How can collective impact initiatives leverage advocacy and community organizing to create more equitable systems and policy outcomes?
In this podcast episode we look into the findings of the new research study Rebalancing Power: Examining the Role of Advocacy and Organizing in Collective Impact. In this candid “behind the research” discussion, Rebalancing Power coauthor Brian Kennedy and Frontline Solutions senior partner and founder Marcus Littles discuss the report’s recommendations, research methodology, and notable takeaways from the team’s interviews with collective impact practitioners, funders, and community organizers.
Please find a transcript of this podcast lower down this page
Resources and Footnotes
- Report: Rebalancing Power: Examining the Role of Organizing and Advocacy in Collective Impact
- Blog: Lessons in Examining the Role of Advocacy and Organizing in Collective Impact
- Frontline Solutions
- Book: Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story by Timothy B. Tyson
- Webinar: How to Embed Equity Practices in Collective Impact Virtual Office Hour with Junious Williams
- Video and Transcript: Complementary or in Conflict? Community Organizing and Collective Impact
The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0. The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.
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(Intro) Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.
The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative and online community that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.
In this episode, we’re sharing a candid discussion about findings from the new report Rebalancing Power: Examining the Role of Advocacy and Organizing in Collective Impact, that was produced by Frontline Solutions and commissioned by the Collective Impact Forum. In this chat, we take a “behind the research” deep dive with report coauthor Brian Kennedy and Frontline Solutions senior partner and founder Marcus Littles as they discuss the report’s recommendations for collective impact initiatives. We hear more about what conditions are helpful to better engage and partner with grassroots organizations and advocacy efforts. Moderating this chat is executive director of the Collective Impact Forum Jennifer Splansky Juster.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Hello all and welcome to today’s Collective Impact Forum podcast. I am Jennifer Splansky Juster, executive director of the Collective Impact Forum. Thank you for joining us today.
I am really excited to host today’s conversation with Brian Kennedy and Marcus Littles of the organization Frontline Solutions. I met Brian and Marcus when the Collective Impact Forum was looking for a partner to help us and help folks in the Collective Impact Forum network better understand the role of advocacy and organizing in collective impact work. As many folks in the Collective Impact Forum network know, we’ve been working to help folks understand how to put equity at the center of collective impact work. A key part of that is really changing systems, transforming systems to be more equitable and antiracist. We know that that work will involve policy change efforts, advocacy work, and organizing.
Historically, collective impact efforts have ranged in the depth with which they pursued advocacy work. Many have typically focused more on like an inside game and have rarely intersected with or supported community organizing type work.
We felt that it was really time for collective impact efforts to better understand and increase their focus and knowledge about advocacy and policy change and be strategic in how they engage with and support community organizing.
To help further this, we were fortunate to be able to raise some funds from the Hewlett Foundation, Hilton Foundation, and Kauffman Foundation. We turned to Frontline Solutions. This podcast is really a companion to a report, to research that the Frontline team did. A link to that report can be found in the show notes.
With that, I am just going to stop talking and really eager to welcome Brian and Marcus into the conversation. I’d love to just start, Brian and Marcus, by welcoming you and having you both introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about what brought you to this work.
Brian Kennedy: Sure. Thanks. Again, my name is Brian Kennedy. I’m a consultant with Frontline Solutions. My background is in policy, policy advocacy, state-level policy work, and a few other food systems and stuff like that. Coming into this work, I think the idea of embedding equity into the way we do collective work and collaborative work and the way that it happens in communities is really exciting. Really a pleasure to be working on this project and really to be able to have opportunity to look at micro relations within community impact kind of at scale so looking across communities, across what collective impact efforts look like in different states was a really exciting opportunity. I’m really excited to talk more about the report.
Marcus Littles: I’m Marcus Littles. I’m senior partner and founder at Frontline Solutions. We’ve been around for 16 years and so it’s really hard for me to remember sometimes what brought me to specific projects and specific partnerships, but I think a lot about what brought me to this type of work at large. I’m a son of the South. I’m a son of Mobile, Alabama, and also son of just two amazing parents and grandparents and this sort of legacy of people who I just observed being a part of community and being engaged in community, but it wasn’t their job. It’s just who they were. I always tell the story of getting to skip school a couple of times a year to go and ride around with my granddaddy on his truck. I just thought I got to skip school and so I just rode around with him, and we’d go pick people up. Years later, I figured out, because my parents didn’t tell me this, like I just realized that they would let me skip school on Election Days when my grandfather would go and pick people up in rural Alabama and take them to the polls. There wasn’t a lot of conversations saying, “Hey, this is how we want to teach you about civic engagement and voting, etc.” It was, “You don’t have to go to school. Go hang out with your granddaddy on his truck.” And I’d be like, “Yeah.” That was amazing.
Years later, in graduate school, second day of graduate school in a class, they were talking about intro to community organizing and they started talking about all these things and I realized, I’m like, “I’ve seen that and been a part of that all of my life.” I was a part of campus movement stuff in college. So that’s what you call it. Community organizing. I feel like it was a very unintentional path to this work but I also feel like the legacy of my parents and grandparents and ancestors before me, right before that I don’t even know like led me down a path to be a progenate to the type of work and people in community doing this work forever and so now I get to work with cool people like Brian who are brilliant and others and so it’s really cool to be on this podcast with you all. It’ll be a fun conversation.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you. That’s awesome, Marcus and Brian. It’s been so fun to be in this work with you all. I think a good place to start would just be to understand how you all approached the research. What were the key questions that you named as essential to explore? Talk a little bit about the methodology for the research that you all did.
Brian Kennedy: Really this was an emergent process, I think, where we began by thinking larger and working with you all thinking largely, “what do we want to accomplish, what do we want to learn, what questions did we have?” and those questions developed over time so the further we got into the literature review or the more conversations we had, the benchmark to really understanding what we needed to know in order to help folk make change started to shift. I think we really landed on a methodology and a research process that was reflective of that emergent learning. I think it was lofty.
Number one, we recognized that we’re not going to be able to do a study that was exhaustive. We wanted to do a study that was representative. That meant being really intentional and thoughtful about who we were talking to and making sure that we were talking to folk who are doing work in and across different geographies. We had some regional diversity in there. But we also wanted to get folk who were at different stages in their collective impact work. Folk who had just begun initiatives, people who were multiple years in as well as different leaders along that spectrum. We talked to staff and leaders at backbone organizations. We talked to philanthropic leaders. We talked to subject matter experts who technically had no involvement in any collective impact work. We also talked to some community organizers who were not technically involved with collective impact work. The idea there was really again, to try to hear as many different voices with some intentionality.
Ultimately, we wanted to examine just the extent that community organizing and advocacy was really driving collective impact initiatives. We wanted to understand how collective impact was disrupting power structures that existed. Lastly, we really wanted to understand, we wanted to dig into that idea of systems change, and we wanted to understand what are the tangible ways that collective impact efforts are and could be having an impact on systems change really geared towards addressing antiracism and building equity.
Marcus Littles: One thing I’ll just add around Brian talked about the approach. We were also really intentional around who was doing the research. I contributed to some but Brian, Ascala Sisk, who’s not on this podcast but a shout out to Ascala who’s amazing, amazing thinker and partner but Brian and Ascala when they led the work it’s not just that they were researchers. They have a point of view. They have an analysis around centering the voices of Black and Brown people. They have an analysis around the power of community organizing and they have a humility around how they engage folk in conversation that centers the voices and believes in the expertise of the people we were speaking to. It was really important not just the method, but the holders of the research approach the work in a way that believes that who we’re talking to are the talent, not that we’re the brilliant researchers. That’s actually a part of the methodology too and a part of the approach was like how you show up and engage with people in authentic ways and not in these ways that are off-putting and don’t build trust.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thanks Brian and Marcus. And Marcus, just to build on that or to underscore that latter point, first of all, gratitude to you all for approaching the research in that way and also to folks who are listening who are doing research in and with community that’s a really important point to note because the expertise lies with community and its historic patterns of White supremacy and who is the expert really can influence the findings that show up so, Marcus, I appreciate you naming that intentional part of the approach itself.
Coming out of the research, the secondary desk research, the interviews that you conducted, you all landed on some really helpful recommendations for the field. There are three. I will name them but then talk through them one at a time. I think this is really where a lot of the richness of your work falls.
The first one was incorporating the values and principles of community organizing into collective impact work. The second key recommendation was around creating the conditions necessary to be able to engage in advocacy. The third was building relationships and trust particularly with grassroots and community-based organizations. Let’s take those one at a time and I guess we can start with incorporating the values and principles of community organizing.
Brian Kennedy: I would even take a step back actually. I think those are really intentional, challenging processes from getting to our research questions to sifting through what we learned and really drawing things and conclusions that were reflective of what people were sharing with us. I think to Marcus’s point of talking about how we approached the methodology, what we did not want to do was go in with our research questions and talk to folk and then take the lessons learned and stick them into our existing research questions. We wanted what we found to be reflective of what folks told us. We wanted to reflect the priorities that people were lifting up. We made this jump from talking about equity and collective impact in general to talking about as you mentioned in naming these recommendations, talking about principles of community organizing and advocacy.
I share that to say one of the most exciting recommendations for me is this first point of incorporating the values and principles of community organizing. What we learned were that folk had varying degrees of experience with community organizing, with advocacy. We also know that definitions vary from region to region, to initiative to initiative. But what came out were that the core value principles that allow and that create good community organizing are consistently important values for having equitable collective impact efforts.
Those values are deep resident engagement. Actually taking the time, getting to know folk, making sure that folk are centered, the individuals in the community who are going to be impacted by this work are leading the work. It included doing a thorough and really intentional analysis of power. In the report we define power because it’s thinking about who has influence, official and unofficial, on how decisions are made. Then, the last part which I think is super important just in thinking about what are those core principles of community organizing is that we lifted up just the ability and the capacity to address conflict. Not just being willing and able to address conflict but understanding that part of building, an initiative part of building relationships with community is actually going through that conflict resolution process, understanding where there’s a misalignment between priorities or understanding where there needs to be a shift in resources, understanding how theories of change differ, and really leaning into these conversations, building the ability of backbone organizations, funders, community members to carry those sort of difficult and challenging conversations over time.
I think if we had gone in and said, “We only want to know the answers to these three research questions or four research questions,” then we probably would have missed that. But what we learned were that folk were really intentional in talking about not just what they need in order to do good work but the conditions that they need in order for that to happen in a way that’s equitable.
Marcus Littles: It was also just really important—it was a really important finding from some of our conversations, particularly for folk who are in community and use the lever of community organizing and coalition building that if they had never heard of collective impact, when we gave them our definition or framing of “This is what collective impact is,” their response was, “Well, that sounds like community organizing and coalition building.” That’s not a critique on collective impact per se but it is just really important to not engage folk presuming that we are teaching them about something that they don’t know anything about.
There is a professor, Dr. Tim Tyson, I think it’s Tim Tyson, who wrote this book, Blood Done Sign My Name. It’s an incredible book. It’s not about collective impact or organizing really but it’s an incredible book on a town in North Carolina and something that happened during the Civil Rights movement. It told this kind of story that blew the town up, and his framing, he’s a historian, he said, listen, our context for the Civil Rights movement is—we know the stories where The New York Times showed up. So part of what it’s saying is sort of like you haven’t heard of this story because most of the stories around the Civil Rights movement that are most prominent are the ones that like some prominent publication showed up and told the story about. I’m thinking the same way. You think about collective impact, collective impact is like the professionalization of a set of competencies and approaches that folk in community have been living by in order to assert sort of change over the course of the years.
A good friend of mine and colleague, Loren Harris, would talk to me about the social entrepreneurship and he’s like, triple bottom line is like every Black business after Reconstruction, like the dry cleaner allocated resources to help start the HBCU group, like the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. So I think just this—it was about this recommendation around incorporating the values and principles of community organizing is also really rooted in acknowledging the fact that some of the origins of this field of collective impact is rooted in the tenets of community organizing, and an acknowledgment of such will allow organizations who are leading collective impact work, you’ll be better, you’ll be more inviting to partners who do the work of community organizing and advocacy if you acknowledge that you are inviting them into being a part of something that they likely know how to do and have been doing longer than you have as opposed to a posture to where you’re being “inclusive,” come be a part of this table with us and learn with us and we’ll figure this out together, right? There’s a deference that is not only perhaps polite but that is appropriate given that organizing, coalition-building work are really the pictures of what collective impact work has been before The New York Times showed up.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: I very much appreciate that, and, Brian, you named relationship, recognition of mapping, and shifting power, welcoming and working through conflicts as those three values. It’s interesting. I’ll speak from my own experience. I think relationship and now more so power are things that have been somewhat in the conversation of folks in the collective impact work but this comfort around conflict and working through conflict as a really important piece of organizing work I think is something I will just say in our network we haven’t talked as much about, and so all of them are important and for me that was a really interesting finding that was surprising in a good way so thank you for naming that, and also, Marcus, not only thinking about these as values but recognizing where they come from and recognizing the expertise that organizers bring, not having folks come to an existing table but helping folks see how we’ve learned from their experiences in organizing in ways that we hadn’t named before so thank you for that.
Marcus Littles: I think one of the other findings is this around kind of build relationships and trust particularly with grassroots and community-based organizations, and I think that’s some of the acknowledgment and recognition of the origins of the work is a tactic to authentically build trust, right? I think part of building—if you’re seeking to build trust with someone else, we have to sort of center their experience and not our intentions.
I remember a long time ago, a really long time ago, probably a couple of decades ago, like the first time I spent time in South Africa. I was with a group of folks and we were going to a community in graduate school, and it was just all this very kind of like western fetishizing, to they were like, “Oh, my gosh, the Americans are here,” and there are kids running around. I remember seeing these two teenage kids, this group of teenage kids who were not impressed, who were like looking over skeptically around who are these people coming to my neighborhood. I was so into that because I think part of it is that sort of from a trust-building standpoint, it’s like if you were trying to be in a relationship with me, it is up to you to—it’s not about your intention, whether you were coming here to do good things. It is around sort of how are you providing to me, and how are you helping inform an experience for me where I feel like you’re trustworthy, and so the building relationships and trust is—again, those aren’t new concepts but centering the experience of others as opposed to sort of, “Why didn’t they not just accept my overtures?” or “I can’t get someone to email me back. I’ve emailed them twice, what do I do now?” I don’t think that shows authentic commitment to building trust, and so hopefully doesn’t come across as an obvious recommendation but even if it does, I think it is not practiced as much as it’s sometimes assumed to be easily understood.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Totally agree. Definitely not obvious and I appreciate the nuance with which you spoke to it just now in much greater depth.
Brian Kennedy: I think to that point I think there’s actually two ways to think about the recommendations. There are lessons learned. There are examples of how this work is being done, how these specific actions are being done in different instances. I think there are some lessons there. I think the other half though is really recognizing that there’s larger work to be done to shift the way that we approach work to allow these tenets to take place whether or not it is deep engagement, whether it’s relationship building. We have to actually reorient the way that we even go into this work, the way that we think about measuring success, the way that we think about accountability, the way that we think about ownership of decision-making problems. We have to reorient the way that we understand this work and engaging with communities. The solutions are very simple. What’s challenging is changing the behaviors and the practices that we do that actually shortchange a lot of these actions and don’t allow them to take place.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Absolutely. We’ve talked about two of those findings that, again, it is not only about the finding but about the conditions for doing it in a way that is—showing up in ways that make it possible. We talked about incorporating the values and principles of community organizing. We talked about building relationships and trust. The third piece is creating the conditions necessary to be able to engage in advocacy. Would love to hear a little bit more about what’s behind that.
Brian Kennedy: This one is really exciting to me. My background is in advocacy, kind of along multiple different entry points, and I think what we really learned in talking to folk, especially in talking to community organizers, community members, and talking to funders was that there’s a wide range of what advocacy means. I think part of the recommendation is about taking the time to reorient what we understand advocacy to be, and there’s two parts in that.
One is recognizing that this wide range of activities, efforts, strategies that are inclusive of advocacy are critical not just towards short-term, mid-term policy wins or systems change, but are actually essential in creating capacities for these longer-term, more geared toward actually changing systems movement.
The other part there is there’s a piece about being brave and leaning into those activities. I think advocacy can be challenging because there’s a—in nature there’s an opposition there, right? So when you’re engaging in advocacy, there’s decisions that are being made, and so there’s a critical importance to have clarity around vision, goals, values in order to really embrace a wide range of advocacy tools.
One of the things that the recommendations kind of point towards is the ability to trust community members, ensure community members have the power to do advocacy, and then also understanding that’s going to look difference from initiative to initiative, from community to community, and also recognize that that’s OK, right? It’s OK for advocacy to look like one thing in DC and another thing in Houston, Texas. It should, and so embracing and making space for those differences but then also providing the resources for support in order for communities to be able to do that.
Marcus Littles: This is even the notion of kind of creating the conditions necessary to be able to engage in advocacy so, yes, that’s about sort of definitions and understanding of advocacy but it’s also around, like, advocacy is not a product—just a product of will, like sort of, “We should do advocacy without an analysis of conditions, and without an understanding of power.” I think the recommendation around just—there’s a lot to unpack around creating conditions necessary. Yes, that’s around the power structure but also around the posture and approach of the collective impact table, if you will. You know what I mean? Sort of what does it mean to be an advocate? What does it mean and what are the conditions that are necessary in order to be able to advocate effectively?
Some of this recommendation are rooted in not wanting to under interrogate or assume consensus understanding around what it means to do advocacy because it’s sort of thrown around, and we also wanted to make sure that we did not conflate community organizing, advocacy and these sets of terms, if you will, and so part of the paper does again some defining. We didn’t come up with the definitions as much as feeling like that in order to understand the work and not just be unintentionally lazy in our associations of what these terms mean and what the work actually looks like.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: For folks who have not yet read the paper, there is a great glossary of terms that the Frontline Solutions team pulled together. For folks listening, can you extrapolate a little bit on the difference in how you are defining advocacy and organizing just in case folks aren’t as familiar with it, so they have that clarity?
Brian Kennedy: We took a stab at trying to pull together some working definitions on some of these terms. In the document we talk about advocacy as an action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for, supports or defends on behalf of a cause, community or an individual. That’s extremely broad, right? But a couple of things. One, part of this effort we used a tool which is also referenced in the report that helps us to just really understand the wide range of activities and strategies that can be considered under advocacy but more importantly I think advocacy, similar to the definition that we end up using for community organizing, really more is not about the “what is being done,” but the “how,” about the process.
For community organizing, we talked about the process by which individuals in a given community come together to act in common self-interest. That’s a broad definition but really what it speaks more towards is less about what are the steps in doing community organizing and more so what does it mean to—how are we behaving in community with each other when we’re doing this work, whether it be advocacy or organizing.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: That’s great. Thank you for the helpful grounding, Brian. You’ve spoken a fair amount about the recommendations themselves. I wanted to just see if there’s anything more about the findings or how folks interpret them that you wanted to speak to?
Marcus Littles: I think it’s really—for this work but I also think for any work, any sort of piece of research being put out, I think these recommendations and findings land differently depending on where you sit. Sort of the audience is broad, and I think that’s one of the great things about collective impact as a both sector and aspiration to be realized equitably, is that it’s not a monolithic set of folks who sit around a table from a specific sector, like it’s intentionally an array of perspectives. Yes, I think how these recommendations land if you are a part of a collective impact-sort of table that felt like it’s been built and anchored around equity or if you’ve been around for a long time and trying to apply antiracist lens juxtaposed to—or you’re a collective impact table where you are—you name advocacy as one of the things that you’re doing, but you haven’t been specific, and you’re like, “We really should dig down into what that means as opposed to just using these words and frames,” and so I do think kind of a sober assessment around who am I in the ecosystem of this work, how am I a student, and how am I applied and receiving these sets of recommendations in order to be able to respond and engage in a certain way.
So I think the recommendations are hopefully necessarily broad with some specific applications, but I think they’re best applied with a clear—and all this analysis around who you are and if you are working in collective impact, sort of like where your sort of table is and where it isn’t.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: I really appreciate that you all have in the report, like a “call for reflection,” to maybe start folks on that reflection, so I just have here reflection questions around who are the organizers and advocates in our community, and how are they involved in decision making. What tensions, historical and contemporary, exist amongst stakeholders and partners, and who will carry this work forward in the long term? Are they engaged as equal partners? Those are perhaps some questions to start folks on reflection along the lines that you were speaking to, Marcus.
Is there anything about the work that surprised you or was unexpected?
Marcus Littles: I feel like I was—maybe it surprised me or helped concretize in my head, I feel like—we talked about this with you all, Jennifer, some around that people’s interest in and even commitment to being more equitable, so sort of realizing equity and just the deep collective and individual work that many of the folk that we talk to who were in the kind of collective impact world, that the deep work that they had been a part of, I feel like I was surprised that—I feel like some folk we talked to sort of felt like my pursuit of equity or our pursuit of equity is going to be a catchall for everything else because we would ask around like all, “Are community organizers, are they at the table? Are you engaging with kind of the grassroots community?” And sometimes the response would be sort of, “You know, we’ve been learning a lot around equity. We’re really interrogating White supremacy, and patriarchy, and we’re really trying to get better.” I can hear “things that we’ve done better,” which is great, and it’s not the answer to the question, right?
I mean sort of our growing in our sort of analysis around sort of equity and racism, etc., does not inherently make us in right relationship with grassroots organizers on the ground. So it wasn’t like a cheating sort of thing, but it was just more around like sort of, “Wait, you want me to really go through this equity journey, and I got to figure out how to engage and talk with people different? You mean that’s not just all one thing?” So it was noteworthy, and I think that all these things get sort of put in a bucket, sort of “community engagement,” you know what I mean? Which is different than like sort of leading with and creating spaces where you can lead with folks in grassroots communities and community organizers, sort my individual equity sort of journey, and how we create processes for this table that are rooted in equity. Those are four sets of competencies and things to like- and considerations. I feel like it was noteworthy how much folk sort of like wanted to make it all one thing.
Does that make sense, Brian? I won’t say I was surprised but it was not expected, like it became really, really clear just the under interrogation of some of these things that came from a good place. Folk were like sort of “I just want to do better but you’re saying I have to be really smart and thoughtful about how I do better, but can’t I just try real hard?” I feel like that was noteworthy. Is that fair, Brian?
Brian Kennedy: Similarly, I think noteworthy is the right word. I don’t know if I’d call it surprising necessarily but one example of that, early one of the first tenets that came out—or maybe I’ll say this. Maybe one of the first better practices that came out was around the intentionality of really democratizing the design process of a collective impact effort.
Pretty early on we started talking to folk and we started seeing a difference in how collective impact efforts progressed really depending on what that initial phase looked like, how were partners included in the decision-making process around the theory of change. How were community members invited to participate in the research design? What’s the relationship between funders and either individuals who are running backbone organizations or who are stakeholders? What was the intentionality behind that process? I think, to Marcus’s point, there was a wide range in folks’ understanding of how deep and slow moving it is to take a big cruise ship that is this organization and really start to change some significant things in a way it disrupts the way that you do work. Doing work more equitably disrupts the way that you are currently doing work as it should, right? And that’s a slow, long process, and so I think one thing that was noteworthy was just the range of willingness, readiness maybe I should say, the range of readiness to begin to do the hard work of actually making those substantial changes in the way that folk are used to doing work.
I think that’s the point of the report. It’s to say there are some substantial shifts that happen in the way that you approach work in order to get better outcomes, and those different steps are done—every step along the way. I think that range is representative of not just collective impact work, it’s representative of the work that’s going on everywhere. I hope that’s captured. I hope that folk read them for it and see themselves somewhere along that place, and then are encouraged to slow down and to ask questions and to interrogate their own practices and do things that create a more sustainable, long-term movement that’s actually geared towards equity and systems change.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you both. Listening to you I’m also thinking about something we can put a link to in the show notes. Our colleague, senior adviser, Junious Williams, has spoken a lot about, different levels of where collective impact equity work needs to sit. Junious talks about certainly the strategies and their interventions of your effort need to be targeted. There’s a whole body of work around making sure that your work itself is equity centered but then there’s how the collaborative table—this is a lot of what you all were saying—who’s at the table, how are you coming together, whose voices are being included, where does power sit so there’s the work of like the process and the structure of the collaborative, and there’s the backbone itself and their expertise around equity and the personal journey, personal work that individuals need to be doing. Marcus, you were speaking to folks who were in that place. And then in collective impact there’s the work of all of the partner organizations themselves so you can be doing work really to advance equity as a collective but you are—many of those folks are part of broader organizations that may or may not be putting equity as part of their work so it’s a framework that Junious uses in some of his trainings around equity that might be a helpful complement to some of what you all have been speaking to.
Marcus Littles: Anything you can link of—you know, I’m team Junious. He’s amazing so link to whatever, link all the Junious stuff. He’s amazing.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Right on, very cool. I’m going to lump my last two questions together so to the extent there’s more you would like to speak to in terms of advice for folks doing this work who want to bring an antiracist approach to their collective impact work, that could be folks who are newer to it, or folks who are knee deep and have been doing this work but need to make some changes, anything else that you would like to share with people before we wrap?
Marcus Littles: I’ll start and let Brian close us. So I would say two things. I think that advice to the folks whether they’re starting collective impact work, want to bring an antiracist approach to it or whether they’re well into their collective impact work, I think one is to bring an antiracist lens. You can’t realize the aspiration of antiracist without acknowledging here’s all the racist stuff that’s in place. We have a tendency to aspire to be antiracist more than we aspire to confront the existing racist systems that we’re comfortable with. Sort of like that’s all we know, right? So no one wants to be a freshman again. That’s what’s so hard. You have to start—freshman year is not—it’s cool for a second but then you’re like I know nothing. So, one, you can’t skip the confronting all the racist stuff or at least some of it is one.
And then second, an antiracist lens makes you necessarily aware of power imbalance which is why to sort of be antiracist is to value community organizing which is seeking to shift power. If folk were like sort of, “I’m into it, yeah, antiracist—I have an antiracist lens. I’ve been through all the trainings, but like is organizing really effective or necessary?” You didn’t finish your whole antiracism school then, right? Because inherently to be antiracist is to understand that systems are not getting out of their own way, that they have to sort of like be forced there, and the importance of shifting power. Power doesn’t just slide out of the way. So I think those are just from an advice standpoint, just around confronting and connecting an antiracist lens to the necessary processes of shifting power which is, from my estimation, done through organizing.
Brian Kennedy: I don’t know if I’d add much to that. I mean I think to elaborate on that last point, Marcus, a lot of what we talk to folk about were about conflict, power, tensions, and I think if you’re doing the work of creating collective impact work that is addressing White supremacy, that is looking to break systems of oppression, then you should anticipate—you’re going to be examining power. You’re going to be challenging systems, and there should be tension in that work, right? If you get through an entire collective impact process and it’s like, “Oh, that was easy. Nobody was mad at us,” then you might not have addressed the systems that need to be addressed. I think building the capacity to embrace that conflict is just going to be super, super important, and acknowledging the value in conflict is important as well.
Then the last thing I’ll say is I’m really proud of the work that we did. I also think that nothing that we found or wrote about is something that is new or original or has not been practiced in community already. I just want to acknowledge that. I think this is a useful tool. I hope that’s it’s helpful, and I also think that ultimately if we’re looking to shift power, if we’re looking to change systems, then we need to be looking at individuals who are most closely impacted by issues and allowing them to lead in this work. Tools like this report I think help to give folk language and direction but ultimately change is going to happen in community, and that’s where power resides.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you both. I think this has been not only a wonderful and very helpful conversation but a pleasure and privilege to work with you all over the past several months, learning alongside of you, and you’ve given not only the Collective Impact Forum but the folks that we are convening, lots of very helpful tools and calls to action, probably even more importantly. So I want to really thank you both, and thanks everyone for listening and digging into the amazing work that the Frontline Solutions team, Brian, Marcus, and Ascala have done, so thank you.
Marcus Littles: Thank you all. Thanks so much.
(Outro) And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes of this podcast, including a link to the new report Rebalancing Power: Examining the Role of Advocacy and Organizing in Collective Impact.
We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the past, present, and futures of these tribes.
The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.
Our big news this month is that we have launched our open call for virtual session proposals for the next field-wide virtual Collective Impact Action Summit that will be held this April 26-28, 2022. If you have a session that you would like to share with over 1,000 backbone leaders, community partners, funders, and other collective impact practitioners, we hope you will submit your ideas. Our deadline for session submissions is Friday, November 12. Please check out our events section of collectiveimpactforum.org to find out more.
This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast host. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, we hope you are safe and well.