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 Timeline, illustrating 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 impact: Register to attend the Tamarack Institute’s first-ever Collective Impact Summit happening October 6-10, 2014 in Toronto, ON.

[Collective Impact] The Tango of Collective Impact

SiG Note: This article was originally published on June 25, 2014 on Tamarack CCI – the online learning community for collaborative leaders. It is the first 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.

images (8)This weekend, I had the pleasure of watching couples dance the tango in a public square in London.  The intricacies of the dance, coupled with the individual styles of each dance partner, made for an intriguing couple of hours.  As each new song filled the square, the couples would wait for a few strands of the music and then proceed to move together. Often with their eyes closed, each couple moved around the dance floor.

For those leading collective impact community change efforts, we know that this work, like the tango, is complex and non-linear. Collective impact often feels like a dance – one step forward and one step back, with different leaders and followers interchanging around a circular dance floor. Metaphorically, we enter collective impact with our eyes closed and while we know the steps, the simple rules of collective impact (the five conditions), the context of our community is the real driver. Much like the music, space to dance in and partner(s), the community context needs to become the driver of collective impact efforts.

The rhythm of the community, its readiness to act, the urgency of the issue and the connectedness of leaders enable collective efforts to either move fast or move slow.  The capacity of our partners, including their leadership, capacity to influence and willingness to take steps into a new way of working, become essential elements in the dance.  The blending of both the individual dance couple and the whole creates a circular interwoven mosaic of leaders and followers, connected and separate elements.

But what about this metaphor leads to change and impact?  Visually, watching the dance is stunning.  But does merely watching an event lead to community change?  At some level, the answer is yes.  The dancers and community shared a connection, beauty, art and expression.  Recently, the Evaluating Collective Impact resource guides provided a series of baseline measures to consider for early stage collective impact work.  These baseline measures fit well in this context, including changes in the way individuals in the community were interacting and positive feedback through engagement.

But is this enough?  Is this collective impact?  It would be difficult to assess after just a few hours of observation, but there might be some conclusions to be drawn:

  • More than 100 individuals were drawn to the square to connect.
  • There were many different demographics represented both in the dance and as guests watching.
  • Each dancer was engaged in physical activity for a two hour period and is healthier as a result.
  • This activity occurs weekly in this public square, drawing new people into the music and dance and increasing community connection and vitality.

Certainly, we would have to undertake a more thorough evaluation to get to impact, but my observation is that many of the elements of collective impact were present.

So this metaphor, collective impact as a complex Tango, can weave and build community.  It helps us consider our partners, our leadership and how we might dance together toward community change and impact.

Learn more about the complex tango of 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.