and when the process has defined agreed upon results and a roadmap, everyone must be held accountable for their part of the initiative.

The process itself must also have integrity. It is important as we define a common agenda that we also define common culture – the values, expectations, and accountability everyone will share. Everyone should understand how decisions are made, what role and influence they have, what they are expected to do, and how success will be measured and shared. This also means that the steering committee and backbone team must be clear on how they will be accountable to the collective, and treat all members with the same respect whether they are a $25,000 grass roots organization or a $25 million service provider. The integrity of the process matters.

Key Recommendation: Collective impact efforts should be clear about roles, expectations, access, and accountability at every level, and hold everyone to the same standards of communication, participation, and results.


Conclusion

Collective impact as a field is new and growing rapidly. Much of the early research and work on collective impact has emphasized the structural, strategic, and measurable. To succeed long-term, there must be more attention paid to the cultural. Culture is created through shared values, expectations, and goals. These must be built intentionally, transparently, and evolve with the project. Collective impact efforts that focus on building an effective culture will achieve greater and more enduing change.

25 Comments

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

Interested in others' expereience and ideas. What resonates with your experience and what have you learned?

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Fri, 2014-10-24 09:58

Juliana David

technical assistance provider / consultant

Hi Paul,

Good article, I agreed about the issue of culture. I am a bilingual mental health clinician and I am aware and continuosly assess the cultural beliefs of individuals and organizations. I am involved as backbone organization in a Collective impact initiative for Oral health through the NJ Chapter, Academy of Pediatrics. Collective impact is challenging especially because entails accepting our differences and being vulnerable about it. It is all about relationships and building trust. It takes time to trust, especially in a society that tends to label and create separation. The era of technology have created a dichotomy on what communication means today. We have some many tools to communicate but most of them are to avoid esential communication, human/face to face communication. I believe we go through cycles, collective impact model hopes to restore human connections. It seems we are lost in confusion looking for answers that will one day, unite us all

Thank you,

Juliana David

Submitted by Juliana David on Fri, 2014-10-24 15:02

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

Thanks Juliana. It is hard. I must admit that I am conflict avoidant by nature, so structures and processes that draw that out are important so the elephants in the room don't accumulate. It will never be perfect, but the more open and transparent the environment, the better the work we cna do together. Thanks again.

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Fri, 2014-10-24 15:11

Mythri Vijendran

partner organization

Very insightful article, thanks for sharing.  I am part of a collaborative effort in Toronto.  On the topic of inclusion, wat I find challenging is balancing inclusion with efficiency.  In striving for inclusion, the group tries to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to particapte in decision-making.  There's over 20 organizations in the network so the process for decision-making can be quite long - i.e. sending out a doodle poll, scheduling a meeting, getting a sufficient number number of people at the table to agree, sending out an email afterwards to see what others think (who couldn't attend the meeting)...for this reason, things tend to move at snail's space.  Given the urgency of social issues, I see this as problematic but not sure how to deal with it.

On another note, as a woman of colour, I LOVE this part of your blog, well said:

"in our most racially diverse communities, groups need to apply a racial equity lens to their work not just by analyzing the disparities that may exist for the problem they are tackling, but by understanding how power and privilege may distort how they see the problems, solutions, expertise, and goals. This becomes easier when you have diversity at the table, because when you change who is at the table, the table itself (the norms, conversations, and perspectives) will change."

 

Submitted by Mythri Vijendran on Fri, 2014-10-24 20:35

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

There is rightfully a tension between inclusion and efficiency. I think the important thing is to clarify how decisions will be made, who will make them, how partners will have input into those decisions, etc. Having everyone participate in every decision just doesn't work and is unwieldy as you say. Being clear about roles and expectations and allowing a responsive and accountable hierarchy for decisions makes more sense.

Thanks for the positive feedback on inclusion. I believe you are either working to solve it or you are part of the problem.

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Sat, 2014-10-25 12:01

Thank you for this article!

Myself and our Trust are on a steep learning curve and one of the key facets we hold dear is the belief that everyone in a community has something to contribute. This belief made me appreciate your insight around 'community owning the initiative, the lack of respect shown for grass roots leaders, how much input happens from small faith based and community efforts AND the great point that community people are the producers of services and outcomes - not a client'. People talk in our country (New Zealand) about the 'Silo' effect of disconnected services at a Government level (and there are great steps underway to address this) but as a 'grass roots' person/individual of a small Charitable Trust who wants to catalyse individuals, businesses, faith groups and community efforts I am unsure how to create the conversation platforms to highlight that the silo effect is also happening at a number of  community levels?

Warm regards, Nikki Burns

Submitted by Nikki Burns on Fri, 2014-10-24 21:07

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

Interesting. I think one way to approach the siloes is to start with an individual or family that faces a variety of issues and to almost map out what they must do and where they must go to get "help" for the various issues. One story I always tell came from a book I read about child welfare system reform. The reformer found 15 or so case workers in the school system, county government, state government, and nonprofits who had files on the family. He called them all together for a meeting. He also invited the parents. He interviewed the parents about what was going on and tried to find root causes. As he identified the barriers they faced (one of which was that their electricity had been turned off hence no hot water or heat), he asked: "Whose job is it to fix this?" No one responded. I think when we map the user experience out to services rather than start by mapping services we start to see the real impact of siloes.

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Sat, 2014-10-25 12:07

Thank you very much Paul - this was encouraging advice, particularly as our Trust has recently developed a Community Engagement model with exactly this focus of 'wrap around care' by all the services. Additonally we have put 'Contribution and Leadership' strands into the model with the idea that a student and their family will also be a 'provider' of some level of contribution to their school, community or family - pitched from what they choose/want and is realistic. Many thanks, Nikki Burns 

Submitted by Nikki Burns on Sun, 2014-10-26 00:21

Bill Barberg

technical assistance provider / consultant

Paul, 

Thanks for bringing such clarity to this important area that is so essential for successful collective impact.  (And,I really liked your book, "Everyone Leads.") 

While you make a valid point about cultural characteristcs not being "natural" in many ways for non-profit organizations or others involved with collective impact, it is also helpful to realize that those characteristics are strongly reinforced by a system that has funding and evaluation practices that emphasize isolated impact.  My experience is that most people who begin working for a non-profit or phlanthropic organization that address a specific issue go into that field because they care deeply about it.  I think most of these people really want to collaborate, learn and engage others.  But, when they get into the current non-profit eco-system, they get into the dog-eat-dog world of competing for grants and being forced to prove that their program is responsible for the results.  Over time, the need for organizational survival creates and reinforces the characteristics that hinder collective impact.

As more and more funders come to understand that the assumptions behind the isolated impact practice are often invalid, we can hope that these funding and evaluation practices will change.   I look forward to reading about innovations in funding and evaluation that are a catalyst for collaboration and sharing.  That will help make the suggestions in this blog post even more effective.

Bill Barberg

Submitted by Bill Barberg on Sat, 2014-10-25 01:29

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

Amen. I could not agree with you more. Leading a program that supported young people entering the nonprofit space, we saw clearly the difference between the values people bring into the sector and the values that it often takes to succeed. And there are many leaders and organizations who are values-based and have that orientation. You are correct, though, that the competitive isolated impact framework incents a different set of values that holds us back. Thanks for sharing and for your kind words about my book. I look forward to continuing to build on this work.

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Sat, 2014-10-25 12:10

Luc Lapointe

backbone organization

Dear Paul,

Enjoyed reading your article as I am trying to engage communities in Colombia to start looking at a collective approach to a potential post-conflict. Very interesting cultural context when it comes to trust, ownership, and also who gets included in the context of victims and conflict. 

Colombia is also extremely culturally different in the sense that they operate within a very paternalistic government. Really enjoy the articles here and hope that we can integrate collective thinking in a potential peace situation. The factors for success are definitely more challenging in this context but always looking for inputs from external sources as well as from readers who might have worked in a similar context.

Saludos cordiales....Luc Lapointe

Submitted by Luc Lapointe on Sat, 2014-10-25 15:57

Luc Lapointe

backbone organization

Dear Paul,

Enjoyed reading your article as I am trying to engage communities in Colombia to start looking at a collective approach to a potential post-conflict. Very interesting cultural context when it comes to trust, ownership, and also who gets included in the context of victims and conflict. 

Colombia is also extremely culturally different in the sense that they operate within a very paternalistic government. Really enjoy the articles here and hope that we can integrate collective thinking in a potential peace situation. The factors for success are definitely more challenging in this context but always looking for inputs from external sources as well as from readers who might have worked in a similar context.

Saludos cordiales....Luc Lapointe

Submitted by Luc Lapointe on Sat, 2014-10-25 15:57

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

Luc, this sounds like really interesting and important work and we look forward to learning from you. I hope some of this will help you consider ways of bringing people together to do this work. Please let us know how we can help and share your lessons as you go. 

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Mon, 2014-10-27 09:46

Arthur T. Himmelman

technical assistance provider / consultant

Hi Paul -

Thanks for adding more very helpful insights to the collective impact model. Funny how things seem to be framed in numbers. The Seven Habits, now the five part structure and five ingredients. I stay with threes (time, trust, and turf) and one four (strategies for working together - networking, coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating) because it seems going beyond three exceeds many people's capacity for fully incorporating new learning into their own practice of complex change initiatives (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). But I digress.

I think that you and FSG are on solid ground in your advocacy of guiding principles for effective collective impact - what I have called multi-sector collaboration for 30 years. However, I beg to differ with the characterization of these principles as a "new field." All collective impact concepts have been practiced, albeit with many different frameworks, in thousands of partnerships across the country for a long time. Hopefully, this recent very attractive "reframing" of them by widely acknowleged thought leaders, and with the prestige of a Stanford publication, will increase their effective practice in community and systems change collaborations.

I will limit my main comment here to a concern that you have not explicity defined and discussed power as a central factor in mutually reinforcing community and systems change transformation. To make it more compatible with my own work for progressive social change, I define power as "the capacity to produce intended results" rather than in the commonly understood way as a measure of domination and control.

I think that the transformation of existing power relations should be an explict purpose of collective impact/multi-sector collaborative initiatives. Moving from collaboration driven by institutionally-based professionals from outside the community (what I call collaborative betterment) to community driven collaboration (collaborative empowerment), as I believe you and I agree, can significantly increase the ownership and sustainability of community change efforts by those most affected by their their purposes, processes, and desired results.

In such collaborations, communities, neighborhoods, and constituencies set tables for shared power rather than accepting invitations (even well meaning) to be advisors at the tables of those who are not the intended beneficiaries of the change initiative. When characterized by mutual respect, mutual learning, and mutual accountabilty for results (another three), collaborative empowerment can produce highly desired change. I call this "an outbreak of common sense."

Warm regards with respect for your leadership,

Arthur T. Himmelman

Submitted by Arthur T. Himmelman on Mon, 2014-10-27 00:53

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

Thanks Arthur. First, I agree with you it is not necessarily new. In fact, when John and Mark wrote their article they were writing of work that had happened. I do beg to differ, though, on it being done thousands of times. I think there are three real innovations in the present framing of collective impact: (1) shifting the unit of analysis from an organization to a community - no longer is it about whether indiivdual groups are achieving outcomes but it is about whether the community-wide outcomes are changing; (2) the collaborative is the central work of the organization rather than something the organization is doing in addition to its usual work - all of the organization's relevant work is coordinated and executed through the collaborative; and (3) the backbone support that has significant capacity and does nothing but manage the process. 

There have been efforts where this happened in the past, but in my experience across many communities most collaboratives achieved results for their "clients" without moving the needle for the whole community, coordinated some partnerships rather than did eveyrthing through them, and lacked the dedicated support. Most partnerships and collaboratives have not fit that bill. One example I often used that I want to explore more and write about is the effort that produced Voting Rights in the South in the 1960s when the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, CORE, Urban League, and others worked together to produce a community-wide and nation-wide outcome, all playing different roles and struggling with each other to get it done.

I agree with you on shifts of power, and really like your definition. And I personally believe that such efforts need to deal explicitly with it if they want to achieve transformative change. I do recognize, however, that I've seen groups achieve significant results in a community (20% increase in graduation rates or 50% decrease in teen pregnancies) without addressing that explicitly (but there are implicit ways power naturally shifts in the process).

John McKnight always quotes Voltaire (I think) that "common sense is not so common anymore." I agree with you and think the collective empowerment frame is quite interesting. Do you know of some efforts begun by citizens affected by an issue that produced needle-moving change for a community? I'd love more stories of that.

Thanks again.

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Mon, 2014-10-27 10:28

Arthur T. Himmelman

technical assistance provider / consultant

Hi Paul -

First, I am very much looking forward to reading your book, Everybody Leads, which arrived in the mail today. Just from a quick look, I can see that it is a very valuable resource for those of us trying to be supportive of respectful, authentic empowerment efforts by engaging those most affected by collective impact/multi-sector collaborations' actions and results. I regret that I did not know about it sooner.

In response to your comments about my observations on this post, I hope you know that my intention is to add at least some value to the way collective impact is understood and implemented. This is the spirit in which I offer my views about some of the concepts, assertions, and practices of collective impact advocates and practitioners.

(1) Regarding collective impact changing the  "unit of analysis" from organizationally focused to community-wide focused, I think that many collaborative partnerships have done this over the years on a variety of issues. Among other things, the evidence shows that, if multi-sector collaborations intend to do this, there has to be a very fine-tuned balance between the partner organizations' legitimate desires for reasonably early demonstrated progress and broader, often very ambitious and harder to confirm, longer term community-wide outcomes. As I am sure you know, one common challenge to seeking community-wide outcomes is that the "attention span" of many partners, and most funders as well, is not well suited for the time involved in community-wide transformational change. If not well addressed, this can lead to a "walking away" of partners and funders. (2) Your assertion that "the collaborative is the central work of the organization" seems to be closely related to your third comment that "backbone support...does nothing but manage the process." Maybe the use of organization and backbone here are one and the same. I strongly agree with you that the functions of a collective impact backbone organization are essential for the effectiveness of successful partnerships.

Over the years, I found that it was common to find these functions assigned to what is called a "lead agency." Unfortunately, many lead agencies often were either not prepared or capable of carrying out these vital responsibilities and/or acted as if the other partners worked for them and needed to follow their directions. Not very collaborative. In my work, I recommended collaborative, mutually shared responsibility for these functions by all the partners rather than have them all concentrated in a lead agency. However, collaborative governance and management, while a fine idea, is never easy and sometimes a disaster. I developed a model for the structure of a partnership that is designed to make well functioning collaborative governance and management at least a reasonable possibility.

In your response to my brief outline of collaborative empowerment, you asked for an example of this kind of process. I suggest that you look at the web site of MBD Housing in the Bronx (www.mbdhousing.org). When I visited them in the late 1980s, MBD was called the Mid-Bronx Desperadoes. It was first organized in 1974 as a coalition of nine community-based civic organizations, churches, block clubs, and tenant associations. After working out their own trust and power issues, MBD set a table in the community to which outside partners were invited on a mutually respectful basis. As you may know, among a lot of other things, the mid-Bronx in those days was a "photo op" for presidents Carter and Reagan to show their concern for America's devastated communities - and not much more. However, the Desperadoes went to work block by block and transformed their community by creating affordable, beautiful housing, fostered economic development including a much needed shopping center, jobs for community residents, and other highly desired community assets. It is a fine example of how an empowered community can make very positive changes possible, even under some extraordinarily difficult circumstances. If you would like to contact me about MBD or other mutual interests, please do so at ArthurTHimmelman@aol.com or 612-998-5507.

Well, I feel that I have said all that I should in response to your original commentary so I will take my leave from this discussion. Again, I admire and respect your brilliant insights and personal commitment and passion for making our communities places where racial equity, social justice, and many other assets/resources necessary for a good and decent life are in abundance.

Best regards,

Arthur

 

 

Submitted by Arthur T. Himmelman on Wed, 2014-10-29 01:15

Arthur T. Himmelman

technical assistance provider / consultant

Hi Paul -

Thank you very much for your kind and thoughtful response to my observations about your article. I will offer some additional ideas and, as you requested, a specific example of "collaborative empowerment" in another post that I will send soon.

Best regards,

Arthur

Submitted by Arthur T. Himmelman on Mon, 2014-10-27 18:38

Oscar Robles

funder of initiatives

Thanks for writing and sharing this with us, Paul. Was happy to come across it and share with the community of folks my organization is building to shift the needle on STEM education and workforce development (specifically around inclusion - the "who" behind the next wave of engineers, ITs and the like). 

Building trust particularly resonated with me - especially the note that it takes time. I think we often hit a wall, acknowledging that we time to build trust and also rushing to meet goals, deadlines and hit certain benchmarks. How do we balance the drive to get results and "prove" ourselves with doing the long (and continuous) work of building relationships? 

Also, as a staff member for a backbone organization, I'm conflicted with the vulnerability piece. We have been transparent about where we are as a small, start up organization but recognize our higher level of accountability to our grantees and stakeholders. We're hesitant to air dirty laundry when it may mean surfacing conflict or questions that others think we should have figured out already. 

What we have learned (and are still learning!) is to embrace the process, don't make mountains out of mole hills and to COMMUNICATE. Another thing I try to hold onto is to make sure my interactions with grantees is not purely transactions, that I don't only reach out to them with deadline reminders or when I need data.

Having already experience a crash-course in Collective Impact during my time as a Public Ally, I'm up for this challenge. Thanks again, Paul!

Submitted by Oscar Robles on Tue, 2014-10-28 15:57

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

Hey Oscar! Good points. I think while relationship and trust building should begin first, it is an ongoing process not an event. So it is not sequential in the sense that trust building is somehting you do, complete, and then begin executing on the common strategy. I think the relationship building work should be an ongoing part of the process and that the backbone shoud be paying attention to group dynamics and calling for retreats or time-outs or group work when necessary and making it a regular part of the effort.

Some efforts have had one year or more to focus on this work before moving to execution, and I think they would say they needed it. Others have not had that luxury. The important thing is that culture building and group dynamics are intentional and regular parts of the work rather than something done on the side.

In regard to vulnerability, it is something that should be shared by all. It is about creating a transparent environment where past issues or failures can be reconciled or acknowledged and then move on. It means no one can boast that they're the greatest until the problem is really solved at a population-level. It must be a shared vulnerability where everyone can own what hasnt worked and where theyve struggled for it to work. If the trust building has worked, this is a natural outgrowth.

Hope to see you and work with you at some point as you build this great work. Thanks for commenting!

 

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Tue, 2014-10-28 16:42

Bill Barberg

technical assistance provider / consultant

In addition to the challenges caused by funding and evalation practices (mentioned above), there are practical obstacles to establishing and maintaining a culture that supports collective impact.  Mythri, Nikki and Oscar all raise points about the challenges of building the relationships and teamwork built on inclusion, cross-silo understanding and trust,  It is important that we all keep seeking better and more efficient tools and techniques for advancing these characteristics.  There are several areas rich in potential for improvement.  Communication is essential. But what is the best way to have good comunication among dozens or even hundreds of organizations that are sincerely interested in addressing a big issue?  Even with the best facilitators, big meetings can be inefficient for most types of communication, and time that passes between meetings tends to slow collaboration to a pace that is so slow that action-oriented stakeholders often bail out.  Our firm is constantly experimenting with different types of technologies that can dramatically improve the efficiency and speed of comunication.  We're happy to share what is working, and we're eager to learn from other innovators.

Even if the communication is excellent among those actively engaged in it, the way information is managed can hinder understanding, inclusion, and trust across a network of organizations and people.   Big static documents are far from ideal for building understanding and trust.  It is hard to solidify buy-in for a 90-page document that nobody has time to read, If there are dozens of inconsistent attempts to simplify the complexity into brief tables or graphic representations, the confusion will make trust, consensus and teamwork difficult to achieve. In Weld County, Colorado, we helped their 65-member health improvement coalition create a framework of strategy maps that have provided a structure for managing a wide range of information. The co-created framework, enabled by technology, tames the complexity, simplifies understanding, and enables many different stakeholders to remain aligned as they work to advance different parts of the larger strategy.  This technique for defining and managing progress on complex strategies has a proven track record and offers great promise for enabling the cultural characteristics that support Collective Impact. 

Being intentional about creating a culture for collective impact is essential. And as new tools and technologies bring much-needed capabilities for communication and information management, the journey to develop that culture will get easier. 

Submitted by Bill Barberg on Wed, 2014-10-29 23:12

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

I'd be interested in knowing more about some of your practices. I believe large meetings are good for transmitting information, not for sharing information. I would create a more interactive meeting design if the goal is to share. I'd be interested in some of the ways you've helped make that communication and information management more successful.

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Fri, 2014-10-31 10:16

Bill Barberg

technical assistance provider / consultant

Paul (and everyone else following this thread),

This recording from a recent Webinar talks about some of the practices and tools for efficiently engaging communities in large scale collective impact efforts.  hhttps://vimeo.com/insightformation/review/107048397/fccc2bf8bd

Our clients have been starting to present regularly at national and regional conferences, so the word is starting to spread.   We also have an up-coming Webinar in a couple weeks called: Collective Impact for Community Health: Beyond SMART Goals and Static Logic Models.  People can view that (and other Webinars, blogs and resources) at our Website. www.insightformation.com/blog

It would be great to have a disucssion after you've reviewed some of this material.

Sincerely,

Bill Barberg 

Submitted by Bill Barberg on Fri, 2014-10-31 14:08

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

THanks

 

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Fri, 2014-10-31 16:16

Dear Paul,

I am so grateful for the insights in your article.  I very much appreciate the distinction between buy-in and ownership.  I feel that has been a challenge with the initiative I work with.  When we convened our first learning collaborative of employers implementing workplace wellness strategies, one of the pieces of feedback we received was that it was all about our agenda and goals and not theirs.  This piece of feedback has inspired me to my current work on adapting the learning collaborative model into something that will promote shared design and hopefully shared leadership.  

This also makes me curious about the continuous learning in collective impact, something else I'm studying in my current graduate thesis work.  What sorts of spaces are being created or stewarded for continuous learning to occur?   Is it just the work group meetings?  Or are folks using other formats to teach and learn new practices/best practices?  Are folks convening in learning communities regularly?  Paul, what has been your experience in the communities you have worked in?  One of the reasons I'm doing a deep dive on learning collaboratives for collective impact is that I feel they could be a really powerful way of helping cultivate the type of culture you are talking about in a community of practice while also teaching and learning from each other a best or next practice together.  I simply haven't heard yet if other communities engaged in collective impact are already using learning collaboratives in quite this way.

Again, thank you so much for your work, Paul!  I too look forward to reading your book!

Sincerely,

Jodi Clark

Submitted by Jodi Clark on Thu, 2014-10-30 23:16

Paul Schmitz

technical assistance provider / consultant

Thanks Jodi. I appreciate you sharing your experience moving from buy-in to ownership. I'm not sure about examples of learning communities and collective impact specifically. It seems like something this forum should have some resources and examples of. I would imagine there are many examples as groups work through their efforts together. This is something that should be explored further for best practices.

Submitted by Paul Schmitz on Fri, 2014-10-31 10:13