Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is the Temperature Right for Collective Impact?

Collective Impact advocates need to check the weather first to see if the conditions are right to push for the establishment of a backbone to coordinate the type of collaboration necessary to sustain positive community change.

More often than not, advocates will find that the temperature is too cold for effective collaboration. You know it's too cold when key stakeholders either are resistant to working with others or are insistent on CMW, "Collaboration My Way." Organizations can be resistant to collaboration for many reasons, not the least of which is it consumes precious resources and the "payoff'' -- or "shared value" -- is less than clear.

Sometimes, the climate is actually over-heated. This uncomfortable condition occurs when a funder (or funders) puts a large pot of money on the table and make it clear that the only way to get the pot is if stakeholders collaborate. This can result in organizations working up a sweat to win a grant without reaching shared understanding of what they will do together, what value they will generate and what responsibility they will assume to produce that value. Collaborations built on winning a grant rather than shared understanding, value and responsibility are likely to fall apart before the money runs out.

Under the best of conditions the climate for collaboration is heating up. Collective Impact advocates know the temperature is moving in the right direction when stakeholders acknowledge that despite their best efforts, projects alone aren't generating the degree of change they want to see in the communities they care about. And when funders are requiring more consistent measures of success. Advocates can help turn up the temperature by using data-driven narratives to build broader shared understanding of the opportunities to accelerate positive change.

As readers of my Steel Pursuit fishing blog know, a single degree increase in water temperature can turn moribund trout into aggressive feeders. Sometime the same is true when it comes to the conditions for collaboration. A change of heart by just one reluctant stakeholder in a complex system can send the temperature rising and make the climate right for a collaboration capable of generating Collective Impact.

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