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May 4, 2017
Collective Impact is a model of collaboration that allows for individual organizations to come together to effectively collaborate on major issues in our community. United Way of Larimer County implements Collective Impact through four collaborative working groups. Those groups are:
These collaborative groups work together to attain goals that align with each other’s visions to make a positive change, and ultimately assist in United Way of Larimer County’s bold goal to reduce poverty by 50% by 2025.
While working together to reach one common goal doesn’t sound difficult, it’s harder than it sounds. Sometimes it requires more challenging tasks such as combining individuals’ needs and the rest of the group’s needs to make choices that align with everyone’s strategic results.
Carrie Bennett is a contractor serving as the Collective Impact Coordinator for United Way of Larimer County. She ensures that all agencies of United Way of Larimer County’s surrounding partners come together to reach their individual group goals, and to fight the battles of poverty in Larimer County. She works with the four collaborative groups and focuses on making sure they are all on the correct path to attaining their goals.
A facilitator for these collaborative groups must act as a supporting hand and helps these individuals move forward in the decision-making process, so they avoid getting stuck. These four collaborative groups are currently working together to develop grant applications for United Way of Larimer County, so they can continue to further their collaborative work.
Upon interviewing Bennett and learning more about her role as a facilitator, I got the opportunity to learn what an important role this serves when working with a collective impact model: making sure everyone is on the same page, helping guide them towards their end goal, but most importantly giving them the tools to reach their intended goal. “As their work evolves, we see even more sharing and more evidence of actual collaboration,” says Bennett.
Bennett will give us some insight into her perspective of the facilitator role as well as how these four collaborative groups have come together to establish goals for the next three years.
Over the next few months, I’ll be helping our four working groups to do their best thinking together. This includes clarifying their bold goals and coordinating strategies to reach them. These plans will come together in grant proposals. In the grant process, they have to answer four main questions. Our meetings were all focused on answering those questions together. The questions were:
Essentially, we focused on the first question in meeting one, the second in meeting two, and the third and fourth questions in meeting three.
My goal as a facilitator is to help the groups do their best thinking together and leave with creative and clear plans for the future. Other participants likely attend hoping to build creative and collaborative solutions to shared problems (with the other partners) and have a clear idea of what their role in the collaborative is.
Teams have collectively reflected on their past and built shared plans. Many of the teams have evolved quite a bit since they started working together. This time allowed them to make clear what they want to do over the next three years. This has sparked new ideas and renewed commitment to do the work ahead.
These teams are managing some seriously wicked tensions! They are very collaborative and committed to the team, while still being loyal to and passionate for their individual organizations’ needs and priorities. Similarly, it takes a ton of time to work in this way, but all that time in meetings with the team takes away from the time they must do their regular jobs and implement programs within their own organizations. Lastly, in the same way there’s never enough time to do all the things they want to do, there’s never enough money to fully implement all their great ideas. Partners make hard choices when it comes to deciding how to spend the money they do have, but there’s always some lingering frustration for what they still can’t afford to do.
This is about perspective-taking. If we only view problems from our own lens, we don’t have the full picture. We have used the metaphor of people putting on and taking off different hats to reinforce this idea.
In one round, individuals share how they would spend the money if they were king or queen of the world, and they would take the entire pot of available funds for their own organization. The purpose of this round is to let people speak to their organizations needs so others can understand and validate their reality.
In the next round, people get to put on a top-hat, like a wealthy benefactor. They get to give all the money in the pot away, but assume they don’t need any of it for themselves. This allows them to see the big picture needs and act generously supporting others’ need for funds.
In the last round, everyone puts on a figurative ball cap of a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who is fine with a certain level of risk, expects to see innovation, and expects to see results from their investment in programs. This round forces the partners to combine their individuals needs and those in the group to make strategic choices that balances those needs and is aligned with top strategies for results.
It’s less hard for me (less coping) than it probably is for others. I’m just the facilitator. I just remind myself and the teams that the struggle is real, and the struggle is normal. We talk about “the groan zone” as a normal component of collaborative decision-making. When groups feel pulled in many directions and torn between rough tensions, we remind ourselves that those feelings are a sign that we’re doing it right…not a sign we’re doing it wrong. Then I use facilitator tricks to help the group move forward in positive ways so they don’t get stuck.
As a facilitator, I’ve gained an appreciation for the complexities of working with a Collective Impact model and an overwhelming respect and gratitude for all the partners around the table. They are truly outstanding human beings and professionals and their commitment to our community is astounding. They are resilient, determined, creative, and super fun to work with. I’ve also learned a lot about how to best help groups who are managing tensions and trying to solve complex problems together.
Because of Bennett’s engagement and guidance provided to each of the partners, they have developed trusting relationships and good communication skills that are, ultimately, what help move the groups through difficult conversations.
Having collaborative meetings ensures that all partners are on the right path to gain an understanding of our community’s needs, which in turn will provide more opportunities for them to work in ways that benefit Larimer County. Bennett’s work with these collaboratives is an important role in moving forward to accomplish these goals they have set for their organizations.
Copyright 2015 United Way of Larimer County