This week I had a chance to meet up with a special group of my lifelong friends. They are not my best friends and we have known each other for barely five years. However, we have a bond that knits us together in a way that ensures our friendship will endure through the rest of our lives. What is that bond? Suffering. At least, that is what one of my friends says it is. In fact, we bonded through the shared experience of a grueling paper chase. For over five years we have lived together in the crucible of higher education in pursuit of the Doctor of Philosophy in Organizational
Leadership. Together we have been afraid, angry, hurt, exhausted, frustrated, on the edge of total collapse, and ready to walk, no, run away. Also, together, we have wept, laughed, comforted, celebrated, supported (even with calls and texts in the middle of the night), forgiven, and lovingly kept one another close so that running away was not possible. In this crucible we forged a friendship, a community, to which we will belong and cherish for the rest of our lives.
Much of my career’s work has been in community social change efforts. I have been in innumerable meetings in which someone would raise the question in that hushed, quasi-philosophical tone, “So, what do we mean by…community?” What usually ensues is a debate about geographic boundaries, homogeneity, ethnicity, etc., etc. Too rarely have I heard “shared experience” raised as a means of defining community. Considered individually, there is little that our group of 15 lifelong friends has in common. We are racially diverse, professionally diverse, and geographically diverse (Calgary to Addis Ababa to Malawi and all points in between). We are from different generations and different faiths. And yet, we have among us a single shared experience that is unique to us as a group. It is this crucible experience that has forged us into a community.
In fact, is it not shared experience that defines a community more than any other characteristic? For this reason, when we attempt community social change it is important that we understand that shared community experience. There is no better place to begin to increase our understanding than with the people who have lived the experience personally. These are also known as “context experts” because it is their first-person knowledge and understanding of that experience that helps us understand the community context. Without the context experts and an understanding of that shared experience in the community, our efforts will always be less effective and more short-lived.
In our next community change initiative…whether it is focused on poverty, homelessness, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, violence prevention, or something else…let’s call in the context experts first to help us understand what the community is really all about.
This morning National Public Radio gave us a rare glimpse at a national holiday, Martin Luther King Day, through the eyes of a child and it was a rich experience. This is very special because we adults get to select the national holidays and everyone celebrates them by decree. With the exception of Christmas and other gift giving holidays, we often do not take time to view the holidays, especially national holidays, from a child’s perspective. This is a wonderful story and I hope you will take time to read it or listen to it.
The U.S. Department of Health Human Services Office of Adolescent Health posted four new teen pregnancy prevention funding opportunities last weekend (January 10) and one just before the holiday break on December 23rd. These are major funding opportunities for organizations that are working in teen pregnancy prevention. Each of the five opportunities has a different focus and funds very different activities. Please be sure to read them carefully. Each also requires a letter of intent to apply for the funding as well as a full application. In addition, each opportunity has a different timeline for receipt of letters of intent and applications.
To learn how to access detailed information on each of the opportunities, click here or on the “Funding Alert” link above. To learn more about how we can help, click here or on the link above to “Evaluation Research.”
Today I am doing something I do not usually do and it is not something I plan to do as a habit. I am publishing the same brief article I wrote for my newsletter as a blog, though I have expanded on it a bit more here. My sole reason for doing so is that I saw a short video today that moved me so much I wanted to make sure I shared it with as many people as I can. I hope you will take a look for yourself and share it as well. Who knows? Maybe we will change the world! Here’s the article:
What makes a “happy” new year?
As I was preparing to open a consulting practice exactly a year ago at this time, I began to wrestle with the question, “What will make me happy in this new year as my practice starts up?” The question of what makes one happy, new year or any other time, is not a simple one at all. Of course, the consummate answer to the question is “it depends.” However, to answer the question at a personal level, we are pushed to consider our values and then consider how our actions align with those values. In the end, according to many happiness researchers, we are likely to discover that our happiness is anchored in an overall satisfaction with our values and how we live our lives in relation to those values.
In this past year I have come to acknowledge and own that my core value is a belief in the “greater good,” which I understand to be the idea that each of us have an ethical obligation to leave the world a better place than we found it when we arrived. Further, I have come to understand that I live out this belief best when I do good for someone everyday. Now if this sounds a bit familiar (and I hope it does) it is because I have tried to capture this philosophy in the tag-line I use for my practice and which appears regularly in my on-line and print material: Be greater, do good, every day.
Recently I came across an incredible video that captures and powerfully illustrates the essence of this idea. It is the six-minute story of Josh, a young man from London, Ontario, who was bullied by other students in his high school. In one simple act of doing good to others, he stopped the bullying and transformed his school and his life. Josh’s story is a testimony to an important truth about doing good: it changes both the recipient of the act and the doer. Since I did not know what I could give you for the holidays, please accept this amazing video as my gift to you. May it inspire you to be happier and greater by doing good, every day in 2015.
Can you imagine what our neighborhoods, communities, and world could be like through simple acts of kindness like Josh’s? In this space I often write about strategies for community and social change and, frankly, I sometimes forget that the simplest, smallest acts are often the most effective. Relationship building is a key to facilitating social change and simple, small acts of kindness – done over and over again – are often the most effective relationship building tools. Many of us who are working on Collective Impact and other social change initiatives are eager for change to come and it cannot come quickly enough for us. We cannot, however, let our impatience convince us that we do not have time to be kind, for it is through kindness that our initiatives can be propelled at greater speeds to achieve greater impact.
Josh’s story reminds me of something I heard a couple of years ago when I was doing interviews in a research project on organizational leadership. I asked each interviewee this question: “What is the most important lesson you have learned in your years of leadership?” I will never forget this one response I received because for it has forever changed my own interaction with people: “It is always better to be kind than to be right.”
For me, this wise counsel and the illustration of its truth in Josh’s story raises this question: In all of our searching for the right frameworks, the right programs, the right strategies, and the right tactics to change our communities for the better, might the answer, after all, be found in kindness?
My apologies to friends and colleagues who receive both this blog and my e-newsletter. If you receive this blog and would also like to receive my e-newsletter, please click here to subscribe.
Be greater; Do good; Every day,
P.S. Please join me for “Creating Change with Collective Impact,” a GrantStation.com webinar on February 12, 2015. Whether you are new to the idea of cross-sector collaboration to solve complex social problems through Collective Impact or have been working with Collective Impact initiatives, I think you will find this webinar useful and valuable. In 2011 “collective impact” was identified as the number two philanthropy buzzword of the year by a writer in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Since then the “buzz” around collective impact has only continued to grow. In this webinar we will take a closer look at the collective impact phenomenon, tackling some of the most important questions: What is collective impact? How does it differ from other collaborative approaches? Is it merely a new name for collaboration? How does collective impact work? How has collective impact changed since its introduction? How do you decide when a collective impact approach is the best fit for your project and your funder? This webinar is designed for grant writers, executive directors, project managers and staff, as well as development staff. The webinar will be held on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 2:00 PM Eastern (U.S.). There is a cost involved, payable to GrantStation.com upon registration: $89.00 per person OR $150.00 per site for multiple participants. To register, click here or click on the title of the webinar above. I hope to “see” you there!
Collective Impact is a term coined by FSG, a social change consulting group, to describe a cross-sector collaboration that focuses on solving complex social problems by embracing a common agenda. In 2011 “collective impact” was identified as the number two philanthropy buzzword of the year by a writer in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Since then the “buzz” around collective impact has only continued to grow. In this webinar, Tom Klaus will take a closer look at the collective impact phenomenon, tackling some of the most important questions: What is collective impact? How does it differ from other collaborative approaches? Is it merely a new name for collaboration? How does collective impact work? How has collective impact changed since its introduction? How do you decide when a collective impact approach is the best fit for your project and your funder?
This webinar is designed for grantwriters, executive directors, project managers and staff, as well as development staff.
The webinar will be held on Thursday, February 12, 2015. Visit the link above to register or click here.
Date: Thursday, February 12, 2015
Time: 2:00 PM Eastern Time (U.S.), running for 90 minutes
Fee: $89.00 per person, $150.00 per site.
About the Presenter:
Dr. Tom Klaus (PhD in Organizational Leadership) is a nonprofit/social profit consultant who has worked at all levels of nonprofits from direct service, to executive leadership, to heading complex national initiatives. Tom is a “pracademic,” steeped in both the study and practice of nonprofit organizational leadership, collaboration, and community engagement. He is an adjunct professor at Eastern University (Philadelphia) in the School of Leadership and Development, where he is a pioneer in teaching collective impact. Tom is a frequent keynote, plenary, and workshop speaker and trainer. He is also a prolific writer, blogging on community engagement and collective impact on his own site (www.nonprofitgp.com) and Tamarack, a Canadian institute for community engagement, and contributing to the NPQ Newswire.
I am pleased and honored to be working with GrantStation on this new webinar. GrantStation is an organization dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities. GrantStation.com offers nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies the opportunity to identify potential funding sources for their programs or projects as well as resources to mentor these organizations through the grantseeking process. GrantStation provides access to a searchable database of private grantmakers that accept inquiries and proposals from a variety of organizations; federal deadlines; links to state funding agencies; and a growing database of international grantmakers. In addition, GrantStation publishes two newsletters highlighting upcoming funding opportunities, the weekly GrantStation Insider, which focuses on opportunities for U.S. nonprofit organizations, and the monthly GrantStation International Insider, which focuses on international funding opportunities.
If you are new to GrantStation, please take a few minutes to learn more at grantstation.com. GrantStation is an important resource for nonprofit organizations seeking to create and sustain the greater good in their communities.
I hope you are able to join me and GrantStation for this webinar on February 12, 2015.
I’m a really lucky guy. I got to spend a week with my Canadian friends earlier this month and, once again, they both affirmed and pushed my thinking. Boy, did they affirm and push! The occasion was Tamarack’s inaugural Collective Impact Summit in Toronto. Featured plenary speakers included Melody Barnes, John Kania, Brenda Zimmerman, and Jay Connor. In this space I want to highlight the five biggest ideas that came out of this event for me. The concept of a “big idea,” of course, is relative. What is big to me may not be big to you so I will explain my criteria. The five ideas that follow were big to me because they both confirmed what I have been learning through my own work with Collective Impact since December, 2011 and inspired me to go even deeper.
In the opening session of the summit, Tamarack’s Mark Cabaj set the theme and tone by arguing that the Summit was marking a new phase in the development of Collective Impact. The first phase, Collective Impact 1.0, was marked by experimentation with the approach. Collective Impact 2.0 saw the framing of broad parameters and the emergence and development of practices related to it. Collective Impact 3.0, though, would extend and build upon these previous two phases as it deepened understanding of the practices, capacities and ecology or context required for CI. The CI Summit did a great job of focusing on Collective Impact 3.0 and, as a result, these five big ideas emerged for me.
Big Idea #1: “Collective Impact” Does Not Need to be Applied to Every Collaboration. This idea represents a major leap in the maturation of the Collective Impact framework. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recognized “Collective Impact” as #2 in their top ten list of philanthropic buzzwords in 2011. In doing so, though, it suggested that CI was merely a new term for an old way of working together. Shortly thereafter the term was applied to every sort of collaborative effort. My regular readers will know that I am one who has been frustrated by the wholesale application of the “Collective Impact” label to every group effort. New ideas can benefit from such publicity but they can also die when, as a result, they are misunderstood as simply “new and shiny” objects. When a new idea’s label is, therefore, misapplied it can be devalued and its benefit to the field lost. I think Collective Impact 1.0 and 2.0 was at risk of devaluation as a result of its popularity.
At the CI Summit, Brenda Zimmerman delineated known, knowable, and unknowable problems. Isolated efforts and traditional collaborations are usually sufficient to address the known and knowable problems. Complex social issues, which is the realm of Collective Impact, are unknowable problems. That is, the problems are difficult to define and the solutions are even less clear. The appropriate application of Collective Impact 3.0 is to complex issues.
Big Idea #2: “Context Experts” and “Content Experts,” a 50/50 Proposition. The CI Summit introduced new language, as well as a new understanding, for how to think about the residents with lived experience that CI initiatives are trying to serve. “Residents with lived experience,” for those unfamiliar with the term, are people who are living directly with the issue a CI initiative is trying to address and are, therefore, likely to be the people who see the greatest benefit from a successful initiative.Context Experts are residents with lived experience, including children and youth. Typically, they are the people who experientially know about the issue. Content Experts are professionals, providers, and leaders with formal power who have knowledge, tools, and resources to address the issue. Typically, they are the people with the technical knowhow. The language is new and quite friendly to use though the concept of having both types of experts in a collaborative effort is not.
The really big idea is with regard to achieving the right mix of the two types of experts. For too many years and in too many collaborative initiatives, Content Experts have far outnumbered Context Experts, to the point of tokenizing them. The information coming out of the Summit, though, argues that it needs to be a 50/50 split to achieve Collective Impact 3.0. This reformulation of the equation has profound implications, particularly, I believe, among CI initiatives in the United States. In future blogs, I will try to unpack some of those that are most significant.
Big Idea #3: Ownership and Buy In are Not the Same Thing. This idea has an important correlation to the previous one: the more we involve Context Experts the more likely it is that we will facilitate “ownership” and not merely “buy in.” Why is this? The explanation lies in understanding how these are defined in the context of Collective Impact 3.0. “Buy in” means that Content Experts have come up with an idea and now have to get Context Experts to “buy in” to it, if it is going to stand a chance of working. This, I argue, is the sad status quo for most social change and public health initiatives I have both seen and been a part of in the United States. “Ownership” means that the idea comes from the Context Experts and, as a result, it is theirs from the outset and, therefore, need no convincing. We Content Experts are infamous for coming up with ideas for doing good to or for others, but not with them.
Big Idea #4: Best Practices are the Enemy of Emergence. The CI Summit highlighted that Collective Impact 3.0 is designed to address complex problems with emergent solutions. As noted earlier, complex problems do not have known solutions therefore evidence-based and best practices from past experience have very limited value. While they may offer clues, they cannot provide the definitive answers we expect of them. When best practices are applied, in fact, they stifle the creative thinking and adaptive responses needed for the solutions to emerge. Here is the danger of best practices when applied to complex problems: If we are convinced we already have the solution through an evidence-based or best practice, we stop thinking about and seeing other solutions when they emerge. As a result, we keep pounding the square peg into the round hole. Collective Impact 3.0 asks us to take the leap of faith that our Context Experts and Content Experts, when working together in a close relationship based on respect and trust, can allow the solutions to emerge and, together, see them, test them, and implement them.
Big Idea #5: Change Happens at the Speed of Trust. “Change happens at the speed of trust” refers to comments made by FSG’s John Kania when he was speaking about the mind shifts that are needed for Collective Impact 3.0. Among the mind shifts John identified was the need to establish deeper relationships among CI partners to support the movement needed for progress to occur. It is not clear to me whether John actually used the phrase “change happens at the speed of trust” or whether this was an interpretation given to his actual words by another. I heard one of the members of my Learning Lab use this during our final meeting together of the Summit. It immediately resonated with me. The following week I used the phrase in my keynote presentation at the Iowa Department of Human Services Breakthrough Series Collaborative meeting in Des Moines. It strongly resonated with the group there as well. Wendy Rickman, Administrator of the Division of Adult, Children and Family Services, was so taken by it that she proposed that “change happens at the speed of trust” be carried forward as the theme for the next phase of the Iowa Breakthrough Series Collaborative, a five-year-old initiative of Iowa DHS and Casey Family Programs to improve the state’s child welfare system.
Regardless of the origin of the phrase, it says a lot about the look of Collective Impact 3.0. As one of John Kania’s slides did said, “typical social sector mindset and behavior has it backwards.” It is not about pre-determined solutions and emergent interactions and relationships; it is about pre-determined interactions and the relationships and solutions that will emerge as a result.
The many pieces of information I gleaned from the Summit that congealed into these Five Big Ideas came so fast and furious that I am not sure I can accurately cite any single source. Some came out of the plenary sessions, some came out of the workshops, and some came out of the interaction with Learning Lab #20 (you know who you are and thank you for all I learned from you) which I had the honor and pleasure of facilitating. Regardless of the source, I am deeply appreciative of the insights and ideas that were shared at the Collective Impact Summit. I hope to meet you there next year!
Recently a friend of mine told me that I’m “hopelessly Midwestern” and he is right. In fact, I’m not only hopelessly Midwestern, I’m proudly hopelessly Midwestern. To learn more about this condition, click on the link above and enjoy The String Doctors as they explain it to you. I can, though, explain one thing it means: I like ketchup…on steak…on many foods…which I’ve observed is an affront to many Easterners among whom I now live.
Imagine my joy, then, while in Saskatoon last February, on the coldest day in 20 years (-41 degrees with wind-chill), that I ran into ketchup pushers. The ketchup pushers were the wait staff in the restaurant at my hotel. The wait staff, with bottles of Heinz ketchup in hand, asked every single person coming in for breakfast the same question in nearly the same lilting way: “Good morning. Would you like a bit of ketchup with your breakfast?” (You’ll have to add your own lilt.) At first it was a bit surrealistic as I watched and listened as they posed this question as if it were part of a perfectly typical greeting like, “Good morning. How are you doing today?” Instead they skipped the “how are you doing” part and went directly to the ketchup inquiry. I also observed that nobody else seemed to think it was an odd way to be greeted. So I quietly marveled and listened in, chalking it all up to an idiosyncratic culture clash between the United States and Canada.
However, I just could not shake the experience from my mind or memory. Here’s why: the ketchup pushers reminded me of two important lessons on how to do our work in the social sector.
Create a Warm Welcome: Though a bit quirky, the ketchup pushing was an incredible act of welcoming that not only warmed the soul but seemed to warm the body. It tended to counteract the stunning cold that was outside. It was, after all, the coldest day in 20 years in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (have I already mentioned that?). Later in the day, after it warmed up to -19, I would go outside to walk across the street to the mall. Even then, I followed the lead of a native Saskatooner, whom I had observed walking backwards against the wind, to avoid frost bite. It is a bit challenging to cross a busy street walking backwards but in that kind of cold it seems a toss-up between freezing to death and getting run over. At breakfast, though, when it was -41 outside, this wait staff warmed up the place several degrees with their joyful hospitality.
Some nonprofit front offices can be the coldest places on earth.In these frigid places people are not greeted properly, if at all. They may have complicated forms pushed on them to complete without the courtesy of a friendly greeting or the benefit of instructions. In too many cases even the forms are not in their first language. The signage in the office may not answer even the most basic questions, such as the location of a restroom that clients and visitors are welcome to use. Visible signage may, however, include prohibitions (e.g., NO public restrooms, NO cell phone use, NO media use without headphones, NO complaining about our lack of hospitality, etc.) and other lists of policies and procedures…again, not always in a visitor’s first language. Chairs in the waiting area may have originally been designed to coerce compliance in the Spanish Inquisition and are placed so closely together to all but eliminate any sense of personal space. What is it about this kind of experience that warms anything except overheat one’s sense of disrespect and indignation? We can learn from the ketchup pushers just how important it is to create a warm welcome for everyone.
Anticipation: Through their ketchup pushing the wait staff was heading off future conflict. There just are not that many conflicts over ketchup, to be sure. However, put yourself in the apron of a wait staff member. You get out of bed at 4:00 AM, walk backwards to your car to avoid frost bite, hope it will start in the horrific cold, and then arrive at work by 5:30 AM for a 6:00 AM restaurant opening. You walk into the chilly restaurant to begin your shift and realize it is so cold outside that the furnace is having a hard time warming the room. You are there to serve people who are visiting Saskatoon, maybe for the first time, who will be waking up hungry, crawling out of a nicely warm bed into a colder room, only to find there is no way they will really feel warm again all day in a strange city. The Cranky and Grouchy Customer Alert System just went to 5. What would you do? I think you and I would do exactly what the wait staff did…consider how little it would take to get on the bad side of a customer first thing on a really nasty cold morning and then anticipate even little ways to head off problems. Our first effort, therefore, becomes a lilting greeting: “Good morning! Would like a bit of ketchup with your breakfast?” (This link is for everyone who just cannot bear to think about pairing the words “anticipation” and ketchup without reference to the iconic Heinz commercial.)
Think of the ketchup pusher’s anticipation as “strategic conflict management,” if you will.Really, think about it. When you have home fries (which I did) or French fries or something else for which you want ketchup, you usually have to ask for it. Then, if the wait staff is busy, they may or may not get your ketchup to you before your food gets cold. Frosty home fries and ketchup are not a pleasant combination, mind you, and the experience of eating them cold can chill you inside and out, releasing your inner grouch. By anticipating even this small need, my ketchup pusher put me in a frame of mind that made it easy to appreciate my breakfast experience and hard to find anything to criticize.
I have been thinking a lot about strategic conflict management over the past few months as I developed and tested a new training event for nonprofit leaders, staff, and community stakeholders. Strategic conflict management seeks to forecast areas of potential conflict in order to either avoid it altogether or at least minimize its collateral damage. Many nonprofits, especially those that work on controversial social issues, never see the conflict coming until they are in the middle of it. Then there is only time to be reactive and the opposition is already two steps ahead of the nonprofit’s next move. In research I have done on the ongoing conflict over sexuality education in the United States, I have found that nonprofit leaders tend to go on “automatic pilot” when conflict erupts. As a result they tend to take a series of actions that merely escalates and entrenches the conflict long term. I debuted the strategic conflict management training in July to rave reviews and very strong, positive evaluation results. (If you’d like to learn more about it for your organization or community, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact form below).
The ketchup pushers at my hotel on that frigid February morning are one of the reasons I love Saskatoon. I have had the privilege of being there a couple of times in my life and hope to go back many more times. For me, Saskatoon exudes a sense of welcome. Before going to breakfast I watched some of the local news as I was dressing (in layers, of course) for the cold day. I heard a story about an event held the previous day (on the second coldest day in 20 years in Saskatoon) that featured the cuisine of immigrants who were being welcomed into the community. Several of the people interviewed for the story talked about the importance of creating a sense of welcome and “place” for Saskatoon’s newest residents. I now find myself wondering, as these new Saskatooners sampled the various foods, how many times they must have heard, “Would you like a bit of ketchup with that?”