Collective Soul

Collective Impact is a buzzword and framework formally defined as “the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to coordinate their efforts and work together around a clearly defined goal” in Kania and Kramer’s  Standford Social Innovation Review Collective Impact Winter 2011 article. Through their research, they identified five factors for collective impact success as: common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforced activities, continuous communication, and backbone support.

For me, these factors may be part of the means to achieve X. But what is X? What are the ends we are aiming for? Here’s what I find matters most in my community engagement projects:

  • Value the power of BEing together first. Before any combination of individuals and organizations can get busy DOing something together, there needs to be a shared vision and shared values that is co-created by everyone. The foundation for that to happen is investing in and honoring the power of relationships. It’s taking the time to getting to know each other and build trust. This also includes the willingness to let go of old thinking, let go of perceptions and assumptions, let go of passed-down native knowledge you were told that may not actually be true.

A co-created shared vision and values become the guides and permeates the culture of the effort.  As individuals come on board or leave an organization or project, it is very clear what matters most, how decisions are made, and what success will look and feel like.

  • In order to get to (1), there needs to be an individual who is the convener/connector/catalyst. That person creates the spaces that bring out the best in other people. That individual does not act as the expert, or the leader telling everyone what they should do.

The “system leader” is the term I came across following this morning’s internet breadcrumbs that led me back to: Standford Social Innovation Review’s Winter 2014 article, The Dawn of System Leadership. In his latest Collective Impact article, author Kania, along with Hamilton and Senge dig into the importance of broad ecosystem leadership by a person who can catalyze others.

“For those new to system leadership, creating space can seem passive or even weak. For them, strong leadership is all about executing a plan. Plans are, of course, always needed, but without openness people can miss what is emerging, like a sailor so committed to his initial course that he won’t adjust to shifts in the wind. Even more to the point, the conscious acts of creating space, of engaging people in genuine questions, and of convening around a clear intention with no hidden agenda, creates a very different type of energy from that which arises from seeking to get people committed to your plan.”  –Kania, Hamilton and Senge

  • If we are aiming at creating the future we want in our communities, then the community must be engaged in the journey. Let the community help shape that shared vision. Let community members share their wisdom, skills and experience – all existing assets in the community that are at the ready. They just haven’t been asked to share what excites them about the community, and what they see as possible. We all want the very same thing, a healthy, thriving and resilient community where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. We get there through active and ongoing community engagement.

“We are all on a steep learning curve in understanding this gateway of creating space for change, but it seems to be crucial not only in initiating collaborative efforts but in what ultimately can arise from them. A few years ago, one of us co-authored an article describing five conditions for achieving progress at a large scale through a disciplined approach to collaboration called “collective impact.”8 Today as we research and observe effective collective impact initiatives, what stands out beyond the five conditions is the collective intelligence that emerges over time through a disciplined stakeholder engagement process—the nature of which could never have been predicted in advance.” –Kania, Hamilton and Senge 

When we create the spaces that bring out the best in ourselves and each other, we operate from a place of collective engagement and strength. This feels far different to me than the one-way motion of “collective impact.” When community members are brought alongside in co-creating the future, we fuel each other and build together.  It speaks to the power of our community’s collective soul.



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