Self-Assessing Collective Impact



Self-Assessment 53

Tamarack Institute leaders Liz Weaver and Mark Cabaj posit that community change efforts are more likely to have impact if the initiative adopts a shared framework, set of principles, and effective practices.  I’ve found this to be true in my work, serving communities in the Rocky Mountain West.

A good framework provides both a roadmap and common language for a team to navigate change. Collective impact is a framework on which I’m often asked to train and coach from the early stages of readiness to advanced stages of evaluation.  

Last month, a community invited me back to help with a self-assessment. They’d been working collaboratively as a collective impact initiative for two years, and felt a need to pause and take stock in order to plan for the upcoming year. They arranged for a half-day session, and - in the spirit of capacity building and supporting the change leadership pipeline - invited several other coalitions to join the workshop. Sixty folks active in collaborations working on homelessness prevention, early childhood, substance abuse prevention, and health care came together to learn, reflect and chart their paths forward.

Each coalition was in a different stage of development, and so I needed tools to serve practitioners in multiple phases. A recent client, the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, is developing evaluation tools as part of Communities that Care, and they kindly allowed me to design a Collective Impact Self-Assessment tool based on their early work. Similarly, the good folks at CoCreative have some great planning tools, which inspired the Plan of Action worksheet we used.

The Collective Impact Self-Assessment tool is organized by the five conditions of collective impact, and participants are asked to rank benchmarks from Level 1 = Just Begun to Level 4 = Completely Achieved.  To make it simpler, there are concrete examples of fully realized benchmarks. For example, in backbone support, one benchmark is:



Members of the collaborative have appropriate skills and credibility to support backbone functions.

4 = Collaborative members have access to training on collective impact and collaboration; and opportunities to learn about policy and programmatic issues related to the work. Collaboration members feel comfortable articulating the initiative to the broader community.


Here’s how I used the tools that day:

  • After a brief overview of collective impact, participants worked individually on the Collective Impact Self-Assessment, ranking their initiative in each benchmark (10 minutes)

  • Participants then joined their coalition to compile their rankings onto one chart and reflect on three questions: What are you noticing? What areas of strength and areas of improvement are identified? What does this mean for our work moving forward? (30 minutes)

  • Groups were then given the Plan of Action worksheet that I developed to think through priority area(s) for work in 2020 (20 minutes)

  • We then reconvened and each group had two minutes to tell the story of what they developed in their Plan of Action. Participants were asked to help each group sharpen its strategy through a simple design process: Each person was given sticky notes and a pen and asked to listen to each presentation for (1) What I like; (2) What I’d add/change; and (3) What I’d want the group to test or learn more about as they move forward. After each group spoke, participants shared their notes with the group – and (importantly) the presenters were asked to not respond to the comments, but rather receive them for future discussion with their group. (20 minutes)

The tools were terrifically helpful.  People from the spectrum, from those who are new to collective impact to seasoned practitioners, were able to use the collective impact framework to sharpen their focus, create shared understanding, and commit to concrete steps into the new year.

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The Importance of Stories in Community Work

StoriesAsset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is simple, usable and transferable to any community. The basis on an ABCD approach is that local assets are identified, and unconnected assets are connected by a local connector.

The ABCD approach is also simple because it focuses on 6 assets - individual resident capacities, local associations, neighbourhood institutions, physical assets, exchange between neighbours, and lastly, maybe even most importantly, stories.

But, why are stories so important? Telling stories is a universal way of sharing ideas and maintaining culture. It is a way of teaching, influencing or inspiring others and stories can help people make connections with ideas. In the article, What Makes Storytelling So Effective For Learning, Vanessa Boris explains that when it comes to our countries, communities and families, it is the stories we hold in common that are the important ties to bring people together. Stories are central to how we understand and communicate. As human beings, we are automatically drawn to stories because we see ourselves reflected in them, and we inevitably interpret meaning in stories and understand ourselves better. 

According to Rachael Freed, in the blog The Importance of Telling Our Stories, stories help our future generations because they connect the past to the present. Learning from stories honours and respects our ancestors and awakens future generations to their potential. 

It is because of the importance of stories that we have put together a compilation of John McKnight’s stories or learnings. This compilation covers lessons in his 63 years a community organizing. John’s learnings are stories as they bring to light some of the common issues or challenges that might occur when implementing ABCD and analyzing it in a way that sheds light on the issue, why it happens, and ideas overcome the challenge. 

(Image via TCK Publishing)

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Outcome Mapping Thinking and Practices for Systems Change


outcome mapping-1
Outcome Mapping (OM) is an approach to evaluative thinking and practice, arising from a holistic and interconnected understanding about development and social change.

Sustainable Change in Focus

Outcome mapping's design represented a paradigm shift away from conventional planning, monitoring and evaluation approaches, which are typically linear, and reductionist in terms of understanding cause-and-effect.  The philosophy behind the method grew out of the global sustainability movement of the 1990’s that defined the rights of people to be involved in shaping the development of their economies and to centred be leaders in safeguarding their common environment.  Outcome Mapping assumes that development happens through behavioural change and sustainability requires changes in the behaviour and relationships of actors across a system.  OM is in part an approach that supports envisioning and facilitating continuously evolving relationships and interactions between the key actors in our systems to encourage sustainable change.  In essence, OM strengthens participatory empowerment and collaboration processes where people, groups, organizations and networks embrace different perspectives and build their own collective well-being. 

The method is dynamic and continuously being adapted for purpose by practitioners in over 155 countries. Since 2005, an independent global network of changemakers, the outcome mapping learning community, continue to evolve and adapt the practices and tools.  

How we understand and support sustainable system change and specifically what we value, and measure is crucial.  It is one thing when individuals in a neighbourhood show up to your women’s self-help meetings, and another thing all together for the women to organize and hold their own on-going meetings. Sustainable change is built by people and their self-driven and on-going actions and interactions.  I could never understand why in evaluation we often only ask, “Did we accomplish what we planned?”, and exclude our own changes in understanding and beliefs as impacts and key results. We can’t be system change makers without being critically reflective about our own practices and relationships, and without continually learning and adapting ourselves.  For sustainable system change the unintended and nuanced transformations in relationships are system outcomes and cannot continue to be discounted in our evaluation methods as less valuable “process” results.  

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The Art and Science of Partnership Brokering
BY: Liz Weaver

Partnering CycleI have worked with partners all my life.  I have engaged them to co-create futures.  But spending a week immersed in the art and science of Partnership Brokering, has changed my perspectives about building strategic partnerships.  I’ve also come to the realization that not everything has to be a partnership, in fact, partnerships, like so many other engagement activities, happen on a spectrum but the more intention that you put into this strategic relationship, the more both parties or all parties will benefit. So, let’s dig into the art and science of Partnership Brokering. 

The Art of Partnering

It all starts with creating the frame and picture of partnering. At the core are five principles for good partnering practice including: 

  • Relishing diversity which leads to new value
  • Building equity which leads to respect
  • Being open which leads to trust
  • Ensuring mutual benefit which leads to commitment
  • Being courageous which leads to breakthrough results

As someone engaged in partnering, you must welcome difference, engage voices, and then be honest about what you bring to the work and some of the constraints and risks that might be embedded in the process of partnering. 

Partnering comes in many different forms including engagement, agreement, consultation, capacity building and can be both short term or long term.  The term ‘fit for purpose’ really applies.  It asks the partners to consider the nature and resources required to effectively manage this relationship. 

In these ways, understanding local context, building and framing, negotiating across partners and engaging voices creates the picture of partnering.  Each case will be unique and nuanced.  You may bring your past experience of partnership development forward, but also acknowledge that one size does not fit all.  Context matters. 

In many ways, the art of partnership brokering is focused on relationship management, trust, operating with a core set of values in play and navigating the local and partnership context.  It is about understanding complexity and building a skill set and practice that will help you navigate this complexity effectively. 

The Science of Partnering

Equally, I learned that there is a defined practice around partnership brokering.  The Partnership Brokers Association (PBA) identifies 10 practices: 

  1. Keep up to date with new developments in the theory and practice of brokering multi-stakeholder partnerships
  2. Be reflective and strive for diversity, equity, openness, mutual benefit and courageous practice when operating in a partnership brokering role, modelling this behaviour to partners
  3. Be prepared to challenge assumptions and poor partnering behaviour at any stage of the partnering cycle in ways most likely to bring about constructive change
  4. Take every opportunity to build partnering and partnership brokering capacity in others
  5. Share knowledge generously and don’t hold onto knowledge for personal aggrandizement or gain
  6. Explore any available alternative approaches before promoting a partnership process, in a commitment to achieving the best possible outcomes
  7. Be open about risks and seek prior endorsement of those most likely to be affected by them before taking actions that might entail such risks
  8. Be an ethical and responsible practitioner by raising concerns about the partnership or actions of individual partners
  9. Acknowledge competence limitations and be open to requesting assistance from others who bring complementary skills or different approaches to the task
  10. Be willing to let go and hand over the partnership brokering role when the time is right

In addition, there is a partner brokering cycle which has four phases:  scoping and building the partnership; managing and maintaining the partnership; reviewing and revising the partnership and finally sustaining outcomes or ending the partnership. 

Also included in the science of partnering is a variety of tools including developing the partnership agreement, evaluating the process of partnering as well as the shared outcomes, and sustaining, scaling or ending the partnership when progress has been made.  Each of these steps can benefit from the presence of a partnership broker who is attentive, observant and connected to the practice. 

I came away from the week with a new way of thinking and tools in my tool kit for effectively brokering partnerships.  I also came to realize that not everything is or should be a brokered partnership.  Sometimes we just align for mutual benefit or collaborate on a short-term project.  But, when we want to maximize critical and strategic relationships, we should consider partnership brokering as an approach. 

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The Latest from Tamarack

Upcoming Events

Participatory Evaluation: Community-Based Assessment + Strategic Learning Practices

April 6-7 | Vancouver, BC

The community-based evaluation terrain has shifted significantly: from relying solely on an evaluation professional, to involving members of the community throughout an evaluation process. This workshop will answer questions, give you the language, and deepen your thinking and practice about how to engage with participatory and collaborative evaluation to evolve your community change efforts.

Learn More About Participatory Evaluation 

_2020 PE Square


Turf, Trust, and Collaboration: Practical Tools for Building Trust 

April 28 | Edmonton, AB

Increasingly, communities are using collaboration to tackle some of their most complex issues. How can we do this effectively when we don’t build practices which engage others and build trust?

This interactive workshop focuses on the core leadership competency of trust building. Learners will walk away with ideas, tools and approaches to effectively engage diverse community partners and intentionally build trusting relationships and collaborative impact.  Come prepared to share your experiences and insights in how to build trust.

Learn More About Building Trust

2020 TTC EDM Square


Designing for Social Change: Understanding the Effects of Power and Privilege

May 4, Vancouver | May 5, Calgary | May 7, Toronto

How do power and privilege impact your community change work?

George Aye will share a point-of-view on how social change happens when you understand the role of power and privilege. By sharing examples of work from Greater Good Studio, he will share principles for how to create a meaningful social change that push back against common professional norms that maintain the status quo. Through a series of intimate, facilitated conversations, participants will leave with a greater appreciation about the power they wield and an understanding of how their actions can leave others feeling less or more powerful.

Learn More About Designing for Social 

2020 GA Masterclass Square


Asset-Based Community Development Conference

June 9-11, 2020 | London, ON

This three-day interactive workshop will feature world-renowned thought leaders like Melanie GoodchildJohn McKnightLisa AttygalleJim Diers, Mark Cabaj and Paul Born, as well as local practitioners, that will surely inspire you! There will be 15 workshops and an experiential bus tour. This year, we also want to explore the Citizen role in climate change and community from an Indigenous perspective. We are also delighted to offer you a choice of four Masterclasses on ABCD, Neighbourhood Revitalization, Community Engagement, and Measuring Impact.

Learn more about our Celebrating Neighbours gathering 

2020 ABCD London


The End of Poverty - Save the Date!

October 14-16, 2020 | Calgary, AB

Over our two and a half days together, you will learn from inspiring keynotes and peer leaders, take part in interactive workshops, and engage in an energizing cultural celebration. Together we will learn to:

  • Reconnect  your passion for helping others and energizing your community
  • Understand what it takes to move from an emerging state to a sustainable community-wide initiative
  • Create a large-scale common agenda and form multi-sector leadership teams for your collaborative efforts
  • Harness the latest techniques for community engagement and effective communication
  • Involve those who will benefit most from the change you hope to see
  • How to influence the policy environment and align your work with Canada’s first poverty reduction strategy

Save the Date

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Upcoming Webinars

Applying ABCD in an Urban Indigenous Context

Date: March 12, 2020

Speaker: Lori Sokoluk


Making Basic Income Feasible in Canada 

Date: March 12, 2020

Speakers: Sheila Regehr and Tom Cooper

Evaluating Your Asset-Based Community Development Efforts

Date: March 24, 2020

Speakers: John McKnight and Howard Lawrence

Beyond the Project: Fostering Ongoing Engagement with Your Community

Date: March 25, 2020

Speakers: Anthea Brown and Lisa Attygalle

5 Strategies to Reduce Poverty in Canada

Date: April 16, 2020

Speakers: James Hughes and Paul Born

The Power of One: The Role of an Individual in Systems Change

Date: May 12, 2020

Speakers: Cameron Norman and Liz Weaver


Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership

Date: June 2, 2020

Speakers: Tom Klaus and Liz Weaver