Snapshots from the Summit 2014 – Day 3


Day 3 of the Collective Impact Summit in Toronto brings with it more great discussions and learnings. I’m happy to share more highlights from the sessions held on Wednesday, Oct. 8.


Our focus: Snap Back: Experiencing the Challenge of Resilient Systems


Brenda Zimmerman of York University’s Schulich School of Business presented the keynote address, “Complex Problems Require Collective Impact Solutions.”

 “Stop trying to change reality by attempting to eliminate complexity.” David Whyte

What we need to understand about Complexity

  • There are several types of problems, each requiring a different style of thinking and leadership:
    • Simple (Known eg Making Soup)
    • Complicated (Knowable eg Sending a Rocket to the Moon)
    • Complex (Unknowable eg Raising a Child)
  • Understanding Change in Complex Social Systems:
    • Behaviour of the system can be largely explained by understanding “attractors.”
    • Relationships and coordination among parts can be more important than the parts themselves.
  • A “Checklist” approach to managing works for Simple problems, but Minimum Specs/Simple Rules work for complex systems because of their changing and unknown patterns. Engage participants in collective Ownership, not passive Buy-In to preconceived solutions and assumptions.

Resilience 101

  • There are 2 very distinct types of resilience:
    • ENGINEERING RESILIENCE: Bouncing back to the status quo
    • ECOLOGICAL RESILIENCE: Adaptation and deep change through creative destruction which allows the system to continually learn
  • Self-organizing happens in living systems. What are the simple rules for relationship that are influencing the system? When things aren’t working we should strive for coherence rather than consistency and allow for constant adaptation and innovation.

Snap Back – How can we mitigate the risks?

  • Relationships are Key – Choose your “Audience of Significance” that you will look to for validation
  • Pay Attention to Engagement – Ensure resources are available for listening and engaging on an on-going basis.  Protect space in your calendar and reward others that take the time to do this.  Listening, engaging, and pattern recognition must be supported forever – not just at the beginning.
  • Be Strategic Thinkers, not merely Strategic Planners – Reinforce strategic processes that recognize the iterative nature of profound strategic thinking, and always look for the small differences that could create a tipping point.
  • Don’t Confuse Quick Wins with Quick Fixes – Success is not a destination in complexity. Make resources available for safe-fail experiments and value context expertise as much as content expertise.

Emerging Questions

  • How can you eliminate or bypass negative attractors?
  • Does taking an ecological approach run the risk of losing focus?


Throughout the Summit, attendees are adding their collective impact questions and thoughts to a growing “learning wall.” Questions posted so far include:

Engaging “context” expertise

  • In the machine world, content trumps context. In Living systems context trumps content.
  • More people to bring their gifts and wisdom to the table.

Preventing “Snap Back”

  • Snap back can happen at any level (individual, organizational, sector or system)
  • Identify the rules of the dominant system that will cause snap back
  • How can we deepen the trough of CI? Make it more resilient.

Building personal capacity

  • Lot’s of time needed prior to starting any CI to examine the players
  • Knowing your audience of significance can be critical in navigating rough times
  • Leadership is important. But paradoxically, so is self-organizing.

Embracing Complexity

  • Embrace and explore complexity.  Don’t try to control it. Ride the wave.
  • Water flows through the path of least resistance

Best Practice is an Anti-Innovation

  • Don’t try to import solutions
  • Create Ownership vs. Buy-In
  • Constantly seek data to validate solutions
  • Allow for risk and experimentation (SafeFail

Sustaining Change

  • Until the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of change – it’s not likely to change
  • Important to have courage to act while learning
  • Working with complexity requires strategic thinking not strategic planning.
  • Success is never a destination. It’s about getting things roughly right.


Throughout the event, attendees are sharing thoughts, questions, and photos on social meda. To see what’s being shared, follow #CISummit2014 on Twitter.

Jo Cavanagh OAM ‏@JoCavanaghAU
#CISummit2014 Subversive idea- Iterative learning through innovation trumps replicating best practice.
Subversive idea 2 – promotion emergence does not need a strategic plan to progress forward @collabforimpact
Subversive idea 3 – leadership for CI requires not being the decision maker (: Hooray. Hear this team @FamilyLifeAU 🙂

Marci Ronald ‏@mronald75
I think I’m officially a Collective Impact groupie #CISummit2014

Kerry Graham ‏@kerry_change
Prof Brenda Zimmerman: quick wins do not equal quick fixes #CISummit2014 #collectiveimpact @collabforimpact

Enrique Robert ‏@Robert2Enrique
Great quote #CIsummit2014 “Time is too short & things are too bad for pessimism” (Dee Hock)

Kailey ‏@whatkaileysaid
Interesting… “managers would rather live with a problem than have a solution they can’t understand or control.”

Rachel ‏@rachelsmind
Plan 1st then act does not lead to lasting change. Continue to listen and adapt over time to prevent snap back to old systems #CISummit2014

Jaime Brown ‏@_Jaibles
“Buy-in” problematic in #collectiveimpact – should focus on shared “ownership”. Very important distinction! #BrendaZimmerman #CISummit2014

Kailey ‏@whatkaileysaid
Value-added to the #CISummit2014 is being able to get to know other twenty-somethings in this sector. Interesting to hear shared challenges.


If you are participating in the Summit, please share your highlights here on the Forum. We’d love to hear what’s resonating with you throughout the conference.


Snapshots from the Collective Impact Summit – Day 1

Snapshots from the Collective Impact Summit – Day 2


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