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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.

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Beautiful thinking for Summer from Tamarack Institute



In this Issue

Evaluating Collective Impact Guide CoverEvaluating Collective Impact: Three Useful Guides
[By: Liz Weaver]

Community change efforts are complex and messy. Typically they are designed to tackle a vexing problem such as: poverty, homelessness, environmental degradation, or educational achievement, where often only limited progress has been achieved. Successful community change efforts bring diverse partners into agreement around a common agenda, determine the shared measures that will show progress and leverage those activities which will be used to drive forward change. This is the essence of a collective impact approach. But it is not enough to do the work collectively. Measuring progress is essential to assess the progress that the collaborative table is making over time.

FSG, authors of Collective Impact, have recently released a Guide to Evaluating Collective Impact. This series of three publications provides practical advice, tools and case studies for individuals working on collective impact efforts. Guide O1: Learning and Evaluation in the Collective Impact Context focuses on the critical importance of valuing learning for continuous improvement into collective impact initiatives. This enables CI practitioners to both embrace complexity and also be adaptable as the community changes and evolves.

In Guide 02: Assessing Progress and Impact, FSG provides a useful framework for designing and conducting performance measurement and evaluation of collective impact efforts. This framework details the different stages of collective impact efforts: the early, middle and late years and the action and evaluation approaches best suited for each stage. Guide 02 also provides some interesting case studies of collective impact initiatives across each of the stages. Tamarack's Vibrant Communities is profiled as a case study example of a late years approach for effective evaluation practices.


Collective Impact - Action Focus

Collective Impact - Evaluation Focus

Early Years
(1-3 years)

  • Understand the context for collective impact
  • Design the overall approach
  • Implement early stage

Performance Measures

  • Agreement on early performance indicators

Evaluation Approach

  • Developmental Evaluation

Mid Years
(4-8 years)

  • Track significant changes in behaviour and the way the system operates
  • These changes become the gateway to population level change and impact

Performance Measures:

  • Data from shared measurement system informs progress and continuous improvement

Evaluation Approach:

  • Formative Evaluation

Later Years

  • Meaningful and measurable changes related to initiatives' goals are achieved

Performance Measures:

  • Data from shared measurement system informs progress and continuous improvement

Evaluation Focus:

  • Summative Evaluation

In Guide 03, FSG lists a number of key takeaways for evaluating collective impact. These include:

  1. Continuous learning is critical to collective impact success.

  2. Collective impact partners should adopt a two part approach to measuring progress and evaluating effectiveness and impact.

  3. The collective impact change process typically involves three stages of development, each of which requires a different approach to performance measurement and evaluation.

  4. Performance measurement and evaluation bring indisputable value to a collective impact initiative and should be given sufficient financial and logistical support.

Perhaps the most practical of the guides is Guide 03: Supplement: Sample Questions, Outcomes and Indicators. Included in this guide are strategic questions to consider in the design and implementation phases of a collective impact initiative. There are also sample outcomes and indicators for each of the five conditions of collective impact. In addition, the guide provides sample outcomes and indicators for related functions of a collective impact approach which include: the learning culture of the collaborative effort; capacity; behavioural change from both professional practice and individual behaviour perspectives; and measures for systems change; including: funding flows; cultural norms; and, advocacy and public policy. This guide provides a comprehensive list of measures that will surely help every collective impact effort understand and measure its impact.

The Guide to Evaluating Collective Impact is a useful and timely resource. Evaluation and shared measurement are amongst the most challenging of the conditions of collective impact, particularly when the collective effort is shifting and changing in response to interventions. FSG has provided useful tools and food for thought that will undoubtedly enhance collaborative outcomes and continue to build the case for investment in collective impact efforts.

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The Soul of Place CoverWhere is Home? Leadership and the Soul of Placemaking
[By: Michael Jones]

Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.
Your bright gaze will kindle this old shadow world to
Blaze up once again with the fire of faith.
- Rumi, One Song

We are shifting from the industrial age and the age of information and technology to the biological age where we are asking: How do we create spaces for life to happen and align our thinking with how nature thinks?

In my new book, The Soul of Place, I explore how our relationship with place in nature, art and community deepens our connection with the core energetic patterns that form the undercurrents of life and living systems.

Patterns of Placemaking

The first pattern is Homecoming in which we ask: where is home and how do we find our way there? Most of our leadership metaphors are focused on growing up and upward mobility and the ladder of success. What if we balanced this upward organic motion with also growing down? To grow down is to have an embodied experience of place and become native to the ground we find ourselves on. We have a curriculum for upward mobility; we need a parallel curriculum for homecoming - including making fertile the places we find ourselves. To come home to ourselves is to find our own personal myth and rediscover how our enchantment with nature, art and community connects us with the whole of life.

During a recent six-day retreat where we explored the soul of place we listened to the voices of participants express their hopes in a spirit of homecoming and welcome. Towards the end of our sharing we observed that our words felt distant and abstract. Later in the morning, when participants each shared an offering in the form of a project, story or question they wished to offer the group, we did so outside in nature on the rocks, among the trees or by the water. And each spoke at a time and place of their choosing while standing and feeling the ground beneath their feet. Images of digging in the dirt, making fertile ground, building soil and creating a home for new and fragile ideas guide us towards finding our deeper identity through place in ways that make visible the spirit and story of this place. So in the pattern of homecoming we may ask: what is this place asking of me? What is my gift and what am I uniquely called to do? How can I set a context for others to understand my perspective and what can I learn from noticing the felt life that is unfolding within my own interior landscapes of place?

The second pattern of placemaking is belonging. It is here that we ask: What is the nature of our relationship with the people and places that we hold sacred? The urge to belong to a place is basic to the tissue that connects all of life - a pattern of aliveness that brings us into alignment with the ecology of nature and discovering how nature thinks. And in nature everything belongs to everything else. Belonging involves re-imagining our world to include; a new network, a sacred circle of relationship, and the connective tissue of life-giving relationships that align us to the essence of nature and how nature works and connects.

How do our sacred relationships connect us to other communities? What would it mean for our perspective to become more global and inclusive of the stranger and not just our tribe? How do I belong to this place in ways I don't belong anywhere else? How can I embrace diversity both within my community and with life in its largest sense?

The third pattern is one of re-generativity. To be regenerative is to be committed to the conscious evolution of life. It involves a shift in focus from problem solving and making the visible, actionable to sensing patterns of flow and relationship that make the invisible, visible. In so doing we create beauty through seeing all that we do as a form of craft and embracing craftsmanship as the expression of place through the hands and the heart as well as the mind.

To be regenerative is to act and, at the same time, to also be acted upon. To be moved to create through forces greater than ourselves is what connects regenerative action to the local conditions and other resources found in the places themselves.  Therefore to be regenerative is to ask; what is the nature of the place that I am creating from? What is the tone of this place and how as a leader do I want to carry this tone for both myself and others? What can we create together? Where are the places we go to find beauty and how can we fill a space in a beautiful way?

The fourth pattern is carnival which includes engaging the life generating forces of ritual and transformative celebration. Whenever we gather together and enliven the senses through art, music, storytelling, poetry and movement we are evoking the Carnival spirit. Carnival is the upturning of the established order and - like the bright green blades of grass rising up through concrete - making a place in the world for the raw unformed impulse of life to burst through. The sense of gathering together on the public square or in the commons, bringing together diverse energies, expressing the democratic spirit and upturning the old for the new are a catharsis of this energy. It represents a third force reinstating our sense of home for ourselves in the larger world and in the universe.

Creating the Conditions for Life to Flourish
The primary question underlying the book The Soul of Place is: if we are entering the biological age in which our primary work is to come alive to community, to the creative spirit, to nature and ecology and with the soul of place where we find it - then what is it that causes life to wither or to flourish?
And the answer may be that life flourishes when our focus shifts from absolute truth to inner truth, from separation and isolation to connection, from efficiency and control to trust in the re-generativity of life and from scarcity and limits to abundance and joy.

For example:

  1. With homecoming our deference to external authority, absolute truth and the need for perfection shifts to valuing our own authenticity, including the wisdom to lead from the place within us that includes our gifts and the wisdom of our own inner nature.

  2. The belief in separation shifts to the search for belonging and an empathic resonance with our world, including an appreciation for our connection to home, to nature, to local wisdom and to who we essentially are.

  3. The focus on efficiency and control shifts toward a trust in the conscious evolution of life including the sense that we can approach life's challenges with grace and ease and an appreciation for life's natural unfolding and a willingness to let go and let be.

  4. And the belief in scarcity shifts to an appreciation that, while we may need to work within certain limits, the natural world bursts forth based on the principle of abundance and so is replenished, not diminished, by our efforts. Furthermore, when our work is aligned with nature, we not only sustain life, we create life.

When we deepen our relationship with place through nature, art and community we also steward the discovery and articulation of an overarching collective mythic narrative of place that brings these patterns of place alive. Most leaders don't want to only belong to a job or even a career. They want to belong to a story, and particularly to a story that is mythic in its possibilities and place- based.

Too often the places we create remain placeless because they don't include our stories. So nurturing these patterns of life and the fabric of the larger mythic narrative that holds them begins with coming together and telling our stories. Recounting these larger than life narratives of place is itself an act of joyous celebration and part of the leaders' emerging work as stewards and placemakers.

Being the Soul of That Place
By looking at place not only as something to return to but also something to grow out from -orienting us to the future and not only the past; and by realizing that a place is not an object or a thing, but a power and a presence, we can partner with place in a way that is itself deeply transformative, opening our hearts to the experience of beauty, aliveness and possibility.

The Sufi Poet Jalauddin Rumi once wrote; "wherever you stand, be the soul of that place." When we stand in the felt experience of our own homecoming and align with the flow of life, the soul of place will blaze up once again and we will stand in our new life with the fire of faith.

Adapted from The Soul of Place; Re-imagining Leadership through Nature, Art and Community by Michael Jones, Friesen Press, 2014 The Soul of Place is supported by the Fetzer Institute.

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Creating Shared Prosperity: Cities that Lead - Succeed
[By: Amy Zoethout]

Vibrant Communities Canada launched a new tool this spring that shares how Canadian municipalities can build a prosperity agenda. Creating Shared Prosperity: Cities that Lead, Succeed, uses input and examples from a pan-Canadian network of municipalities striving to improve quality of life as inspiration for other municipalities to consider how they too can enhance quality of life for all of their residents.

Work started in 2011 when a small group from the Cities Reducing Poverty network set out to develop this tool to help municipalities take the lead on reducing poverty in their communities. Discussions around the business case focused on the cost of poverty, the entanglement of municipal, provincial/territorial, and federal involvement in poverty, the success of the Vibrant Communities model with strong municipal involvement and leadership, and the urgent need for this business case to be developed.

The final document, released publicly in June, highlights many successful initiatives taking place across the country that are moving people out of poverty and creating Vibrant Communities for all residents. Outlined in the document are levers that municipalities can use: leadership, convening stakeholders, providing information, and cutting red tape. We examined two areas which municipalities can focus their efforts: improving health outcomes and opportunity-related initiatives. Addressing housing and homelessness; food security; children and education; as well as, recreation; are all within municipal jurisdiction and work in these arenas can combine to improve the health outcomes for all citizens. Municipalities can also have an impact on providing increasing opportunities for all residents through work on income security; living wage; local purchasing policies; and, developing affordable and accessible transportation networks.

The case ends with ideas for how to use this case and how municipalities and communities can work together to create shared prosperity and vibrant communities in Canada. Our hope is that those who are using the case will share how it is being used in their communities. To learn more, email Donna Jean.

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Thoughtstorming About Community at Regent Park CSI
[By: Brie Pawlak]

Last month, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) Regent Park convened a diverse group of eight people to explore the theme: "How can we create community from the ground up?" Using a process known as Thoughtstorm, the group discovered and explored core concepts underlying questions such as: “What is community?" How can we create community among diverse groups?" and “How is diversity an asset?"

Thoughtstorm is an inquiry process developed by Harry Palmer author of the Avatar® Materials. It allows groups of people from different perspectives to safely explore topics and tap into a "collective consciousness" or reservoir of power greater than their perspective alone can offer. Working together with others of varied backgrounds, the group uses their diversity as an asset and draws on the collective wisdom of everyone's experiences to come up with ideas bigger and broader than any one participant can generate alone.  It works this way: a question is posed as a topic for exploration and the group shares thoughts, ideas, perspectives, etc. until a "corecept" is revealed. The "corecept" or core concept is an idea that just feels right or natural; an “aha" moment for all involved. It lands with the group and there is a freeing of attention and energy.

The recent thoughtstorm at the Regent Park CSI to explore Building Community from the Ground Up included twisting and turning through topics such as:

What is community? - Community is a socially constructed group.

The group discussed how, ideally, community is inclusive and conveys a sense of connection and belonging centered on building relationships. It was acknowledged that, community is not necessarily ideal and that sometimes we are automatically defined by our race, gender, ability, etc. As one person aptly shared, “sometimes we don't know we are part of a community (able-bodied people, employee, etc.) until we are no longer part of it due to a particular event (e.g. an accident, loss of job, etc.)."

How can we create community among diverse groups? - By being vulnerable.

We discussed how being vulnerable and humble (egoless); celebrating commonality; having the courage to talk about the things we are nervous about; and, creating space to forgive past grievances all help to create community. We also looked at some potential challenges of engaging a diverse representation of people (not just the people that come out to meetings, respond to phone calls, or have access to email) and considered the potential of using alternative methods of engagement including: notice boards, door-to-door canvassing, etc. to improve representation and ensure that everyone has a voice.

How is diversity an asset? - In exploring different perspectives.

One benefit of diverse perspectives is that it enables us to grow together in relationships and build compassion. When we are open, our perspective naturally broadens to include others points of view. This also enables us to leverage other people's assets, skill sets and privileges and work collaboratively together as a team.

As the highlights from the recent CSI Regent Park event illustrate, Thoughtstorm is a co-creative affair. It can be an enjoyable way to create shared understanding, foster group alignment and build a solid foundation for collaboration. The Regent Park Thoughtstorm is the third in a series of monthly Thoughtstorms to be hosted at CSI.  Each month there is a theme to explore, often on a topic that arose organically from previous Thoughtstorms. The intention in hosting these Thoughtstorms is to create a diverse community of explorers excited to co-create together for the community, Toronto and the world.

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The Philanthropist's Collective Impact Issue Now Available
[By: Sylvia Cheuy]

In the May 2014 issue of Engage! Larry Gemmel profiled an upcoming special issue of The Philanthropist  that was to be focused entirely on Collective Impact with particular emphasis on how it is unfolding in Canada. This issue features articles including:

  • A detailed overview of Collective Impact by Liz Weaver;
  • Insights on the challenges of evaluating Collective Impact by Mark Cabaj;
  • An update from Australian colleagues who are using Collective Impact to foster a new movement for social change;
  • An interview with John Kania and Fay Hanleybrown of FSG: Social Impact Consultants on their latest thinking; and,
  • A Point/Counter-Point feature on the question of whether Collective Impact is a new and innovative approach or merely a re-packaging of old ideas about collaboration with Paul Born facing off against Don Bourgeois      

We are very pleased to announce that this issue is now available. 

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Updates from Tamarack's Learning Communities
  • Collective Impact in Rural Communities - Anne Burrill shares reflections on both the unique challenges and opportunities of rural communities and shares why she believes that small communities have an ability to mobilize effectively to model the collective impact approach.

  • Tamarack Thought Leader Introduction - Elayne Greeley introduces herself as a Tamarack Thought-Leader and highlights 3 topics of interest: exchanging tacit knowledge through Communities of Practice; Driving innovative attitudes across community agencies; and, knowledge democracy through creativity and visual expression.

  • The Challenge of Writing About Poverty - Lori Kleinsmith offers insights into why it is not easy to write about poverty and the challenge of conveying the deeper context of poverty firsthand in ways that do not frame it as a lifestyle choice. She acknowledges however that this is what is needed to garner public understanding and support for needed policy changes.
  • No Bottom in Sight? - John Stapleton offers an analysis of social assistance rates in Ontario over the last two decades and recommends reframing conversations away from a welfare model and more towards creating a new system designed for prosperity instead.

  • Where's the Puck Going? - Laird Schaub shares his reflections and two key leverage points - moral oxygen and harmonizing a cappella - that emerged during his attendance at the recent Community: Programs and Policies Gathering in Kitchener.
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About Engage!

Engage! e-magazine is published by Tamarack - An Institute for Community Engagement, 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.

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