Category Archives: Collaboration

Collaborating to Understand Collaboration; A New Tool

I imagine the majority of us value collaboration. We believe that doing it increases impact, fosters innovation, and is especially called for when it comes to effecting large-scale systemic change (or transformational change). Many say collaboration is more efficient than disconnected social change or social service efforts. The expectations of many funders are that grant requests must include collaboration. It’s a norm we just accept.

Collective Impact is how we describe large-scale collaboration that aspires to resolve intractable problems like poverty, climate change, family violence, obesity and so on. It makes sense to view working together on such problems as requiring such a collaborative framework.

agree-disagree tool image

As much as we see collaboration as a desired, if not necessary community-change norm, people experience collaboration differently, have varied perspectives on what it is, what its benefits are, how successful it actually is, and how it can go wrong. While we share a common appreciation for collaboration, we have feelings and we make judgements about collaboration that may not shared with one another. In other words, each of us carries biases about collaboration to the collaborative table that are often kept hidden from one another for a variety of reasons.

I see these unshared perspectives as important undercurrents that should be brought to the surface and discussed. Over the years, I have been a member of more collaborations than I can count. I cannot recall having an in depth conversation with my colleagues about our respective views and experiences on collaboration. What we did do more times than not was identify guiding principles that we inserted into our terms of reference, but I typically found this effort to be more task-focused than being grounded in generative conversations about collaboration.

Collaboration is a personal endeavour as much as it is a professional one, and I am offering the attached tool as one way for a group to get at what individuals think and believe about collaboration and help them dialogue about their differences and then work to identify a shared understanding of what collaboration might offer them if they commit to working that way. I suggest such conversation is a necessary precursor to identifying guiding principles as well as the process design of collaborating together.

The tool is based on an Agree-Disagree Exercise. Moving through the steps outlined in its instructions can enhance the possibility of identifying a group’s own case for collaborating to resolve a significant community problem.  As is the case for all tools and exercises, this tool requires authentic participation by members of a collaborative group to have optimal value. It also requires sufficient time to undertake this engagement.

Take a look at this tool. Adapt it to accommodate your own context and group dynamics if that will help you. Once you have identified your own “case” for collaborating you can move on to the next challenge, which is how to make your case come alive in your work. That stage of your work may require another tool; I am going to think about that.

Agree-Disagree Exercises can be applied to more than collaboration. As you will see, it offers a framework that can be used to discuss Collective Impact, Community Engagement, Innovation, and on.


Let me know what you think. I am also on the prowl to improve!

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. 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 within 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

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.