Turf, Trust, Co-Creation & Collective ImpactTurf Edited for Homepage.jpg


In my experience mobilizing communities to embrace large-scale change, I have learned that authentic community engagement moves at the speed of trust. And, while most of us deeply appreciate the importance of trust-building, too often in our eagerness to launch into “the work” little time is actually invested and focused on intentionally building trust amongst partners. 

In my new paper, Turf, Trust, Co-Creation and Collective Impact, I explore the intricacies of trust, how to build it and what can be done when trust is broken. I leverage the work and experience of my own history as well as the research and reflections of several authors and practitioners to better understand the impact trust has on one's self, one's personal and professional relationships, and even the impact it has on one's relationship with society.

According to Charles Feltman in the Thin Book of Trust, trust is “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to the other person’s actions.” There is a reciprocal relationship in trust. We have to risk vulnerability in order to gain trust. An individual’s willingness to risk is based on their assessment of the probability that the other person will support you. Feltman identifies four ‘distinctions’ that come into play when an individual considers risk:

  • Sincerity – the assessment that you are honest, that you say what you mean and mean what you say, and that you can be believed and taken seriously. 
  • Reliability –  the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep your promises. 
  • Competence – is the assessment that you have the ability to do what you are doing or propose to do. In the workplace, this usually means the other person believes you have the requisite capacity, skill, knowledge, and resources to do a particular task or job. 
  • Care – is the assessment that you have the other person’s interests in mind as well as your own when you make decisions and take actions. 

Understanding the neuroscience behind building trusting relationships is only the first step. There is much to consider about the connections between building trust, human decision making, our perceptions of connectedness and engagement, how much stress we feel about the situation we are in and our resulting behaviour. This deeper understanding of trust is useful as it offers insights about how we can intentionally cultivate and sustain the necessary trust to work collaboratively with others on shared issues and opportunities.


Learn More

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

5 Shared Measurement Challenges for Collective People talking at eventImpact Initiatives


My just-released paper, Shared Measurement: The Why is Clear, the How Continues to Develop acknowledges the importance of shared measurement as one of the five conditions of Collective Impact.  As noted by Kania and Kramer, “Collecting data and measuring results consistently on a short list of indicators at the community level and across all participating organisations not only ensures that all efforts remain aligned, it also enables the participants to hold each other accountable and learn from each other’s successes and failures.” 

In observing the field of Collective Impact, while the “why” of shared measurement is clear, the practice of shared measurement, and the establishment of shared measurement systems that engage change makers in sense-making around that data, is still developing.  Five shared measurement challenges that, if not handled well, can weaken a group’s ability to evaluate and manage their Collective Impact effort include:

  1. Ensuring that shared measures are organized in a way that reflects the group’s evolving strategy or theory of change  Many Collective Impact participants and evaluators often rush to select the best measures for their effort before they have fully developed their common agenda and strategy. As a result, their conversations often spin around issues such as which indicators they could collect – rather than which ones they should.
  1. Distinguishing between shared outcomes, measures and measurements – Collective Impact participants often get confused about the distinction between shared outcomes, shared measures and shared measurement. As a result, they often invest more time and attention on shared measurement than is necessary.
  1. Creating good sense-making and decision-making processes – Collective Impact participants can become consumed with the production of data. In fact, they can become so consumed that they forget to pay attention to developing robust processes that (a) make sense of data, and (b) use it to help make decisions about the Collective Impact strategy and operations.
  1. Employing a mix of “big design” and “agile” approaches to the development of shared measurement systems – One of the most consistent pieces of advice offered by advocates of shared measurement systems is that organizations should develop their approach. The limitations of this approach are: it can be expensive and time-consuming; and, it can result in unwieldy processes that are difficult to adapt once the final design is complete and implementation begins.

  2. Acknowledging, monitoring and responding to a variety of perverse behaviours that often emerge with measurement processes – Although advocates and practitioners of shared measurement are clear about the possible benefits of the practice, they often are unaware of the perverse consequences that may accompany it. Collective Impact participants need to:  beware that perverse behaviours are likely to emerge; vigilantly monitor their work to spot these problems early; and, once discovered, take remedial action to eliminate them.

In spite of these challenges, evaluation and shared measurement form a cornerstone of effective Collective Impact approaches and, as the field of practice in shared measurement continues to evolve, we need to be willing to develop and adapt our evaluation frameworks, methods and measures to more effectively inform our practice.


Learn More:


Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

Bringing Collective Impact Backbones into Focus Backbone starter guide cover


Building an effective Collective Impact effort is understanding how to apply the framework to both the unique context of the community and the issue being addressed.  The five conditions of Collective Impact provide a minimum specifications approach:  developing a common agenda; building shared measurement; aligning efforts through mutually reinforcing activities; focusing on continuous communications and engagement and supporting the work through backbone infrastructure. 

The nuance is in the application. 

FSG and the Collective Impact Forum recently released a useful tool for those working in Collective Impact.  The Backbone Starter Guide is a compendium and summary of key resources developed over the past five years with specific application to backbone leaders. 

The guide contains usual information about the important role of backbone infrastructure in advancing Collective Impact efforts including the purpose and functions of a backbone; how to structure a backbone entity; backbone leadership skills and perspectives and the role of backbones in advancing equity and inclusion in Collective Impact efforts. 

In August 2016, Mark Cabaj and I released a paper called Collective Impact 3.0 where we suggested that the role of backbone infrastructure should not be considered a set of prescriptive functions.  Rather, we suggested this infrastructure role be a ‘container for change’.  Our experience has shown that Collective Impact backbones are not static entities but require the flexibility to evolve in functions and roles over time and depending on the changing context of the community.   Vibrant Communities (VC), place-based poverty reduction collaboratives across Canada, have seen significant shifts in their backbone infrastructures over the past 12 years.  To maintain momentum over more than a decade, many VCs have reinvented their structures, brought in new leadership and revised strategies to leverage opportunities. 

The Backbone Starter Guide is not a recipe book but provides useful examples of how the backbone infrastructure has been applied in different contexts and how it needs to be both flexible and evolving.  It brings the unique roles and structures of backbones into focus for existing and emerging Collective Impact efforts.  If you want to learn more about backbones and Collective Impact 3.0 visit our resource library at http://www.tamarackcommunity.ca/library/topic/collective-impact


Learn More:


Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

Collective Impact & Public Health: Partnering for People all ages jumping communitySystems Change


Public health (PH) has a long history of bringing about large-scale social change to create better health for populations — particularly for those with less than optimal living conditions. Whether it is efforts to improve water quality and sanitation or supporting movements targeting poverty reduction and food security, PH has continually sought to enact change that impacts community health at the broader level. One approach to large-scale social change that PH is fundamentally aligned with is Collective Impact – a strategy that encourages organizations to coordinate their efforts across sectors, rather than working in isolation on programs or interventions with similar aims.


The National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH) supports public health agencies by working to improve upstream conditions that determine health. In the summer of 2017, the organization published a blended case study describing two Collective Impact initiatives in which PH is significantly involved: London, Ontario’s Child & Youth Network (C&YN) and Vancouver Island’s Child & Youth Health Network (C&YHN). The report — one of several Collective Impact projects the NCCDH has undertaken — describes how and why these two networks addressing child mental and physical health came together, what their status is and where their future goals lie. The NCCDH’s intention in promoting Collective Impact initiatives is to deepen PH staff's understanding of how their organization’s mandate can be served by undertaking a Collective Impact project.

Strategic Lessons

For a Collective Impact initiative, PH support can noticeably enhance members’ access to resources. As seen in our case study, London’s C&YN had significant support from the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), one of Ontario’s 35 regional PH units. This included half the hours of a full-time PH nurse and the ongoing support of 17 MLHU staff. With this support, the network created an inter-professional community of practice and capacity-building training activities. In addition, the health unit continues to have a C&YN committee that meets a few times a year to ensure the organization’s consistent, integrated and collaborative engagement in the Network. Over time, many of the Network’s initiatives have been incorporated into PH operational plans. 

For Vancouver Island’s C&YHN, PH played a role in identifying overlap among groups working on similar issues and helped facilitate the development of the Network. According to Petra Chambers-Sinclair, the first coordinator of the C&YHN in Vancouver Island’s Capital Region, “It was a public health manager who had the bird’s eye view of what was emerging, and who brought the right people from diverse sectors together.” This perspective allowed PH to play an ongoing leadership role as community members worked together to create the C&YHN. 

Other Collective Impact Works with Public Health Leadership

The NCCDH is always interested to learn of other Collective Impact initiatives that have strong PH engagement. A listing of known Collective Impact projects in the PH sector can be found on page 3 of the report, located here. If you have encountered others in your practice, please feel free to share your story with the NCCHD (nccdh@stfx.ca).


Learn More:

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

3 Lessons for Funders from Collaborating with the Collaborating with the enemy.pngEnemy


If anyone knows his way around solving wicked, persistent problems through collaboration it’s Adam Kahane. The Canadian change agent has facilitated collaborations that have catalyzed peace in South Africa, Guatemala, Colombia and beyond. And I thought my work to support a workforce collaboration was tough…

In his recent book, Collaborating with the Enemy, Kahane generously shares insights from the trenches and advocates for a more ambitious kind of collaboration, which he calls “stretch collaboration.” Advocates of the Collective Impact framework, as well as fans of Margaret Wheatley’s wisdom on complexity will recognize many of Kahane’s recommendations.

Kahane highlights the limitations of the conventional approach to collaboration—which requires a harmonious team that agrees on where it’s going, how it’s going to get there, and who needs to do what—and makes the case that catalyzing enduring, positive change within complex civic systems requires a stretch approach that embraces discord, experimentation, and genuine co-creation.  His book is a rich resource for all champions of collaboration, and I believe it offers three important lessons that are particularly relevant to foundations and other funders of collaboration.

Lesson #1 – Step In

In conventional collaboration, Kahane says, we focus on trying to change what other people are doing. Stretch collaboration requires us to first examine how our actions contribute to the performance and the outcomes of the complex system – whether they be the complex systems that shape a nation, or the complex systems that influence public health outcomes in a neighborhood. This is great advice for all champions of collaboration, but especially for funders. Too often, funders use their money to encourage others to collaborate to create change without adequately examining the role they play in creating the status quo.

Funders need to recognize that they are part of the complex system they are trying to change. Kahane warns that many of our most cherished identities – expert, professional, authority, leader, hero – impede collaboration because they place us hierarchically above or apart from others.

Lesson #2 – Co-create

If funders embrace the concept that they are part of the system and to achieve the desired change they too will have to change their behavior, then an important new behavior for funders to embrace is co-creation. Funders should engage with other players in the system to co-create potential solutions.

Kahane says that the real work of transformation is not choosing among existing, fixed options, but to co-create new options as the work unfolds. We do not know in advance the solutions to the wicked, persistent adaptive challenges tangled within our complex civic systems. We learn the solutions by developing an iterative approach with others. An approach built through listening to others to discover options that are not yet apparent.

Co-creation is the antithesis of the traditional model where funders either declare the solution they want and fund it, or solicit solutions from organizations that compete to prove they have the “right” answer.

For foundations with rigorous, but rigid grantmaking processes, being an active participant in co-creation is impossible. But if a foundation wants to address the root cause of persistent problems, rather than just treating the symptoms, they need to engage in co-creation.

Lesson #3 – Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

One inherent truth with co-created solutions that emerge from a collaboration is that we don’t know for sure that they will work. We need to be willing to experiment, fail, step back and step forward again. Kahane says it is an ongoing and emergent process in which it is more important to act than to agree. Funders are accustomed to funding clear plans. Kahane agrees that it is a useful discipline to create a plan – if we hold it lightly and change it when necessary.

Kahane acknowledges that co-creation is both exciting and unnerving. One reason it is unnerving is that it is an acknowledgement that we do not control the systems we are trying to change. We are more comfortable being in control, but Kahane reminds us that every day complexity is increasing and control is decreasing.

Our desire for control is married to our preference for certainty. We are so well trained in solving technical problems with clear answers that we expect the same kind of certainty when dealing with wicked civic problems. There are no certain answers to complex, emergent challenges. If we insist on being certain we don’t leave much room for other people’s answers and therefore we make it more difficult to work together. Funders accustomed to control and certainty may unintentionally be delivering the message to others in the system that their financial resources make them superior. This, Kahane warns, is a recipe not for generative collaboration, but for degenerative imposition.

Kahane’s lessons are challenging. But his experience – and the transformative change he has helped catalyze – should inspire funders and all champions of collaboration to acknowledge our own role in creating the civic challenges we’re trying to address, to concede we don’t have the answers, and to abandon our need for control.


Learn More:

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

The Latest from the Field

Upcoming Events

Community Engagement: The Next Generation

November 6-8, 2017
Kitchener, ON

On November 6-8, we are convening community change practitioners in Kitchener, Ontario to explore the next generation of community engagement principles and practices. We convened this workshop earlier this year in March in Vancouver and we are hosting it again on the east side of the country because people have been asking for it!

The agenda for Community Engagement: The Next Generation is structured with a blend of learning modules, workshops, immersive community tours and hands-on tool sessions for you to learn, brainstorm, share, and implement. You’ll learn:

  • Hands-on, interactive practice of engagement techniques and technology
  • Theoretical frameworks for engagement, systems change and movement building
  • Exposure to cutting edge technologies to make your engagement work easier and more effective
  • The latest in interviewing, facilitation and dialogue techniques
  • The opportunity to experience creative engagement techniques using theatre and the arts
  • How to engage polarized audiences and combat cynicism
  • Practical examples and in-depth case studies from municipalities, community organizations, provincial (state) government and corporations

Learn more and Register

CE Square Banner.png

Evaluating Community Impact 

November 14-16, 2017
Saskatoon, SK

Mark Cabaj and Liz Weaver have received overwhelming praise for the success of this three-day gathering, and now it is back for one last session, but with updated curriculum and a new workshop format that will help you develop concrete elements of an evaluation strategy for your work back in your own community. 

Highlights will include:

  • Three frameworks to organize and communicate the “progress” of community change initiatives
  • Four scenarios for using hard and soft indicators to capture outcomes
  • A new method for demonstrating a group’s contribution – rather than attribution  to outcomes
  • Five aides to improve the chances that social innovators and evaluators develop evaluations that are used
  • A continuum of strategy – ranging from emergent to traditional – and their implications for evaluation

This is the final time this workshop Evaluating Community Impact will be offered. If you are interested in evaluating community change and impact, you will not want to miss this. 

ECI Banner.jpg

One Day Workshops

Upside Down Thinking for Collaboration

November 24, 2017 | Cambridge, ON

A one day workshop with Mark Holmgren where he explores how Upside Down Thinking helps us think more clearly about the pressures in our organizations that maintain the status quo. He will show how thinking differently can challenge our most basic assumptions, and how these assumptions can sometimes reinforce the systems we are trying to change.

Register Here

This workshop is also being offered in Edmonton, AB on October 12th, however there are only a few spots left. If you want to join that session visit the website here.



Can’t make it? Don’t fret.
By registering you will also receive a recording of the live session along with related resources.
Collaborating with the Enemy: Part Two
Guest: Adam Kahane, Director of Reos Partners
Host: Mark Cabaj, Here to There Consulting Inc.
Date: October 17, 2017 | 12:00 - 1:30 p.m. EDT 


Measuring Up to Poverty Reduction in Rural B.C
Guests:Nadine Raynolds,Jan Morton, Jill Zacharias and Kerri Wall
Date: November 2, 2017 | 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. EDT