Nobody Said It Was Going To Be Easy

January 31, 2013

difficultpathCollective impact is often held up as the method to use to solve wicked problems — complex, entrenched, systems-level issues on which we haven’t been able to move the needle with other techniques.

Last summer, MCF’s Giving Forum publication (which I edit) focused on using collaboration and collective impact to accomplish more together than we could working alone, so I was glad to attend last week’s Learning Forum on Collective Impact. The program, sponsored by The Patrick and Aimee Butler Family Foundation and co-hosted by MCF and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, offered another look at collective impact to see how it is working.

The morning’s speakers and panelists included:

Despite different approaches to the model, there was agreement.

Determine that collective impact is required.

If the problem can be broken down into smaller, more easily solvable issues, that will be an inherently easier way to tackle it. By their very nature, these problems are complex, over-arching and ever-changing. They have many interacting, unpredictable parts, and an improvement in one area may inadvertently spawn wicked problems elsewhere.

It’s not easy.

If you decide that collective impact is the way to go, realize that you’re in for the long haul. It’s not easy and it’s not fast. According to the speakers, it’s not unusual for agreement on a common agenda (an initial step) to take many months of work.

It’s frustrating – there are new people at the table every time you meet. Forsberg said, “You have to have patience with having conversations you feel like you’ve had at least a dozen times before.”

Ensure the community’s voice is heard.

Getting it right – from the start – is important, and including disenfranchised groups’ voices is essential to doing so. If this all-important step is overlooked, eventual solutions will feel imposed and aren’t likely to succeed.

To keep teams on track and accountable, measures should be made public. A well-publicized web site is one way to do this. Cincinnati-based Strive was mentioned as a model.

Have a clearly defined issue and targeted goals.

This was repeated by all speakers, but they also each acknowledged that it’s tricky in practice. The problems are large and entangled. They don’t have a logical beginning or end, so it’s important to get agreement among all players about where the group’s work will start and stop.

According to Borton, this is critical. With MN Girls Are Not for Sale, the foundation has committed to a $5 million effort over five years, and they have been clear about their entry and their exit. She said this can run contrary to what is sometimes typical in the field, “We tend to say, let’s work for world peace and fund it with $1 million.”

Acknowledge a different skill set is required. 

The skills that are necessary to lead these efforts are different, they must be learned and they can run contrary to getting things done efficiently. Constant communication is required.

Forsberg said, “There must be a high level of trust and we have to keep talking to each other. In our case it’s actually getting more complicated as we move forward because we keep adding partners.”

Peterson added, “Some of the necessary skills aren’t rocket science, but some of the skills are rocket science.”

Suggestions for learning included: TamarackArt of Hosting as taught by Bush Foundation and tools from other fields of study including dialogue mapping.

It’s here to stay.

So, while I don’t think anyone in the room would’ve said collective impact is easy, I think most would agree that using it as a model to solve wicked problems is here to stay.

Bielefeld said, “It’s exciting to see these real efforts playing out and scary to see the challenges. But it’s a very serious attempt to do things differently.”

Are you involved in a serious effort to do something differently? How’s it working? What are your challenges?

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Photo cc Doug Bradley Photography


Your Chance to Vote on the Innovation Award Finalists

December 10, 2012

lgi_pnlc_logo_with_incommons_2012Congratulations to Dakota County Community Services, Irondale High School of Mounds View Public Schools and the City of St. Paul, the finalists in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs/InCommons Local Government Innovation Awards!

A public vote will determine which one of these finalists will receive a $25,000 grant to continue innovating.In addition to the three finalists, 15 other local government entries will receive awards for their innovations.

InCommons and the Humphrey School invite you to help in helping select the $25,000 grant recipient by attending a community conversation to learn and share about local government innovation.

These events are an opportunity to talk with local government officials and to connect with others interested in supporting and improving the work that our schools, cities, and counties do every day. Everyone who attends a community conversation in December will have a chance to vote for which of the three finalists should receive the $25,000 grant.

Three are coming up:

  • December 13 with Dakota County Community Services: 9:30 am to 11:30 am at the Rosemount Community Center.
  • December 18 with Irondale High School: 11:00 am to 12:30 pm at the TIES Building in Saint Paul.
  • December 19 with the City of Saint Paul’s EMS Academy: 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm at Fire Station 51 in Saint Paul.

Visit the InCommons website to learn more about the Awards and to see how the finalists and award recipients have been making Minnesota better by doing things differently.



Making Prosperity Possible for All

June 18, 2012

What are some practical, fundamental policy shifts that can help low-income people build the futures they want for themselves and their families?

If you have an idea, MCF member Northwest Area Foundation, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs want to hear from you.

They’ve launched the Ideas for Action Award to develop and promote new thinking and policies to reduce poverty long term. With more than 46 million people currently living in poverty, and many efforts to address poverty both proving insufficient and facing cutbacks, this initiative seeks to find new, imaginative, integrated and concentrated efforts that capitalize on the best in the public, nonprofit and private sectors.

The ideas generated through this competition can help chart a different course by bringing high energy, creative ideas for new directions, and a fresh look at existing initiatives that may not have been brought to scale. Lifting up imaginative approaches will improve the practice of fighting poverty in America and in the Northwest Area.

If you have an idea, start writing now: 600-word letters of inquiry are due Friday, June 29. Select applicants will then be invited to submit full proposals in July, with ten award winners announced by Northwest Area Foundation in October. Winners will receive support for travel for presentations at specific conferences and partnership opportunities. Each winner will also receive a monetary award of at least $5,000.

Find out more about this new anti-poverty challenge at the Evans School of Public Affairs website.


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