Kumu Blog

Tools and practices for tackling complex systems.

Spending time with change makers at the collective impact-ish symposium

What we're all doing is creating a world worthy of our children.
- Bill Fulton (Civic Canopy)

I had the pleasure of spending the week in Denver with the team at Civic Canopy during their first ever symposium, "Collectively Impacting Our Future." Not only are they helping to tackle some key issues from behind the scenes, they're also an all-around great group of people.

Somehow we missed getting an overall group photo - next time!

The symposium brought together key leaders of collective impact initiatives across the State. For those out of the loop, collective impact is a growing approach to solving social problems based on bringing together actors from different sectors and aligning those actors to a common agenda informed by shared measures. While "collective impact" looks like it is the winning term for this work, you'll see it show up in a number of different flavors based on who is writing about the approach:

I share these links to both bring you up to speed and also expand your view of collective impact. FSG brought amazing visibility to this field through their publications in Stanford Social Innovation Review, but it's important to recognize and respect this type of approach in all of its flavors.

Rather than summarizing the event, I thought I'd share a handful of my favorite quotes & insights from the day in case they're of use (or at least some inspiration). Scroll to the bottom for a link to the Kumu map of the day's participants.

Reclaim our shared purpose
Humans evolved from basic units with a shared "sacred" canopy that they could call upon to give meaning & order. As we progressed, we moved away from the idea of a "sacred" canopy and shifted to what's more accurately thought of as a "secular" canopy. At the heart of many of the challenges we face is a need to rewire society - to move aware from individual rights & wealth and reclaim our shared purpose - to embrace a "civic" canopy.

Watch your language
One person shared about how her community hated the term "collective impact." Another group adopted the practice of using yellow flags that people could wave to act as the "jargon police." It is a reminder to be careful and deliberate in the language we use, as it has the power to both empower and fizzle our efforts.

Build a cathedral
Sometimes simple re-framing is enough to align actors. Consider three different answers to the following question asked to a mason laying bricks:

What are you doing?

I'm laying bricks.

I'm building a wall.

I'm building a cathedral.

What would these answers be when asked of your collaborative? Framing can be be a powerful tool. Aligning around shared results & indicators can re-organize systems and help create a common frame.

Don't forget about the intangibles
They're hard to measure but are a key part of the success of an effort. They can be a great way to celebrate quick wins along the way to population-based outcomes.

Identify civic vital signs
The idea of metrics as civic vital signs rings so true. What's the heartrate of your community? The bloodpressure? Obesity and stress levels? How can we get even better at measuring the health of the communities we live in?

Great Quotes from the Day

All learning begins with admission of ignorance.
- Socrates

Get super clear & focused on what you want to achieve. Language can kill the movement.

Relationships are how you get the work done.
- Sarah Hernandez

Mapping the network of participants

As part of the symposium, Civic Canopy sent out a survey (via Google forms) that asked participants to answer the following:

  • Name
  • Organization
  • Introduce yourself
  • What sector do you work in?
  • What collective impact-ish iniative are you part of?
  • What is the focus (issue area/outcome) of your initiative?
  • What is the geographic focus of your initiative?
  • Which aspect(s) of collective impact do you have some experience or expertise with?
  • Which aspect(s) of collective impact do you want to learn more about?
  • Favorite Happy Hour Beverage

We then turned these answers into a series of maps that look at the various networks and interconnections of the group. Here's a look at how folks are connected by initiative...

...and here's a look at those who have experience or want to learn more about evaluation:

For these maps and more, head over to Kumu to view the full, interactive versions - Civic Canopy 2014 Symposium.

It was truly great getting to spend a day with so many folks genuinely committed to improving their state through collaborative, values-based approaches. Keep up the great work.

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