iowa-not-ohio

The Refuge of Community

What is the meaning of community for us; each of us, as individual persons? This question has been nagging at me since September when I attended Tamarack’s Community Change Institute in Toronto. It has come into sharper focus for me in the wake of the results of the U.S. Presidential election this past week.

The institute’s theme this year was about the role of creative disruption in system change, which, of course, could also be an appropriate topic for a post-election blog. However, at the Institute, I kept running into people for whom community as refuge seemed important, even if they did not or could not name it as such. On Thursday evening of the event we went en masse to meet with a group of Syrian refugees and enjoy an evening of Syrian food, music, and dancing. It was not this experience, though it was powerful as well as enjoyable, that formed the question that has been nagging me. It was personal interactions with a couple of people at the event.

Prefer to hear and see The Refuge of Community video blog? Click on play button below.

One was a young black man from Florida, another American, who was attending his second Tamarack event. We connected early in the conference and shared a couple of meals together. As an act of remembrance, he wore a button with the picture of his friend, another young black man, who had been innocently shot and killed only a few months before. He was surprised to meet another American – especially a very white guy with roots in the Midwest – who did not hold the biases that made him feel threatened for his own life in his own country. He was finding among the Canadians a sense of community that did not judge him by the color of his skin. We became friends and together we experienced the refuge of community we had found at Tamarack and through our friendship.

The other was a young Muslim woman whose parents had emigrated from Iraq to Canada. It was not clear to me whether she had been born in Iraq, but it was clear that she was seeking community and had not yet quite found it. We also became friends at the event and had some nice conversations at breaks and between sessions. The night of the dinner and music with the Syrian refugees, I saw her and spoke with her again briefly. With a quiver in her voice and tears welling in her eyes she told me she had not known of this group that was so welcoming to Muslim people. “For the first time, I feel like I have a place,” she said. She, like the young man from Florida, was finding the refuge of community.

When I was at the Tamarack event in September many Canadians, and people from Denmark, Australia, and other countries as well, asked me what was going on with the U.S. Presidential election. I really did not have a good answer at that time. Now that it is, thankfully, over and I have had a chance to return to my musings about the refuge of community, a narrative has emerged that helps me make sense of the election. It is about the power of community and the need each person has for a community that offers a sense of refuge from the most troubling and disturbing aspects of life.

For American’s in the “fly over” states of the Midwest, this election was about finding the refuge of community after years of feeling like others had taken control of their lives and they had been left behind. I can appreciate that feeling. I am a native of Iowa in the Midwest and I have often heard, even my friends and colleagues here on the East Coast, speak with dismissive ignorance about the people in the middle part of the United States. (Does the same thing happen to people in the middle provinces of Canada, I wonder?) For example, people I know on the East Coast confuse Iowa with Ohio, even Idaho. They assume the geography of the Midwest is all the same – flat and bland – until you get to the Rocky Mountains. Even worse, they assume we Midwesterners are poorly educated, backward, and inconsequential. This week’s election reinforced a lesson that we all should have learned a long time ago:

It is dangerous to stereotype and to allow our stereotypes to make us believe others do not matter.

The U.S. Presidential election teaches us a powerful lesson about the need people have for the refuge of community. We all need to feel like we have a place in our community. Let me say that again. We ALL need to feel like we have a place in our community. This is true whether that community is a neighborhood, a city, a state, or an entire country. It is also true even when we consider micro-communities such as interest groups, sports teams, and places of worship.

Though I do not believe it is unique for our time, our world currently has many fractured communities in which some feel “in” and others feel “out.” Those who are “in” feel like the community is a refuge for them. Yet those who are “out” feel like their communities are not safe places for them. The young man from Florida has felt “out” of the U.S. community and the young woman in Toronto has felt “out” of the Canadian community. They remind me that as individuals we will be guarded and careful even while we seek the refuge of community. The U.S. election reminds me that when enough individuals who feel “out” of community finally come together they will disrupt the community and its systems. This is what I believe happened this week in the U.S. Presidential election. We experienced the disruption of people who have felt “out” of the national community coming together to re-establish it as a place of refuge for them.

The lesson of this U.S. Presidential election is a powerful one for those of us who work with communities. We must always be diligent to establish communities in which all can find and feel refuge. I know that is a very steep challenge; in fact, it may, in the end, be impossible. It looks impossible in the U.S. right now when one candidate, representing one vision of community, handily wins the Electoral College while the other candidate, with a very different vision of community, wins the popular vote by nearly a half million people. Nonetheless, we who work in community do so because we see a third way in which the whole community can come together to ensure a place where all can know and feel the refuge of community. Our unique gifts and abilities are needed now more than ever; and, so, our work continues.

Be greater; Do good; Everyday.

Tom Klaus

presidents-residence-from-lafayette-park

My Day at the White House

I was surprised (no, stunned) and honored with an invitation to the White House early last week for a meeting that took place at the end of the week. I was clueless why I received the invitation, especially on such short notice, so I called and asked if it was a mistake and, if not, what were they thinking? It wasn’t a mistake but the person I spoke with couldn’t tell me why I was invited (which is not exactly a confidence builder). It was all a bit mysterious but I went anyway thinking it was probably a mistake and I would either get thrown out or picked up by the Secret Service. Still, just in case, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

After five security stops (one online and four in person), I got into the building and I learntjust-me why I had been invited. It seems a recent research paper that Ed Saunders and I published earlier this year in Community Development, the journal of the Community Development Society, got some attention. Ed, who is the former Director of the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa, and I have been collaborators for 25 years, since 1991. Our recent research and paper on the integration of community engagement, collective impact, and sustainable community development grabbed the interest of a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official and that person, in turn, moved it up to the White House.

I was invited to the meeting as a way of introducing me and our work to the people in the Administration and around the country who are working on the President’s Promise Zones initiatives in 22 disadvantaged communities. (Also, my Midwestern self-deprecating roots tell me I should note that I was an easy “get” for the meeting because I live only 30 minutes away.) Because this is a 10 year initiative that is not tied to a Federal budget line, it is expected that the Promise Zones initiative will survive the change of administration later this year.

The unique, and apparently appealing, facet of our work is that it situates the social change phenomenon of collective impact within the larger framework of community development. Collective impact has been widely adopted by government, funders, and communities around the globe.

Many thanks, and kudos, to Norm Walzer, the editor of the special collective impact issue of Community Development.  I’m sure Norm is always pleased to know when people are reading the journal.

Thanks as well to Paul Born and Liz Weaver and their crew at Tamarack Institute for giving me the blogging and workshop space to vet, and vent, some of our ideas to their constituents in Canada. Tomorrow I head back to Toronto to be with them again in the Community Change Institute this coming week where I’ll be a learning lab leader and also lead a couple of workshops. It is always great fun to work with them!

Ed Saunders and I have enjoyed a long collaboration on program development, evaluation, theory development, and testing. It is gratifying to know that people are reading and finding value in our work. My work with Ed has been some of the most enjoyable and satisfying of my career.

It is even better if our hard work contributes to making the world a better place, especially for those who are disadvantaged and marginalized in our society.

It was a far more interesting and amazing day than I expected. I didn’t get thrown out or taken away by the Secret Service, but it was still an exciting day.

Be Greater. Do Good. Every day.

Tom Klaus

Shhhhh

Listening for Crickets

Some people think of me as an expert in a few things, which is okay. It is not okay, however, that I have acted like an expert in most things…if not all things on occasion.

This awareness is part of the understanding that comes with experience and maturity (which is a nice way of saying “age”). That it took me a while to arrive at this self-understanding is a bit embarrassing yet I’m glad I did. It has dramatically changed how I try to work with individuals and groups. Even more, I think it has changed my relationship with them for better.

The problem with being an expert on anything is that we imagine it comes with a license to weigh in on everything, no matter how remotely related to our actual expertise. It is even worse when we experts become leaders. Leadership implies responsibility and now, along with our license, we feel a duty to share our expertise with everyone we can, whenever we can, wherever we can, and to the fullest extent possible. Makes us great party guests, huh?

When we experts are put in leadership of a team, a coalition, a collaboration, a backbone organization, or a collective impact initiative, it becomes especially important for us to exercise self-control.

Only when we lay aside what we think we know and lay down our leader/expert role can we hear more clearly the expertise of others and the wisdom of the collective.

Craig Ferguson & Geoff

Comedian Craig Ferguson with his Late, Late Show “side kick,” Geoff

So, this is where Craig Ferguson’s advice comes into play. In a stand-up comedy special he performed in 2011 titled Does This Need to be Said?, Ferguson offered three self-reflective questions. In one of his best lines, he also said it took him three marriages to learn them. Besides their potential for saving marriages, they are also important questions for us leader/experts to consider before sharing our wisdom. Let’s take a brief look at each of Ferguson’s questions:

Does this need to be said? Collaboration work is full of ups and downs. There will always be a temptation for us leader/experts to step in to try to solve, explain or otherwise smooth the way. In reality, the way does not always have to be smoothed. Often it is in the process of working together, through both good and bad, that challenges are met by groups with innovative solutions which produce the best outcomes.

Does this need to be said by meTruthfully…probably not. I’m learning that if I shut up, allow space for others to speak up while I simply listen, then if it needs to be said at all, others will say it. I’m learning there is often a difference between what I see as an issue and what the group sees as an issue.

Does this need to be said by me nowYou see, when I put on my leader/expert Super X-ray Glasses I can see many things that mere mortals cannot. Further, my expertise may tell me that “this is gonna be a problem and we gotta deal with it now.” When I shut up, keep my opinions to myself, and just listen, what I have learned is: a) if my analysis is correct, then others will usually see it too, name it, and the group will address it; b) my analysis may be only partially correct and the group may feel there are other issues (which my analysis may have missed or minimized) that it needs to address first; or c) if my analysis is dead wrong, the group will move to other issues which, once resolved, tend to take care of the issue I diagnosed.

A more academic presentation of Ferguson’s three questions comes from one of my favorite organizational culture authors, Edgar Schein. In his article On Dialogue, Culture, and Organizational Learning, Schein described “suspension” as a critical aspect of productive group dialogue. “Suspension” is to stop talking and listen: “to let the issue – our perceptions, our feelings, our judgments, and our impulses – rest for a while in a state of suspension to see what more will come up from ourselves and from others” (p. 33).

More pragmatically, I have to come to call this “listening for crickets.” This is the time of year for cicadas to make their presence known. I love the sound of cicadas – for this native Iowa country boy their annual symphonies are the quintessential sound of summer. Admittedly, cicadas can be quite loud and intrusive. Crickets, on the other hand, often require us to suspend our activity and to listen quietly for their “voices.” This is what we leader/experts must also do to make sure all voices can be raised, are included, and clearly heard and understood in the collaborations we lead.

Today, I am building my expertise in listening for crickets and trying to lead by that example. In doing so I hope other leader/experts will follow and, even more, that the crickets among us will speak out and be heard. After all, listening for crickets is one of the most important competencies for any collaboration leader. Let’s get better together.

Be Greater. (Listen for Crickets.) Do Good. Everyday.

Tom Klaus

Wolf Street Academy

A Community Thrives in Baltimore

Baltimore is a city with challenges. Trials of the police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 are currently ongoing. Both this year and last, in the week before Memorial Day and in an unsettling coincidence, the city recorded its 100th homicide of the year. One television station even reported the mark was reached on the same day, May 27th. To many outside of Baltimore all of this seems a little too much like the fictional Baltimore portrayed in the popular television show of a few seasons back, The Wire. Despite both the reality and perceptions of Baltimore, there is at least one place with a deep, thriving sense of community.

The concept of “community school” has been making a comeback. Community schools are “centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends.” Today this is considered innovative. In the past, particularly in rural areas, the school was the center of the community. There are still some communities, where consolidation could not take hold, where it is still true.

I attended a community school…Morning Sun Community Schools, more precisely. Morning Sun, Iowa is a tiny rural community (population 836 in the 2010 census) in Southeast Iowa, only a few miles from the Mississippi River. Today, because of school consolidation that swallowed it up in the early 1990’s, it has only an elementary school. Nonetheless, that elementary school, with 145 students, is about the same size as the whole district at the time I graduated from high school. My graduating class was 24 students, which actually seemed pretty large to us at the time.

In my hometown the school was the center of community life. The school and its grounds hosted every aspect of social and cultural life in the town. It hosted scouting programs, the local Lions and Lionesses Clubs, summer Little League, Memorial Day and 4th of July celebrations, community dinners and dances, and the social event of the year: the Junior/Senior Prom. It was where we voted and received our vaccinations. It was the cultural center where band concerts, theatrical productions, and “donkey basketball” matches were staged. Okay, so maybe donkey basketball is not really a cultural event but the donkeys were pretty classy. It was the sports arena where we gathered to watch junior high and high school football, baseball, softball, basketball, and wrestling. Like today’s community schools, it was open every day of the week and it seemed like something was always happening there. Our school was the glue that held the Morning Sun community together.

In Baltimore there is another school, Wolfe Street Academy, which is doing something similar today to knit together its community within Baltimore. Wolfe Street Academy is a part of the Baltimore City Public Schools. The school’s focus on integrating academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement through community partnership causes it to stand out and bring hope to a city that too often struggles to find and hold hope. Wolfe Street Academy is a Pre-K through 5th grade school and historically has served the most recent immigrant populations. Today over 80% of its students speak a language other than English at home. Ninety-six percent of its students are from low-income households. As a community school, Wolfe Street Academy is a place which ensures students succeed academically, socially, and emotionally through a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources.

Wolfe Street Academy is a success story of deep community, collective impact, collaboration, and hope that needs to be told.

Fortunately, the people at Washington, DC’s public television station, WETA, thought so too. WETA has produced How a Community School Helps English Language Learners (ELLs) Succeed, a 13-minute feature on its ¡Colorín colorado! website about the Wolfe Street Academy.  ¡Colorín colorado! is a bilingual site for educators and families of English language learners.

In the spirit of transparency, I have to admit some bias about the work being done at Wolfe Street Academy. I have been there a couple of times in the past to help my spouse, Clemencia Vargas, with her students and I have been amazed and moved by what I have seen. Clemencia’s students, though, are the dental students from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry who provide oral health screening to Wolfe Street Academy. My role is typically to take pictures and otherwise stay out of the way. I see enough, though, to know this is a special place for many children and their families. It is truly a community school.

By the way, you will see Clemencia in a couple of fleeting scenes in the WETA video but you can see a longer interview with her about the dental screening program at Wolfe Street Academy and partnership with the UM School of Dentistry. When you view this video on the YouTube website you will see the interview continues with her in 11 segments total. In the additional segments she discusses the partnership with the school, the connection between good oral health and school success, and tells the story of one child whose life was changed as a result of the screening program.

The story of Wolfe Street Academy reminds us that community is defined by more than geography. Community is a place, a spirit, and a home where caring kindness wins out over rightness. May we all be so lucky to find such community in our lives and, then, welcome others into it.

Be Greater. Do Good. Every Day.

Tom Klaus

Winners of CM Game - DC

Community Mobilization, Red Noses & Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month

Yesterday (Tuesday, May 24) I finished a multi-month project with Child Trends for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) teen pregnancy prevention grantees.

Today my heart is full of appreciation for an incredible experience.

My assignment over the past few months has been to design, develop, and deliver two 2-day long training events in Denver, CO and Washington, DC for teen pregnancy prevention grantees on the topic of community mobilization. It was a capacity building training event that focused on teaching them to use a number of tools and processes to more effectively lead mobilization efforts in their communities.

The OAH staff was terrific to work with. Jacque McCain and Tish Hall were the “point people” on this project for OAH and I could not have asked for two better folks to work with. They thoughtfully considered the training design and materials I submitted, provided useful feedback, and were willing to let me do a few unconventional things to make the training more meaningful and memorable for the grantees. In DC, ten of the OAH staff were also able to attend and it was great to have them there too.

Maryjo Oster and Kristine Andrews of Child Trends were the official liaisons between me and OAH. They were also training colleagues who were willing to do whatever was needed to make sure both events ran smoothly – from managing handouts, to helping people use the Catchbox microphones, to assisting grantees with their learning activities, to providing orientation instructions for “The Community Mobilization Game.” Even more, despite the long hours and hard work, they kept their wits and senses of humor about them. I especially appreciate that they were willing to try some out-of-the-box participant engagement strategies with me. For example, Maryjo, who is also an outstanding professional musician, brought her guitar to both events and led the groups in just the right songs at the right times.

Margaret Black and Stephanie Hines of Capital Meeting Planning were incredible for their ability to manage the travel and lodging arrangements for nearly 250 people, deal effectively with hotel and audio-visual staff, and also manage all of the materials I needed for the training events. They did all of this…and more…with grace and humor!

Ideas & Insights from Denver CM Training

A moment of clarity for a grantee.

Finally, the 235 grantees (120 in Denver and 115 in DC) attending the events were absolutely amazing! They participated with wild enthusiasm – whether they were listening to a mini-lecture, engaged in one of the many group activities, doing some reflective writing, giving in to the Cha Cha Break, speaking up into the Catchbox mics to share their ideas, trying on Red Noses, throwing themselves with gusto into “The Community Mobilization Game,” or smiling and laughing with one another throughout the event. It was incredible – and was made incredible – by the grantees! Grantees traveled from all over the United States and the Marshall Islands to attend the training events. I feel honored and humbled by the efforts each made to be with us. 

Finally, as you will see in these pictures, Red Noses were an important part of these events. There are two reasons. First, Thursday, May 26th is Red Nose Day and I made sure I gave out about a dozen Red Noses as prizes, recognitions, and just for fun, all to call attention to the day. You see, Red Nose Day is about raising money to help children and youth who are in poverty. Last year about $33 million was raised in the United States for this cause. This brings me to the second reason: May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in the United States, which was founded by my late colleague and close friend, Barbara Huberman. The correlation between poverty and teen pregnancy has been well-established. Community mobilization, Red Noses, & National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month – to me, they all just seem to make sense together.

Be Greater. Do Good. Every Day!

Tom Klaus

© 2016 by Thomas W. Klaus

Hey! It's Red Nose Day! Where's Yours?

One Year Ago…

May 2015 was an exciting month for me. First, I discovered Red Nose Day, a poverty alleviation effort begun in the United Kingdom that had made its way to the United States. Second, I wrote a blog asking people to submit their Five Words of Gratitude to someone they would like to honor. Then, I got sick and spent a couple of months trying to figure out why; until I landed in the hospital in Philadelphia and met my new best friend, Jude (my pacemaker).

In May 2016…

Jude is working just fine and I feel absolutely terrific. In fact, my golf scores have never been so low. Why, last week I shot a 77…on only three holes! (Just kidding, of course, it was on 18 holes – he wrote without a shred of humility.)

Red Nose Day 2016 - Cup

The Red Nose Day Coffee Mug for the Caffeinated Crowd

Red Nose Day (May 26th) is thriving. In 2015 it raised $23 million to improve the lives of children around the United States and the world. Red Nose Day supports meals for children; provides reading, educational, and after school resources; provides bed nets and drugs to fight malaria and HIV; supports access to medical care for low income and homeless children and their families; and pays for vaccines and clean water and sanitation. Red Nose Day is becoming a terrific cause-related marketing campaign in the U.S. This year Walgreen’s continues to be a major sponsor and not only can you buy Red Noses there, you can also buy accessories to complement it. The handsome guy in these photos is modeling not only the nose but a Red Nose coffee mug and lapel pin. The lapel pin is a particularly safe choice if you do not want to be caught in someone’s Smart-aleck phone photo that will be plastered all over social media.

Hey, if you are brave enough to wear the Red Nose, though, you will also want to check out the Red Nose Training Manual. The Red Nose Training Manual was written by my friend Howard Macy, a world class philosopher, theologian, and lover of the Red Nose. After seeing my own Red Nose photo last year, Howard sent me a copy of the Red Nose Training Manual. In his Red-Nose Manifesto Howard argues:

Your red nose is not a disguise, but an accessory. People will know who you are, but they will also recognize that, even more profoundly, you know who you are, too.

The little book is a quick, fun read with lots of great suggestions for making the most of the Nose. Be sure to read and let Howard’s Red Nose Manifesto sink in.

I am starting to carry my Red Nose with me when I travel for work. In fact, I am going to try to document its journey with selfies…now that I have figured out how to take one.

Red Nose Day 2016 - Button

The Red Nose Day Lapel Pin for the Faint of Heart

The Five Words of Gratitude continues to grow. My original plan had been to write a special 2015 Thanksgiving blog using the many contributions I had received. However, because I was still recovering from the close call with my health, it seemed like a good time to write my own five words. Since posting the original Five Words of Gratitude blog, people have continued to make contributions. I assume this happens as people “stumble” across the blog as they surf the web. Finally, a year later, I am able to feature some of the words that have been shared. I will not give the names of the people who shared them nor will I identify by the name the people for whom the gratitude is intended. Nonetheless, I think you will get the sense of deep appreciation that is being expressed.

Many offered their Five Words of Gratitude and let them say it all:

  • To my boss: She celebrates my unique gifts.
  • To those who share their wisdom with me: Your sharing matters…I’m growing.
  • To my spouse: I appreciate your steadfast loyalty.
  • To my colleague: Second mouse gets the cheese.
  • To my parents: Thanks for making me believe.
  • To my mentor: Your unrelenting curiosity and hope.
  • To my friend: Your wisdom, friendship appreciated always.
  • To my sibling: Thank you for graciously listening.
  • To my spouse: (Name), my love, thank you!
  • To my friend: Helping me navigate through challenges.
  • To my parents: Thanks for kindling my fire.
  • To my child: Grateful to infinity for you!
  • To my staff: You care! Mahalo nui loa (Thank you very much)

Others found five words were not enough so they provided some additional commentary:

  • To my spouse: Morning coffee, evening wine, joy.And everything in between!
  • To my parents: Support. Encouragement. Love. Humor.I do activities like this with the children and families I work with, but often forget to apply it to my everyday life.
  • To my child: Your smile makes my day!She is amazing and confident!
  • To my spouse: Thank you for being there.She has always supported me, no matter how crazy my ideas are.
  • To my friend: Go to your zen place...Love…Laugh…Learn…Celebrate

Some did not need the full five words, yet their words were full of meaning:

  • To my spouse: You make me whole.
  • To my mother: Inspiration to overcome obstaclesI remember her words whenever there was a problem: “We will just have to make do.”

One of my favorites was from a midwife, written to the mothers whose births she had attended: Honored by attending your childbirth, to which she then added: World peace begins with birth.

I hope you have enjoyed this slight deviation from my otherwise really serious blogs. My intention? To help you remember the joy in your life; to see kindness and appreciation in our world (in spite of the current U.S. Presidential campaign); and to put a Red Nose on your face.

By the way, I have decided to keep the Five Words of Gratitude site active for purely selfish reasons – I need the inspiration and the reminders to live my own life with gratitude. You are welcome to record your own Five Words of Gratitude and to cut and paste the link – http://goo.gl/forms/XT9OfgQI6K – to others as well. And, yes, I will be sure to share them with you in a future blog.

Be Greater. Do Good. Every Day.

Tom Klaus

© 2016 by Thomas W. Klaus

Posture

How’s Your Collaborative Posture?

Whether it is Collective Impact, or another collaboration framework, our collaborative posture is a critical underlying factor in success.

Recently the Collective Impact Forum featured a terrific piece by Sheri Brady and Jennifer Splansky Juster on the Collective Impact Principles of Practice. These eight principles to guide efforts to put Collective Impact into practice are long overdue.

Posture

How is Your Collaborative Posture?

There is still something missing. Each of the principles help collaborative groups operationalize the five conditions of Collective Impact (which you can probably recite by memory now: common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support). Yet each of the principles assumes members of Collective Impact groups possess the collaborative posture to enact the eight principles. I am wary of this assumption. I fear most people will read the CI Eight Principles of Practice and respond much in the same way they did to the CI Five Conditions: “Yep, makes a lot of sense. Got it! In fact, we’re doing those things already.” My experience in creating new collaborative efforts, and helping to repair existing efforts gone awry, has taught me that the best principles and conditions in the world will not make any difference if members have poor collaborative posture.

Much of what has been written about Collective Impact has focused on what people do to achieve it. This is not surprising because many people crave the comfort and certainty of formulas, recipes, and best practices – even though these are not very helpful in addressing complex issues. Underlying and supporting all of the doing is being the kind of people who can do what is necessary. I could use several of the eight principles that Brady and Splansky Juster identified to illustrate what I mean but I will focus on this one to make my point: “Include community members in the collaborative.” Specifically, the authors define community members as “those whose lives are most directly and deeply affected by the problem addressed by the initiative.” I fully agree with this principle but, realistically, it is difficult to do and often resisted. The most common protests to doing this are typically related to logistics: “We meet during the weekdays, can they come at the same time?,” “How would they get here?,” “Could they come to where we meet?,” and “Do they really have the experience to know how to interact with our group?” The answers are really pretty straightforward to these barriers: “Change you meeting time, provide transportation and/or make the location more convenient to community members, educate members about the content, and orient them to, even train them in, the process of your meetings.” I do not believe the logistics are really to blame. I believe the problem lies within the will of both individual members and the group. Remember the old saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way?”

Possessing a collaborative posture is about being the kind of people who find the will to do what it takes to engage people in the community and to actually do the other principles. 

What does it take to achieve a collaborative posture? Let me suggest at least three things. I touched on these back in January and here I will expand on them just a bit:

Checked Egos. Ego is fueled by the perceived right to authority. There are many things that cause us to feel like we have a right to make decisions on behalf of others. Some of these things include, but are not limited to, education, wealth, status, race, formal position, the depth of one’s personal experience, and even the honor of membership in a social change collaborative group that is going to “help” others. When we humans come together in a group to make decisions that affect the lives of others, it is so easy to feel like we have been given authority over others, even if only a little.

When we “check” our egos, we willingly lay down the right to have the final word in decisions that affect the lives of others.

When we must make those decisions, we do so as inclusively as possible and, even then, with a sense of awe, respect, and care. I know. This does not sound practicable in a world that moves as fast as ours. Yet we mostly accomplish this capacity by living into an attitude of humility.

Crossed Boundaries. To cross boundaries in collaborative work is to invite others to work with us, and especially those who are not like us and may not even trust us. Why in the world would we ever do that? Simple; because we cannot make change happen by ourselves. It is completely human, when we form groups, to gravitate toward those most like us and whom we find most agreeable. This ensures our comfort in the group and comfort is important. You know what I am talking about; you have seen it yourself. A coalition or collaboration forms by gathering “the usual suspects,” those individuals and groups already known to one another because they have partnered on the same or similar issues in the past. They know before they ever meet they are all “on the same page.” This is not horrible, but it is very inadequate because it often leads to doing “business as usual.” What if a collaborative group were to form among individuals and groups who shared a similar goal but had very different ideas for how to accomplish it? For one thing, everyone would feel a lot less comfortable.

I used to teach groups that the first step to crossing boundaries was to take a good look at their group and see who was not in it and yet should be. I have given up on that strategy. There is a stronger tendency toward group self-preservation than I ever estimated. Once it has achieved a particular comfort, it fights to maintain the status quo. As a result, groups often conclude most everyone who should be in the group is already in the group.

What I have found to be more effective in teaching groups about boundary crossing is to ask this question: “What individuals or groups do you feel most uncomfortable including in your collaborative group, even though they may agree with your ultimate goal?” Once they have listed those individuals or groups, I encourage them to reach out to them and begin the process of inviting them to participate.

Crossing boundaries has to take us out of our comfort zone or else we have not crossed anything.

Shared Power. Power sharing is rooted in a deeply held belief in the expertise of others. A few years ago I was in a meeting with the leadership team of a collaborative group that was responsible for implementing social service interventions in an urban community. I had just finished a day-long meeting with the full collaborative group and, during this debrief, I had merely observed to the leadership team that I did not meet any people in the group who actually lived in the community they were serving. The response I received was stunning in its arrogance as a team member pounded the table and said, “Why would we have them here? We are the experts!” Oh boy.

When we convene our Collective Impact and collaborative groups, we tend to seek out experts on the issue we are trying to address. This makes sense because we want the very best to help us solve the difficult, complex challenges we are facing. Experts are people with extensive skills and/or knowledge of a specific field, area, or issue. Does expertise include status, wealth, connections, and even celebrity? We must believe it does because we often prioritize recruitment of members with these qualifications. While it is important to include them in our collaborative groups, I do not believe any single area of expertise (including these) qualifies anyone to hold power over the lives of others.

Do we also believe in the expertise of the people who are living day-to-day with the issue our group is working to address? Do we believe drug addicts understand the addictive process better than we do and have solutions to offer? Do we believe the observations of people living in poverty concerning how policies and practices in our community are actually barriers to their getting out of poverty? Do we believe gang members and victims have insights on how to stop the violence? Do we believe poor people can offer solutions to their own situation? Do we believe people struggling with obesity know something about eating healthier? Do we believe parents of children who have been removed from the home and placed into the foster care system can also help us think of better ways to do child welfare in our communities? Or do we merely see all of these as people who need the help only we, the experts, can give them?

If we do not believe that every person has expertise, then we will cling to power, and our community and our collaborative initiative will struggle. When we release the power and share it with others, we will not only learn from one another but we will grow participation and ownership of the solutions.

Vu Le of “Nonprofits with Balls,” has observed that, in many Collective Impact collaborations, “Equity gets shoehorned in as an afterthought…Budgets have been approved. Funding has been allocated. Agendas have been set without all the people who should have been there. The ship has sailed.” As much as I welcome and support the implementation of the Collective Impact Principles of Practice, I believe they will work so much better in the hands of practitioners who possess a genuine collaborative posture. Without the collaborative posture, I fear they are little more than a new checklist of things to do.

Tell me…what do you think?

Be Greater. Do Good. Everyday.

Tom Klaus

 

© 2016 by Thomas W. Klaus