All posts by Mark Holmgren

About Mark Holmgren

Mark Holmgren is the Director of Vibrant Communities with Tamarack Institute

Data and Wisdom

When we look to another for wisdom, it is not data that we seek.

We want more than information; we need more.

We deserve more.

Data sends signals, whether standing on its own before us  or alongside of  it counterparts on a trend line or a scatter diagram.

Data may be objective, though I tend to think not, but its make up is anything but. Data is birthed in our profound lack of homogeneity. Data is how we sort through the chaos, but on its own it is neither good nor bad in and of itself.

How often have you heard someone insist that you give them the facts, show them the data. Of course data is important, but it will not unite us in understanding or resolution. Data can only mean something in our engagement of it with one another. More often than perhaps any of us prefer, this means we live with opposing views and all the snipes and barbs that accompany them.

Who decides what the facts actually are? Is the desire to claim that authority why we are so data driven?

Just before my grandfather died, he lifted his hand up towards my face and crooked his forefinger to bring me closer. He opened his mouth slowly. What he told me is private, but I guarantee you he did spout one last statistic with final  breadth.

Wisdom requires time for experience to do its thing.  It  is the inexplicable aggregation of ever-changing context with the content of our lives.

Just how wise we become actually depends on what we hope wisdom means – hopefully something good, compelling, just.

Wisdom emerges from the quality of our lives, not from quantifying our largesse.

Sometimes it is short on patience; sometimes wisdom is not kind. But we need it. We need it to help us think about what is right, not merely what data indicates.

Freedom of Choice and Human Rights

Your freedom of choice (or mine) does not trump the human rights of another.

Human rights are  fundamentally and legislatively enshrined and set the stage for how we live together. Human rights are hardwired into our collective identity. The very act of challenging the human rights of another human being is, in effect, questioning or challenging who you are as a human being living with other human beings.

In Alberta, legislation has been passed that will no longer allow child-free rental housing in the province. The fact that legislation was in effect forced upon the government by a Court of Queen’s Bench judgement is fodder for another posting. However, the fact that Albertans are debating the legislation is disturbing.

To deny another their protected human rights is wrong. It is wrong if it happens to you or to me or to anyone. Is this something Canadian society wishes to debate? I don’t think so.

Human rights create a level playing field; they represent the “must-dos” and the “must-not’s” that govern and frame our collective behaviour.  The protected human rights of all Canadians is what fosters personal freedom and choice. It is inconceivable to me to take these benefits and then believe someone’s human rights should be denied to uphold your own personal freedoms (freedoms, not rights).

Saying things like: “I raised four kids and now I deserve peace and quiet” as rationale for an offensive against the human rights of children is at the very least unfortunate. At a deeper level, it is sad commentary on how often in society, through racism and discrimination, we use our human rights to contain, if not destroy, the human rights of those who are different from us.

Think about it. If children are denied housing because they are children, why not GEN-X only housing or Skinny People only Housing. Or worse.

We are entitled to our personal preferences and choices but only if they do not betray the human rights of others.

Some or even many might not like that, but too bad. Instead of whining about it, try to understand the fundamental  importance of this in your own life and accept that your personal choices not only do not trump human rights, but you should be advocating for the human rights of all Canadians, not feel sorry for yourself because someone else’s human rights are an inconvenience.

Again. Your freedom of choice (or mine) does not trump the human rights of another.

It can be no other way in a civil society.

About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Collective Impact is multi-sector approach to large-scale collaboration that is authentically inclusive of citizens in its development and implementation – in particular citizens who have life-experience with the big problems or issues being addressed, such as poverty, climate change, family violence, and so many more.

Collective Impact is not an approach aimed at creating program changes among a few agencies or undertaking collaboration in order to compete with other community initiatives. Rather, it tends to be focused on efforts to leverage talents, existing services, innovations, and resources in order to effect significant changes to policies and systems and where needed, significant programmatic changes. Such changes might occur within governments or government-run institutions, within education and health institutions, within business, or within service providers.

At recent sessions and workshops I held in Vancouver (Community Change Institute) and in Edmonton (Upside Down Thinking) , I shared a perspective on three types of problems identified by Brenda Zimmerman and how they connect to three types of change, three types of learning, and various types of thinking required in addressing each type of problem. My intent is to help our collective thinking about significant problems/issues facing our communities.

Simple problems are those we can fix easily and are sometimes called kaizen (the Japanese word for “continuous improvement”). Solutions to these kinds of problems are akin to tweaking a recipe or adjusting a process to improve quality or reliability of performance. Typically such changes are incremental.

When confronting these types of problems, we tend to focus on learning how to do things better (to do things right). A primary way to think about these problems is via event-oriented thinking, which is about focusing on events in sequence. This type of thinking is generally about undertaking changes to an “event” that impact the behaviour of employees in their delivery of a service to others. While important to achieving kaizen, this type of thinking limits its scope to causes of the event and does not involve looking at the overall system. Continue reading About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Why are we here?

Such a simple question, four small words that get at the core of our community change work.

It’s not a question confined to a step in a visioning or planning process. It’s place is with us, no matter where we are going or if we are standing still.

It’s not just a question about purpose or vision. It is also inquiry into who we are and how coming together around something that matters to all of us might change us. After all, change of any size is made by people; the changes they make only occur because of the changes within themselves. Continue reading Why are we here?

35 Voices On Collaborative Leadership and Co-Creating Cities of the Future

C lick Paper to Download

In July and August, I sought out individuals in my personal and professional network to contribute to a major paper I was writing on Collaborative Leadership and Co-Creating Cities of the Future. I sought out participation through Facebook, via a survey which I promoted in emails and through Twitter.

The paper was released last week at Tamarack’s Community Change Institute. It’s not a coincidence that it was titled: Cities of the Future: Co-Creating Tomorrow.

I have to say I was so pleased with the participation and the depth and range of responses. The narrative written by participants was so compelling, at least half of the paper is written in their own   words and the remainder is presented in aggregate, through summary commentary. I do admit I might have thrown in my own point of view here and there, but the paper truly is one example of co-creation. Continue reading 35 Voices On Collaborative Leadership and Co-Creating Cities of the Future