This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.


It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.


It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Thinking about Deep Systems Change through Collective Impact

This post will be the first on the Kumu mapping of the fifth and final module of the Living Cities’ online Collective Impact course. There is a wiki-page with relevant links, Kumu maps, and blog posts concerned with this Collective Impact experiment and exploration.

The focus here is placed on the sector map Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change, revealing a bias towards a hard system thinking approach to systemic changes dealing with the deeper levels of the systems thinking iceberg model and which purposely avoids beginning by attempting to alter people’s personal prejudices.

First, a reminder that you don’t have to open each map link on this page
Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change is organized as explained in the Sector Map section of Navigation

Some of the elements populating the Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change sector map have been featured in previous modules, suggesting that they could provide a deeper infrastructure and relate to other components across a Collective Impact approach. One, How Living Cities Thinks About Systems Change (map) has been added as a result of digging deeper into the material provided by Living Cities. Other elements unique to Module 5 are Connected Problems Require Collaborative Solutions (map), Backbone Organization or Function? (map), The Working Cities Challenge (map), Cross-Sector Partnerships (map), Diagnose the Adaptive Challenge (map), Disaggregated Data by Race (map) and Evidence Based Decision Making (map). All of which together support the central theme of What Makes Collective Impact a Powerful tool for Systems Change? (map) introduced in Module 3 Kumu map.

Absorbing the source information provided by the Living Cities’ online Collective Impact course is essential, Greater familiarity with the various Kumu maps and the different relationships between the elements, as set by Living Cities, will then begin to reveal deeper connections and other possible relationships, especially if working in a group setting with different people having varying affinity with different elements, making individual contributions to a unique group perspective.

Going deeper into the elements of the map, How Living Cities Thinks About Systems Change explains how, “Too often, leaders attempt to apply programmatic, technical fixes to complex, interconnected systems level problems.” Ben Hecht President & CEO of Living Cities writes that Connected Problems Require Collaborative Solutions. It is, as has been stated before, a matter of transforming our mind-set.

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. The starting point is to see things differently from the current, dominant worldview which in so many ways is no longer relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves.” – HRH The Prince of Wales

We are learning by trying different approaches on the ground, seeing how institutions and individuals respond across sectors and measuring results. Deploying an existing or starting a new nonprofit or government institution or even business as a lead or czar institution won’t work though for these challenges because one, trends in funding for these efforts over the past few decades provide only restricted funds with little to no indirect costs, making it virtually impossible for any single entity to play the ‘connecter’ role alone in most places. Most organizations of any type will have neither the bandwidth nor the breadth of relationships and visibility across issues and sectors for it. Just as important, is the need for distributed leadership across institutions, starting with the individuals who lead those institutions.

Finally, institutions tend to stay in their own lane with funding, incentives and history invariably encouraging such behavior. Interconnectedness only happens when there is an intentionality to do it and the endurance to stick with it over time. The natural order can only be overcome and behaviors truly changed only when some institution or person is charged with getting up every day and connecting the dots. Strive Together (map) calls this function the ‘backbone’ of these efforts with funders specifically paying for it.

StriveTogether defines the difference between a Backbone Organization or Function? When working with an array of different communities looking to navigate the often contentious discussions around where the larger coalition should end up, they came to the conclusion that what is likely needed is a “backbone function” not a “backbone organization.” Not simply a matter of semantics, but a completely different way to approaching the staffing of collective impact work. Instead of a central power center controlling a traditional hierarchical paradigm, it is the sharing roles that, “Need to be taken on so as to connect the dots instead of recreating the wheel.

The Working Cities Challenge (map) is one such initiative, advancing collaborative leadership in Massachusetts smaller cities and to support ambitious work to improve the lives of low-income people in those cities, in which Living Cities is participating.

There are other substantial shifts in mind-set required to determine How to Achieve Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (map) that paradoxically both take longer than the standard election cycle but also require some sense of urgency, hopefully instilled by the effort itself but still nonetheless requiring leadership. This type of leadership is often more at home in the business world. Those having an entrepreneurial spirit that can be applied to the social sector need to be, as Jim Collins would say:

"Interested in the sheer exhilarating pain of the journey. You’re not going to have that immediate gratification of accomplishment. You are going to be immersed in it and working and suffering toward it for a long time--the way artists suffer. You have to enjoy that sense of extended discomfort. It’s the quest, it’s the training, it’s the growth, it’s pushing yourself. You really get off on that. If you think standing at the top of the cliff is where the joy is, you don’t understand it. The real joy is in all the pain and growth and suffering and creativity required long before you get to the summit."

Such an undertaking would require tremendous support from the community and could quickly be derailed by a few politicians seeking to hoard their own power.

Perhaps the greatest mind-shift is that adaptive challenges are difficult to diagnose (map) and implement because their solutions require people to change their ways; involving human complexity meaning the problems themselves cannot be abstracted from the people who are part of the problem scenario itself, and then to determine what to conserve from past practices, what to discard from past practices, while inventing new ways that build from the best of the past.

This approach is based on Evidence Based Decision Making (map) involving the making, capturing, sharing, and application of data and experiential evidence to ensure that funding streams and efforts are achieving the desired results. This in turn requires feedback or in the case of Collective Impact 3 Fabulous Flavors of Feedback Culture (map) involving a feedback culture and feedback loops, requiring to my mind both an understanding of the feedback loops that make up the system being influenced and collecting the information that is needed to know whether or not you are on track. Culminating with the creation of a data infrastructure, that gets the right information when needed through cross-sector partnerships building on the feedback culture and feedback loops, keeping them informed and creating change that can last regardless of administration turnovers.

It is with such a foundation that one can then begin using methodologies such as Disaggregated Data by Race (map) to help bring about transformational change with a renewed focus on addressing racial disparities, learning key lessons about the importance of using data to develop a baseline for identifying outcomes and continuous improvement, not as a tool to penalize leaders or point fingers at specific sources of the problem without fear that a commitment to transparency to the community could be interpreted as targeting students of color as the problem. This approach informs the StriveTogether Theory of Action in supporting children and youth from cradle to career.

The Live Cities Integration Initiative (map) involves testing three strategies believed to be central to catalyzing lasting, transformative change that benefits low-income people: collective impact (map), public sector innovation (map) and capital innovation (map), also added to the Kumu map. However, what remains essential and foundational is the need to involve the community in the Collective Impact effort (map).

Working with communities to advance racial equity and eliminate disparities (map) is, according to the Kumu map, the center of its own sector map and will be addressed in the near future but first we will next look to 4 Insights Collective Impact and Community Engagement and Racial Equity.

Past Posts