Category Archives: Collaboration

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.

Of course, it is a fitting question when we are contemplating a collective aspiration or vision. It’s a question that is also about right now. Why are we here, right now? What do we understand about the moment we are in? Have we made the time to connect with those around the table so that we can know them beyond their titles and their organizational roles and authorities?

As is true for all compelling questions, they produce additional questions. If we prefer a jargony label, one could call it a prime example of generative inquiry, but that’s  just a fancy term for the fact that good questions lead to more good questions. That’s easy to understand.

When groups are stuck or, worse, when their members are at odds with one another, this question has the potential to be a game-changer, if people are willing to abandon their positions and certainties and turn together to answer the question. The question is not asking for an argument, but rather implies a need to understand ourselves and one another and, as much as possible, those we represent.

This can be where groups go wrong: failing to devote sufficient time and energy to connecting with one another as human beings, not just professionals with organizational ties and confinements. Getting to the human part of the question is important because our humanity cannot be governed by an organization, but we can and I daresay we should try our best to share who we are as we talk about why we are here.

It’s hard to do. And it takes a lot of trust, which also requires time to form and nurture. Trust is an exchange between human beings, not professionals. Either you trust the person or you don’t. There is no such thing as half-trust. Lack of trust leads to blaming and closing doors. It causes us to deflect ourselves from grappling with what matters most and devote our waning energy to process details, rules of order, and snipes – sometimes to such a degree that the only common agenda is the group’s dedication to its own dysfunction.

Those of you who know me understand my sensitivity to addressing capacity when setting strategy. Our tendency is to take on more than we can effectively handle – or should I say, “juggle?” That said, when groups do not understand and embrace why they are here it can result in the claim that “we lack the capacity” to do this stuff. “We have to do this off the corners of our desks.”

It is true that capacity considerations must have a strong presence in strategy development and even more so when forming implementation plans. But in my many years of consulting with leaders and community change practitioners I can’t recall a group that understood why it was “here” and why each individual was, too, ever stopping itself from doing anything because of a lack of capacity.

The purpose of factoring in capacity challenges is not to identify what will defeat us, but  to first recognize and then do something about the capacities required to move forward on the shared aspiration.

After all, we will never bring about significant community change is all we do is articulate all the reasons we can’t make the changes we say we want to make.

Why are we here?

Our answers are worth knowing.


By the way, why do we see juggling many balls as a badge of honour, as if it is a skill to be aspired for? Realistically, if you are focused on juggling a bevy of balls in the air, you can’t do much anything else, can you?

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.

My co-authors are listed in the paper (at least those who granted me permission) and I am grateful to each and everyone.

Collaboration and Collaborative Leadership is not always easy; there is risk to writing a paper this way. This is one of those times, the risk was more than worth it.

 Click to Download

Invitation to help me write a major paper on Collaborative Leadership

I am writing to ask you to do a bit of collaboration with me regarding a paper I am writing on Collaborative Leadership and the Future of Cities.

I thought since the paper is about collaboration and leadership I would reach out to you and others to request that you invest 15 or 20 minutes in this survey.

I know. Another survey.

If you can’t do it, no worries.

If there are others you know that may wish to participate, please share this post or email them the survey link.

But before you excuse yourself from participating, be advised it’s a pretty cool survey, replete with big pictures, and quotes from smart people for you to ponder. You don’t want to miss out, do you? 😊

And if you do participate and give me your name and email, you will get a copy emailed to you (around the end of September) and you can be included in the paper’s credits (if you grant me permission), and of course you will have my gratitude.

If you wish to remain anonymous, that’s fine, too.

I am hoping for responses to be in by August 18th. Oh by the way, there are no required fields, so if you want to click the link below and page through the survey to see what’s up, please do.

Here’s the link:

Developing Collective Impact Strategies

This article contains tools and approaches designed to help with the development of Collective Impact strategies. This resource is meant to serve as a guide for you and your colleagues as well as to stir your thinking. Three approaches are addressed: Divergent and Convergent Thinking, Strategy Criteria, and a structured approach to Strategy Formulation.