FacebookTwitterRSSContactStaff Directory
About Tamarack Learn Events Join a Community
  Learning Centre  

About the Learning Centre

The Learning Centre, established in 2003, is designed to create a fluid, creative system of documenting community building activity and delivering this learning to organizations. The centre has a threefold purpose: to broadly disseminate knowledge gathered through research and practical experience; to help communities increase their power through learning; and to generate knowledge about community engagement so as to advance the field. Learn more about the Learning Centre here.

Resource Library - Explore Tamarack's community engagement resources - including research, articles and related links.

Be sure to sign up to receive Engage!, Tamarack's free monthly e-magazine, that helps you to stay current on the latest developments in the field of community engagement.

Subscribe here or read one of our latest issues below.


Beautiful Thinking for June from the Tamarack Institute

Share this Issue:

4 Steps to Align Collective Impact Efforts

BY: Karen Pittman

This is an edited version of Karen's post How to Partner for Impact: The Nuts and Bolts of Aligning Collective Impact Efforts which appears on the Collective Impact Forum

Two speakers in discussion as audience at tables listen
Photo courtesy of Joe Lavender, United Way of the Greater Triangle

Share this: Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on LinkedIn

For more than a decade, the Forum for Youth Investment has helped communities map, convene and align coalitions and initiatives focused on the interlocking issues that affect young people's futures, from premature births to college completion.

Cast the net widely enough, and even the smallest communities can identify dozens of efforts with overlapping goals, members, strategies and funders. Cast the net narrowly, and those same communities are likely to find that there is more than one coalition focused on early childhood or violence prevention that have never sat together to discuss how their work overlaps.

The underlying tenets of the collective impact approach call this type of benign co-existence into question. Alignment is essential to success. As leaders in communities explore how to implement collective impact strategies, the "how to align" questions are right at the top of the list, quickly followed by questions such as "Who initiates the process?" "Who facilitates it?" "How long does it take?" "Is there a way to anticipate what's needed and have supports ready?" and "How do you manage expectations?"

So, where to start?

Step 1. Be clear on why you're starting alignment discussions.
Typically, the alignment question surfaces at a decision point where it's appropriate to ask, "Is there a better way?" To be effective, the focus of the conversations begins and ends with "in order to make a more powerful impact." Aligning goals, agreeing on shared measurement and shared diagnosis of the issues and, ultimately, aligning how to work together is all about finding better ways to change outcomes more quickly and at scale.

Step 2. Be clear about the range of alignment options.
Formal structural alignment isn't always the immediate goal and might not be the best long-term solution. Aligning for impact should be seen as an ongoing commitment, not a quick structural decision. Alignment isn't just about who gets to be the backbone when there is more than one candidate. It's about helping all the current efforts contribute to progress toward a shared goal. It is as important for the structure to emerge from shared seeing and learning as it is for the strategies.

Step 3. Be clear on what it will take to manage the process and how long it may take to complete it.
Aligning existing initiatives is hard and sensitive work. A good rule of thumb: The more alike the initiatives, the harder and more sensitive the work. When deeper types of alignment are likely, the alignment process typically takes six months to negotiate and a year or more to implement fully.

For deeper alignments, we recommend that the process be guided by a trusted, neutral advisor.

Step 4. Document decisions and anticipate their impact.
Aligning existing initiatives is hard work. The payoffs are greater efficiency, effectiveness and/or scale. Documenting decisions and tracking what gets done is critical to effective partnerships. As groups make decisions about the systems to support their shared measurement, it is essential to identify not only outcomes and community supports, but also methods to track the partnership's decisions, actions and progress.

Working through these steps will help you lay the groundwork for making your collective impact work more efficient and effective.

Learn More:

Netiquette 2.0: Moving Forward at the Speed of Trust

BY: Marilyn Struthers & Penny Scott

The authors gratefully acknowledge the input and discussion on this topic at the Network Thinkers Network Salon in January 2015.
Youth sitting on chairs in circle having a discussion

Share this: Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on LinkedIn

When Stephen Covey published Speed of Trust in 2006, it marked a recognition that relationships are important to mainstream organizations and that trust-building is key to mobilizing their value. As the social sector increasingly builds networks of organizations to learn; engage with diverse others; and, to speed up knowledge development, we see how these loose relationships have value. But what do we really know about building trust in networks - structures that are less "hard-wired" than formal organizations - and how to work well in relationships without the defining bounds of role and structure?

In her Network Weaver Handbook, June Holley, the denizen of network practice, suggests trust depends on being able to actually demonstrate reliability, reciprocity, openness, honesty, acceptance and appreciation in networked relationships.

She stresses that networks need to intentionally develop a culture of trust and lists five components that contribute to a culture of trust:

  1. Values and behavior
  2. Framing and valuing trust-building;
  3. Activities that build trust;
  4. Network rules that coach and help manage misunderstandings before they become conflict; and,
  5. Systems of reporting and accountability.

Learning together about networking practice is the purpose of the Ontario-based Network Thinkers Network. Recently we asked ourselves what we know about the subtleties of relational practice that build trust in networks. We speculated on the elements of "network etiquette" - that layer of practice that we might frame as good manners for successful networks. We noticed that success requires participants to develop a set of skills and behaviours that are often different from the way we are used to working in more formal settings. Without the formal "rules" of an organization, a network creates - consciously (or unconsciously) - a set of interpersonal practices that shape the way members build participation and cohesion around purpose. The network both requires and fosters skill development in network etiquette.

For some networks, good manners and common interest may be the only glue that binds. We asked what happens when good network manners are clearly articulated and intentionally framed to support the purpose of the network.

Download the full article to discover the difference between practice and manners, access a lexicon of good network manners, and consider good manners for the inclusive use of technology in your network.

Learn More:

Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

By: Louise Merlihan

Cover of The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

Share this: Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on LinkedIn

Human-centered design is the application of design thinking to some of our most complex social problems, starting with the people you're trying to impact and ending with creative new solutions that meet their needs. While it has elements of a typical design process, including brainstorming, prototyping, and testing, human-centered design begins with empathy.

Last month, IDEO.org, the charitable organization born out of the global design and innovation firm IDEO, released a Field Guide to Human-Centered Design. This accessible, inspiring resource provides step by step instructions on how you can start solving problems like a designer.

Learn more:

Cities for People Design Jam

BY: Sarah Bradley & Jayne Engle

Cities for people design jam - illustration

Share this: Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on LinkedIn

Last December, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation engaged the MaRS Solutions Lab to undertake a multi-step learning and evaluation process to guide our thinking about possible future directions for its Cities for People initiative. In this piece, we are excited to share a few highlights from the Design Jam, one of the components of this process, and how its outcomes will help shape our work moving forward.

Cities for People is an experiment initiated by the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation that began with the question: How can we enhance social, ecological, and economic well-being and help civic cultures thrive? The McConnell Foundation and a group of partners designed Cities for People as a collaborative platform to test and surface promising approaches to shape philanthropic strategy around building better cities. The 18-month experimental phase, which will end this June, brought together partners from diverse domains to challenge ideas, develop new pathways, and carry out demonstration projects.

What Does a Design Jam Process Look Like?
Given that the Foundation is in the process of wrapping up this experimental phase, we felt it was an opportune moment to rethink its parameters and strategies for future work. MaRS Solutions Lab, which convenes stakeholders and citizens to experiment, learn and scale new solutions, worked over several months with the Foundation to explore what the next phase of the initiative might look like. One of the elements of this exploration was a Design Jam: this was not meant to be a collective impact process, but a generation of ideas and leverage points to serve as one source of input to the Foundation's planning process. It also allowed us to integrate techniques from various fields to glean insights from a creative and informed group of urban thinkers and doers.

To facilitate both reflecting on past experiences and looking ahead, the Solutions Lab team led the group through several exercises, including brainstorming, issues mapping, newspaper stories, collective visioning, and design principles. The series of exercises allowed the group to transition from big-picture thinking about cities to focussing on audiences and the nitty-gritty of possible structures.

What Happens Next?
One of the themes of the Design Jam that will help inform future work was identifying new audiences: Cities for People consists of a geographically-dispersed network of individuals and organizations, yet there are groups we are missing. Through an exercise in which participants adopted different personas, we identified three users to whom our work might target:

  • Intrapreneurs are changemakers within city government that want to implement new ideas and work strategies, but feel stuck within weighty structures.
  • Urban connectors are seeking ways to amplify their capacities and impacts to work towards better cities.
  • Non-users are populations whose voices tend to be excluded from city-building processes - communities who are marginalized due to a number of often overlapping factors.

Keeping these users in mind will be important as we work to direct our efforts towards promising projects and approaches.

Although the Design Jam generated far more leverage points than the Foundation could possibly follow up on, it generated a range of options and challenged some of our assumptions about priorities.

Learn More:

The Canada Social Report - Coming Soon

BY: Anne Makhoul


Share this: Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on LinkedIn

Mark your calendars! The Canada Social Report will be officially launched on June 16th, 2015. Developed by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy in partnership with funders, contributors and collaborators, this new initiative will offer a central source of social policy information for Canadians that is expected to evolve and expand over time. Inspired by the need for more accessible social policy information in Canada, the Canada Social Report includes statistical data and descriptive material on social programs across the country.

Learn More:

The Latest from the Field

Tom Klaus

What If... Better Practices Not Best Practices
By: Tom Klaus

Read the post >



Tim Draimin & Vinod Rajasekaran

Doing Good Better: Upping Canada's Game with an R&D Engine
By: Tim Draimin & Vinod Rajasekaran

Read the post >

Milton Friesen

Wheels, Walking & the Absence of Wings
By: Milton Friesen

Read the post >


Michael Jones

Four Mythic Leadership Stories
By: Michael Jones

Read the post >


Sherri Torjman

Memo to the Mayors of Canada
By: Sherri Torjman

Read the post >


Liz Weaver

Making the Business Case to Reduce Poverty
By: Liz Weaver

Read the post >

Upcoming Events


Collective Impact Summit 2015

September 28-October 2, 2015
Vancouver, BC

The Collective Impact Summit is an exclusive learning experience that will bring you the most current thinking and resources from the emerging field of Collective Impact. It is an opportunity to be part of a dynamic group of practitioners who are discovering new ways to lead, engage, and transform communities by tackling our most complex issues.

Collective Impact Summit 2015


The Why and How of Working with Communities through Collective Impact
June 18, 2015 9 a.m. PT | 12 p.m. ET

The recent surge of interest and resources around collective impact principles has highlighted an important concern and challenge for many practitioners: Where does the community fit in? Living Cities responded to this question by researching the best tools to integrate the community's voice into collective impact initiatives. Join Tynesia Boyea-Robinson and Jeff Raderstrong from Living Cities, on this Tamarack Institute webinar hosted by Lisa Attygalle to hear findings from their research. This webinar will cover important capacities to invest in when working with community members, as well as provide tangible examples of community engagement from Living Cities' experience working with collective impact initiatives in 70 US cities. This webinar complements Living Cities' free e-course on the topic, which has had over 2,600 registrants to date.




Share this Issue:

About Engage!

Engage! e-magazine is published to bring you inspiration, ideas, and resources to envision and create vibrant communities. We would love your ideas to help us improve our format. Please email us with your comments.

Engage! e-magazine is brought to you by:

Tamarack Institute
140 Westmount Rd N 
Waterloo, ON
N2L 3G6, Canada
Tel: 519-885-5155 
Email: tamarack@tamarackcommunity.ca
Web: http://tamarackcommunity.ca