Shifting Cultures

Changing Systems

Preparing for Surprise


Come with your curiosity.
Share your current thinking.
Discover where social innovation is headed.
It’s very exciting to have been part of this; to see how much is emerging, to see leadership, to see younger people, the next generation of social innovators coming forward. It’s been a truly transformative experience for this movement in Canada.
-Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

SIX Summer Schools are an annual global gathering and a seven-year old tradition. Pioneered by Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), the Summer Schools bring together leading social innovation thinkers, practitioners, grassroots activists and policy makers from around the world to explore key issues facing the social innovation field.

SIX Vancouver 2014 (#SIXvan14) marked the first time a Summer School was held in North America. Vancouver welcomed nearly 160 local, national and international practitioners to connect over new ideas, critical insights, practical solutions, common experiences and stories. SIX Vancouver was a collaboration between Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and BC Partners for Social Impact (#BCPSI), representing the global, Canadian, and British Columbian social innovation communities respectively.

Credit: Komal Minhas for KoMedia

Credit: Komal Minhas for KoMedia

Then, when he had flown a while longer,
Something brightened toward the north;
It caught his eye they say.
And then, he flew right up against it.
He pushed his mind through,
And pulled his body after.
– Skaay, Haida Storyteller
Excerpt From: SIX Participant Pack — Welcome Letter

The welcome letter in the SIX Vancouver program invited all participants to “Go ahead. If something catches your eye over the next few days, fly right up to it. Push your possibilities and imagination through!”

What participants were collectively flying up to was the 2014 theme: How can we increase our impact? Shifting cultures, changing systems and preparing for surprise.

Change is hard and shifting culture even harder. Perhaps the joy experienced at SIX Vancouver 2014 can in part be explained by a sense of shared struggle – struggle within one’s organization, struggle within communities, struggle within oneself. The stories and exchanges surfaced the ‘creative tensions’ that exist in social innovation and the wonderful diversity of radical thinkers and doers in the space.

This report covers several days and multiple discussions about change processes, ideas that are working and some that are not. During SIX Vancouver, we were able to peel back the many layers of ongoing exploration and experimentation with social innovation processes.

Away from this gathering, we can’t wait to have all the recommended approaches in place to get started. In social innovation and public sector innovation work, we must prepare the conditions as best we can and begin the journey. We will learn together along the way, adapting the work with feedback from the system.

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[Part I] Collective Impact in Action: Thinking Differently and Embracing Paradox

SiG Note: This article was originally published on September 19, 2014 on Tamarack CCI - the online learning community for collaborative leaders. It is the fourth post of our Collective Impact Series leading up to the Tamarack Institute’s Collective Impact Summit this October. It has been cross-posted with permission from Tamarack.

Additional mindset shifts required by practitioners to support the effective implementation of Collective Impact.

In the September 2014 issue of Engage! I profiled an article co-authored by John Kania, Fay Hanleybrown and Jennifer Splansky Juster of FSG entitled, Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact, which is included in Collective Insights on Collective Impacta new resource published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  Writing the profile led me to reflect upon my work with Headwaters Communities in Action and what that work taught me about implementing Collective Impact. 

Over eight years (2005-2013), I was the lead staff person responsible for establishing and advancing the work of Headwaters Communities in Action (HCIA) – a citizen-led, multi-sector collaborative that champions community wellbeing projects across Dufferin County and the Town of Caledon in Ontario’s Headwaters Region.  During that time, a broad range of projects were initiated, resulting in important contributions to the overall wellbeing of the region as a whole.

What I most appreciate about the insights shared in Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact is: how we work together is as important as the work that we do — an important dimension of Collective Impact work that mirrors a fundamental principle that has been central to the approach used by HCIA in the various projects that HCIA has successfully championed.

Collective Impact is more than a set of three pre-conditions and five conditions.  It is also an invitation to think – and work together – differently.  This is why effective Collective Impact initiatives are “very often countercultural.” It is also why those championing Collective Impact initiatives need to be willing and able to focus beyond what work is done and embrace important mindset shifts in how the work is accomplished.

Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact identifies three mindset shifts as important to the work of Collective Impact:

  1. Who Is Involved – This mindset shift recognizes the complex nature of Collective Impact work and that no one sector, working alone, can solve it.
  2. How People Work Together – This mindset shift emphasizes the importance of relationship-building and trust in the work of Collective Impact.
  3. How Progress Happens – This mindset shift speaks to the nature of Collective Impact work, which is unpredictable, constantly changing and beyond the control of any one organization or sector.

All three mindsets were key to HCIA projects, which included:

These projects were led by volunteer working groups of people from a variety of sectors, who worked together in the solution-making.  As their work unfolded, HCIA volunteers built relationships of trust with one another and established new community connections. The experience with each project affirmed the unpredictable nature of this work; initial work plans frequently had to be adapted and changed in response to new information and resources or unexpected challenges.

Yet my reflection on the work of HCIA and the insights from Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact, together with conversations I have had with other networks and collaboratives across North America, has led me to identify additional mindset shifts to be mindful of when describing the invitation to work differently that Collective Impact requires.  These additional mindsets are:


There is a Kenyan proverb that says, “To go fast, go alone – to go far, go together.” This proverb describes another mindset shift required of Collective Impact.  Our dominant culture in North America is fast-paced and action-oriented. In contrast, though Collective Impact is very much focused on results, the partners involved understand and appreciate that it requires a multi-year commitment from organization and funding partners.  This initially slower pace, as partners’ understanding of the issue is deepened and challenged by the multiplicity of perspectives, can be extremely frustrating given our habit for action.

Ironically, another dimension of the pace of a Collective Impact initiative is that partners must also pay attention to ensuring that project milestones are achieved and celebrated, in order to maintain momentum and commitment to the initiative over time, all the while maintaining a mindset that is focused on long-term change.


When establishing a common agenda for a Collective Impact initiative, the partners involved must be willing to allow their understanding of the issue to be expanded and refined by the perspectives and experiences of other partners so that, ultimately, a new, more holistic and comprehensive shared understanding is created.  To do this effectively, partners need to develop the ability to distinguish facts from assumptions and establish enough trust between them to let go of long-held beliefs about what is possible and what we believe


Many who champion Collective Impact initiatives come to this work with experience and skill in using traditional logic models and linear strategic planning approaches.  These approaches to planning work well in situations that are predictable and can be predicted in advance from start to finish.  Unfortunately, complex community change efforts – which are the domain of Collective Impact – are dynamic and tend to unfold in emergent and nonlinear ways.  In this way, the planning and implementation of Collective Impact initiatives is much more akin to a hiker blazing the trail as he walks it. The implication for those doing Collective Impact work is that they need to simultaneously consider the work they are doing and how this work can best unfold within the broader community context. They must also regularly reflect on their plans and fully expect them to be changed often.

Collective Impact Summit 2014To learn more about Collective Impact and essential mindset shifts from John Kania, register to attend the Tamarack Institute’s first-ever Collective Impact Summit happening October 6-10, 2014 in Toronto, ON.

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Job Opening: Administration and Research Assistant (internship)

Social Innovation Generation (SiG) is a collaborative partnership originally founded by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the University of Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, the MaRS Centre, and the PLAN Institute. SiG believes that complex, persistent, and “wicked” social and ecological problems can be solved. Our focus is enhancing Canada’s resilience by engaging the creativity and resources of all sectors to collaborate on social innovations that have impact, durability, and scale.

SiG National is looking for an Administration and Research Assistant to work closely with the Executive Director, Communications Manager and Communications and Research Associate to help coordinate details related to event planning, travel arrangements, administration, finance and research tasks for the office.

At a time when “the need and desire for change is profound,” this is an exciting opportunity to work in a dynamic professional context to experiment with a different way of telling a story, learning new practices for tipping systems, and helping to create new possibilities for building resilience.


  • Administrative, planning and project strategy follow-up support for the Executive Director, SiG National

  • Manage the calendar and scheduling of the Executive Director, SiG National

  • Tracking of the Executive Director’s expenses and tracking overview systems of SiG budget

  • Complete basic accounting functions such as preparing expenses and/or processing of invoices as requested.

  • Supporting coordination and outcome tracking of the SiG National staff team meetings

  • Event logistical support for initiatives undertaken by SiG National and other SiG nodes using MaRS Discovery District facilities

  • Supporting the social innovation intelligence gathering by scanning, highlighting and synthesizing relevant news and analysis

  • Drive engagement with SiG online platforms – website, Knowledge Hub, social media communities;

  • Support and research for other SiG staff as required

  • Ensure that couriers, vendors, maintenance and service people are dealt with promptly and courteously, and generally monitors the activities, comings and goings for the area

  • Provides front-line support and assistance at selected events as necessary. Tasks may include; preparing nametags, attendee lists and other event materials, registration supports and general trouble-shooting.


The ideal candidate will:

  • Demonstrate understanding of social innovation and its related processes, or a keen willingness to learn quickly the concepts that comprise the foundation of our work

  • Have excellent oral and written communications skills and be able to engage with all actors respectfully

  • Utilize strong organizational skills when faced with multiple time-sensitive priorities; have a willingness to “roll-up your sleeves” and personally handle all aspects of an activity

  • Be detail-oriented and self-motivated

  • Have the ability to work independently

  • Demonstrate proficiency in effectively utilizing social media for professional purposes (blogging, Facebook, twitter, etc.)

  • Have proven experience writing and editing

  • Bachelor’s degree in journalism, political science, peace and justice studies, anthropology or another area of the humanities considered an asset

  • Bookkeeping experience and knowledge of Excel and Powerpoint considered an asset

  • Strong working knowledge of Mac and the Microsoft suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook)

  • Energetic team player with cooperative attitude

  • Solid organizational skills required to handle a variety of tasks

  • Ability to multi-task and manage competing demands

  • Ability to use good judgment in assessing challenging situations

  • Enthusiastic and willing to expand on responsibilities and professional abilities


This is a full-time internship position based in Toronto, paid through the Career Edge system on a monthly basis. You may need to demonstrate you meet Career Edge requirements to apply.

How To Apply

Please register with Career Edge and provide a cover letter articulating your suitability for the position. Then along with your resume, please attach a statement articulating your interest in working to foster an ecosystem of Canadian social innovation (approx. 300-400 words).

Please submit your application by 5:00pm ET, Monday October 6th to the attention of:

Geraldine Cahill, Manager of Communications, SiG National

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How do we know we’re making a difference, together?

Note: This article was originally published on August 27, 2014 on the Community Knowledge Exchange (CKX) Blog. It has been cross-posted with permission from CKX.

Each day across Canada, staff and volunteers in social-profit and charitable organizations are working hard to deliver important programs and services to some of the most vulnerable individuals in our communities.  This collective effort crosses many domains – from human services to recreation to the arts.  Intuitively, we can say that the quality of life that we experience in Canada is a result of the effort of these organizations. But the question remains, how do we actually know that we are making a difference, making an impact, together? 

Many of the issues facing our communities are incredibly complex – poverty, school achievement, maintaining clean environments, building local economies, addressing homelessness, and achieving health and well-being.  There are multiple players working hard to address these issues including governments at different levels, foundations, funders, organizations and citizens.  These complex issues involving diverse partners require a different approach.


In 2011, John Kania and Mark Kramer of FSG Social Impact Consultants published a paper in the Stanford Social Innovation Review called Collective Impact. This paper theorized a new way of working together where diverse partners agreed to a common agenda to guide their work. They also needed to agree to shared measures to track progress and determine collectively on those activities that would lead to the greatest results. Collective Impact efforts also focus on continuous communications as a mechanism to maintain momentum and keep the partners at the table. Finally, Kania and Kramer identified the need for a backbone infrastructure, a critical investment in staffing to make sure that collective efforts continue to move forward over time.

Since the publication of the collective impact article, organizations and collaborative planning tables have been experimenting with this framework designed for community change on complex issues. In Canada, there are many emerging examples of collective impact efforts. Vibrant Communities, an initiative of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement, has been utilizing a form of collective impact in developing place-based, multi-sector approaches to reducing poverty in cities across Canada.

When it was first started in 2002, Vibrant Communities Canada was called an ‘action-learning experiment’.  Its partners, including local city leaders, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Tamarack, and Caledon Institute of Social Policy recognized that community change efforts needed a longer time horizon and a focus on learning as you go. The partners also recognized the need for data to both inform and measure success. City partners were required to complete a poverty matrix before they began to develop their plan. The poverty matrix was a tool for local planning tables to use demographic data to understand the issue and impact of poverty on that city or community. The poverty matrix provided a baseline of information that was critical for each local context.

Understanding that we are making a difference together begins with detailed knowledge about the baseline data about the issue we are trying to impact. The poverty matrix provided a detailed demographic profile of poverty for the Vibrant Communities cities.

Increasingly, we have seen a number of demographic resources available to community change initiatives emerge. The Canadian Index of Well Being, Community Foundations of Canada’s Vital Signs reports (which are regularly published in many communities across Canada), and Community Accounts are examples of resources that provide key data, both baseline and progress, that collaborative tables can now access.

Detailed data about the problem is the starting point. From that point, collaborative or collective impact tables have to agree to a set of shared measures that will prove they are making progress together. At Vibrant Communities, it took us a while to get agreement on our shared measurements but once we did, it was amazing to see our progress. As we began to track our results collectively, we learned a lot from each other. Shared measurement can do that. By viewing shared measurement as an opportunity to learn and continuously improve, members can hone in on those strategies that make the biggest difference. They can also learn to let go of those things that are not working.

We also learned that shared measurement requires a variety of different measures, not only population based measures. Recently, the folks at FSG Social Impact Consultants have published a series of guides Evaluating Collective Impact. These guides are very useful as they provide measures to consider and detail the evaluation process for collective impact.

It is complicated, getting the right baseline data and then getting agreement on those shared measures which will show progress, but these are essential steps in knowing that you are making a difference together. This moves your collective effort from nice to do, to an effort with impact.

To learn more about Collective Impact and how to scale up your community impact efforts, register to attend the Tamarack Institute’s first-ever Collective Impact Summit happening October 6-10, 2014 in Toronto, ON.

Collective Impact Summit 2014

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The Quiet Global Boom of Co-operative Enterprises

In the context of changing the system dynamics that created the problem in the first place, a social innovation is any initiative (product, process, program, project or platform) that challenges and, over time, contributes to changing the defining routines, resource and authority flows or beliefs of the broader social system in which it is introduced. Successful social innovations reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience. They have durability, scale and transformative impact. - Frances Westley

Mary Cybulski, AP

The Wolf of Wall Street Credit: Mary Cybulski, AP

Unfettered capitalism fails us miserably — both the people on Earth, as well as Earth itself.

Six years ago, the global economy was on the verge of collapse; it was the largest market failure since the Great Depression in 1930s. Many countries have not recovered, including Canada.

At the same time, climate change is intensifying as a result of the same lack of regulation and accountability. In 2009, Nicholas Stern, former World Bank Chief Economist, wrote: “Climate change is the greatest market failure the world has seen.”1

Two massive market failures emerging from the current system; one financial, one ecological. Yet most people see no alternative system.

There is one: co-operating.

Since 2008, when global financial markets crashed, co-operative enterprises have quietly become the fastest-growing socio-economic model in the world, increasing from approximately 800 million members worldwide to over one billion — 20% growth in five years. 

One reason for co-operatives popularity is that their inherent focus is on serving the collective wellbeing of members, rather than solely the bottom-line. Originally championed by social reformers such as Robert Owen, a Welsh businessman, the first co-ops provided a humane and practical response to the social deprivations and disparity in the wake of the industrial revolution. In 1844, a group of weavers in Rochdale, England, inspired by Owen, started a food co-op. As word of their success spread, co-operatives based on the Rochdale principles were founded all over the world.

Today, there are thousands of examples of local co-operative initiatives, from credit unions in India and fair-trade coffee growers in Nicaragua to industrial worker co-ops in Argentina, renewable energy co-ops in Denmark, and local organic food co-ops in Canada.

Here’s an astonishing fact: Co-operatives provide over 100 million jobs worldwide, which is at least 20% more than all jobs provided by all multinational corporations put together. In Canada, about 40% of all Canadians are members in approximately 9,500 co-operatives and credit unions. Quebec, Canada’s most co-operative-friendly province, accounts for almost 40% of all co-operatives in Canada, and nearly 50% of co-op jobs. (See: Status of Cooperatives in Canada, 2012 Report, p.15)

The largest co-operative enterprise in Canada, by membership, is Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). It was started in 1971 by six mountaineers who pooled their purchasing power to buy discounted climbing equipment. Today, there are over 3.5 million members.

Just like MEC, most co-ops start out with a handful of people with a shared need, who form an enterprise to meet that need. A recent example is Ontario’s local organic food co-ops, that have grown from five or six a decade ago to over 70 today.

What else makes co-ops so attractive?

Image by Anda

Image by Anda:

Social innovation is a big part of the answer. Co-operatives are constituted on social principles and values: they are leaders, for example, in sustainability practices and reporting. They are catalyzing a system shift in the economy away from a single-bottom line and toward community accountability. Resilience is the other great inducement to forming a co-operative business. Co-operatives have twice the success rate of regular businesses.

The contrast between a co-operative enterprise and the corporate status quo is clear. Long term over short term. Mutual benefit over self-interest. Democracy over top-down hierarchies. Given the last decade of economic turmoil,  it is not surprising that eight out of ten Canadians would prefer shopping at a co-operative, over a privately owned company.2

This century will test the Earth beyond many of its limits. Population growth. Climate chaos. Resource depletion. And further destructive social disparity. The current system is not the answer. The answer is collaborative social innovation and systemic shift towards community. We have a choice: co-operate or not. Will the 21st century be the age of cooperation and collaboration? For our collective wellbeing, it must be.

1 Nicholas Stern, Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, October 2006, Executive Summary, page viii

2 IPOs Tracking Study for CCA, August 21, 2013; Abacus Data IYC Canadian Awareness Study for CCA, May 23, 2012.

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Learning to Fail Forward: the critical ingredient for innovation


SiG Note: This article was originally published on August 17, 2014 on Resilient Reality. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author. 

On July 9, a couple hundred people gathered to explore a topic that carries a pretty hefty cultural stigma. It’s a subject we think about daily. We obsess, analyze and agonize over it. We are quick to blame politicians and public business leaders for it. We fear it. We deny it. We avoid it.

Ashley Good decided to confront it. Several years ago, Ashley founded Fail Forward with the vision to talk about, celebrate and learn from failure. She perceived a gap in organizational learning, particularly in the international development sector. This spurred her to promote the practice of “intelligent failure,” which Ashley defines as:

  1. Learning maximized and accelerated through the act of trial, error and communicating stories
  2. Innovation made possible by accepting a certain risk of failure inherent in new ideas and approaches

The inaugural Fail Forward conference, held in July 2014, opened the dialogue for how professionals can learn to fail intelligently. Participants were diverse, involving large auditing firms, niche consultancies, growing businesses, and community organizations. As a volunteer, I observed a day full of play, laughter, and storytelling. Stories from attendees revealed people’s sensitivity to failure and how failure is strongly shaped by our own perceptions. There was also widespread recognition that innovation and failure are closely linked.


Throughout the workshops, speeches and serendipitous conversations, I learned new methodologies and met some of the leading thinkers in intelligent failure, such as:

The Fail Forward Toolkit

Your one-stop shop on how to fail fast and fail smart. Tools and frameworks include: IDEO on Design Thinking, Purpose Capital on when to quit, pivot or persist, an Innovation and Risk Appetite Assessment, the list goes on…

Emergent Learning Tables

An awesome tool for learning is the Emergent Learning Table (ELT). ELTs are best used to tackle a situation that has no easy or obvious solution and requires more than one team to take action.

Applying collective learning to a large organization can be difficult. ELTs provide the structure and space to promote dialogue, advocacy and build feedback loops into implementation to improve outcomes. I found this tool particularly exciting as it connects well to Michael Quinn Patton’s work on developmental evaluation. As Jillaine Smith of 4Q Partners remarked during the conference: “people are working towards the same goal from different angles – either from a learning perspective, like 4Q, or an evaluative perspective, like developmental evaluation.”

There’s no learning without fun.  Ashley Good and Fail Forward participant get silly. c/o Billy Lee, Belight

There’s no learning without fun. Ashley Good and Fail Forward participant get silly. c/o Billy Lee, Belight

Business Schools and Failure

Mike Shaner, a business professor at St. Louis University, asked participants to complete a Performance Failure Appraisal (found on page 15 in the Fail Forward Toolkit). He also shared an awesome compendium of readings on leadership and failure (click the course readings button).

Thought Leaders Galore

Dr. Brian Goldman was the opening keynote speaker and set the stage for failure in the context of hospitals. It was both a sobering and awe-inspiring speech. Dr. Goldman helped participants to see that no one feels failure stronger than those responsible for human lives. Another doctor, Dr. Mandy Wintink spoke about neuroscience and our physiological reaction to failure.

Meanwhile, Open Road Alliance, one of the conference partners, is filling an unmet need in the world of philanthropy. Many projects that secure funding face unforeseen exogenous threats, which jeopardize the project’s ability to continue operating. Enter Open Road Alliance, who provides catalytic capital to cash-strapped high impact projects. Their work was recently featured in SSIR as Funding the Unforeseen. These three thought leaders are just a sample of the many in attendance at Fail Forward 2014.

What’s Next?

I hope this post has illuminated some of the rich learning opportunities available on intelligent failure. Most of these tools and methods are more fun to explore in a group. That’s why the Fail Forward team is starting a Toronto Meetup to kickstart a community of “failers.” Don’t live in Toronto? Be a part of a Fail Forward organizing team in cities across Ontario.

Fail Forward Team. c/o Billy Lee, Belighted

Fail Forward Team. c/o Billy Lee, Belighted

Special thanks to Ashley Good, Anna Smith and the other members of the organizing team for Fail Forward 2014. Congratulations to the partners who were willing to sponsor a conference with the word failure in it!

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Vibrant Communities Canada – Getting to Shared Outcomes

SiG Note: This article was originally published on July 17, 2014 on Tamarack CCI - the online learning community for collaborative leaders. It is the second post of our Collective Impact Series leading up to the Tamarack Institute’s Collective Impact Summit this October. It has been cross-posted with permission from Tamarack.

A very interesting meeting happened in Montreal in July. The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation invited foundation colleagues from Canada and the United States to a workshop focused on Evaluation and Learning for Aligned Action.  

The workshop included a number of evaluation experts and practitioners. Vibrant Communities Canada was invited to share lessons learned from our journey to collective impact and shared outcomes.

See the Pecha Kucha presentation that I prepared to entice everyone to attend my workshop and the PowerPoint presentation we prepared about the journey of how our movement collectively developed a common evaluation framework.

The Tamarack Institute and Vibrant Communities Canada have taken the lead in developing a shared evaluation framework for those cities engaged in place-based poverty reduction efforts (Cities Reducing Poverty).  From 2002-2012, this included 13 cities from coast-to-coast in Canada.  Over the past two years, this network has expanded to include more than 50 cities across the country.  While the shared evaluation framework is coordinated nationally, each of the cities collects local data and contributes their results through an annual survey.  Recently, Vibrant Communities Canada also partnered with the Community Data Program to purchase population level data for each of the cities.  This set of 12 population level indicators will enable us to better determine collective impact across the network on an annual basis.

Vibrant Communities Canada and our Cities Reducing Poverty partners review and reflect on our individual and collective results annually.  This reflection on shared outcomes is instrumental to understanding the progress we are making and some of the challenges that local communities face when working collectively to achieve change.

This post has led me to consider the evaluation journey in more detail.  PowerPoint presentations often don’t provide the details about the hard graft that went into each step.  To give a better sense of where we are today, I have developed the Vibrant Communities Historical Timelineillustrating the evolution of experiences, conversations, learning, testing, reviewing and revising behind our collective efforts.  Most of us only look back on the last three months or the last year.  Twelve years is a long time to reflect – but each step was critical along the path:

Advice and Lessons Learned On Shared Evaluation
  • Getting to shared outcomes is more than a process.  Deepening our understanding and learning about shared outcomes is a journey.
  • A clear and shared understanding of the issue – in our case poverty – emerged out of the work.  At the beginning, we did not have this shared understanding.  Once it was developed, it was easier to build a shared evaluation framework across different sites.
  • The Sustainable Livelihoods Asset Pentagon was vital in developing a common evaluation framework.  Each city, despite undertaking different activities, was engaged in building assets.  The Assets Pentagon allowed us to compare results across each city.
  • When working across multiple sites, look for scalable results.  The CCSD Community Data Program allows Vibrant Communities to purchase shared and comparable data across different cities.
  • Have patience and focus on learning and improving in each evaluation round.
Learn more about developing shared evaluation frameworks and how to scale up your community impact efforts using collective impactRegister to attend the Tamarack Institute’s first-ever Collective Impact Summit happening October 6-10, 2014 in Toronto, ON.
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The Game Has Changed: The Empathy Keystone

For the past six weeks, our team and our SIX Summer School Vancouver 2014 partners – Social Innovation Exchange and BC Partners for Social Impact – have been sifting through, sorting and curating the wealth of content captured during the summit. The breadth and richness of the knowledge exchange at SIX is undoubtedly enough to write a book on the State of Social Innovation in 2014. Amidst this richness, however, is exquisite simplicity; for a field dedicated to working in complexity, two ‘simple’ (even primordial) practices surfaced again and again as essential for leveraging that complexity: collaboration and empathy.

Of course, engaging in collaboration or practicing empathy is neither simple nor easy; they have been the purview of faith and philosophical teachings for 1,000s of years and the centrepiece of kindergarten teachings, workshops, trainings, retreats, literature, and research in the past century. Moreover, they are interlinked actions: collaboration is a process enabled by empathy. Given this precondition of empathy for collaboration, the collective wisdom of the SIX Summer School pointed to empathy as a keystone of social innovation.

As this became increasingly clear in curating the learnings from SIX, further connections began to unfold, linking these emergent insights from an international network of social innovators more broadly to the global community of social change practice. Close on the heels of SIX, the SiG June IASI event – in partnership with Ashoka Canada and MaRS Discovery District – was In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of Ashoka; the dialogue was moderated by MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht. A champion and pioneer of social entrepreneurship, Drayton’s current message and mission is that the movement of the 21st century must be to nurture, teach and train empathy — especially in children.

Between the SIX Summer School, In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the ongoing work of both the SIX and Ashoka networks, and many more initiatives, it is clear that a mix of cross-pollination, simultaneous discovery, and knowledge exchange is nourishing a common valuation of empathy as the bedrock of the 21st century. A powerful mindset shift is underway.

In Conversation with Bill Drayton

For Drayton, the shift will be towards empathy-based ethics, replacing the current ethics ‘rulebook’ with a constellation of principles rooted in empathy (such as compassion, hospitality, initiative, intuition, contribution, and empowerment). Why? Because the rigidity of our current rulebook — and the rules themselves — apply less and less in an exponentially changing world. We are dragging the values, mindsets, and legal/financial structures of a Fordist, pre-digital, pre-networked system into the global, interconnected, interdependent and omnidirectional relationships of the present. The game has changed. Empathy is essential to understanding this new world and our humanity in it.

“Every child must master empathy-based ethics because the rules are changing; the less they apply the less learning them has positive impact” — Bill Drayton 

Arguably, empathy and collaboration have always mattered to the integrity of a society, but the argument now is that empathy is the essential skill to thrive socially, ecologically and economically in the present day. In a world defined by exponential rates of change across all systems, Drayton’s position is that everyone can and must be a changemaker, because change is the new game; it is not a question of whether we should nurture an ‘everyone is a changemaker world,’ it is imperative that we do so. Enabling and empowering this new norm of empathic agency is what Drayton calls a ‘teams of teams’ model; a model of collaborative co-leadership by and within teams.

A teams of teams model was similarly championed at the SIX Summer School as participants discussed the power and possibility of Public and Social Innovation Labs (PSI Labs), community-led development, co-production, co-working spaces, nested innovation hubs, cross-sector networks, and ecosystem building. The common call is that the operational norms of our relationships — working, personal, institutional, civic, and community — are shifting, and must shift, toward the principles of collaboration; a practical and mindset shift that is not only an essential driver of positive systems change, but is a form of transformative systems change itself.

“If everyone is a changemaker, there’s no way a problem can outrun a solution” — Bill Drayton

There is a convergence happening as both social entrepreneurs — which Drayton describes as entrepreneurs with big pattern-change ideas for the good of all — and communities establish a new precedent: the wellbeing of all supports the sustainable wealth of all. At the same time, system pressures are driving commerce, institutions and innovation in the same direction.  “All the evidence shows companies committed to values internally, do better financially,” says Drayton. An ethical and ecological imperative for empathy is now also an economic imperative.

“This is the most thrilling moment in human history, we are leaving an unequal, unfair world” — Bill Drayton
Practicing Empathy: Active Listening Exercise

This simple sounding exercise can be deeply challenging.  It takes one step:

(1) When listening to another person, turn off your inner monologue; silence the inner voice in your head that is reflecting, judging, observing, cataloguing, analyzing and preparing what to say next. Quiet that voice. Listen completely to the other person.

Try this with one person. Then another. Then another. Do you recall his or her name? Are you hearing more, and remembering more, about what that person is saying? Feeling?


In conversation with Bill Drayton from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo

Further Resources:

Start empathy


Bill Drayton sees a world where ‘everyone is a changemaker’ — Christian Science Monitor

Leading With Authenticity — 2014 Skoll World Forum

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