Learning to Love Complexity

Posted on November 3, 2016
By Blythe Butler

First 2000 Days Logo.jpeg

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T. S. Eliot

Human beings love patterns, certainty, something simple to help manage the messiness and complexities of life. Our hopes for Collective Impact are no different: if we simply apply Collective Impact’s 5 conditions to the social issues we strive to change won’t that be enough?!

In response to recent criticisms of Collective Impact, I wonder if the problem is less with the collective impact framework as much as it is a problem with our natural human attraction to simplistic ‘solutions’. We crave certainty. We want to have a simple way of knowing if we’re making progress, and a simple way to map out what progress might look like. Unfortunately, community change doesn’t work that way.

Having a framework to follow is neither necessary nor sufficient for social change. There is a huge difference between knowing what constituent parts make up any framework, approach, model, program, or initiative - and knowing how and why that framework functions, and to what end. Just ‘applying’ the 5 parts of Collective Impact puts the richest and most promising aspects of what it has to offer at risk.

If our efforts using Collective Impact to meet the mission of the First 2000 Day’s Network –improving early childhood development outcomes – has been successful to any degree, it is directly correlated to our ability to adapt Collective Impact’s Framework to our context; understand how it could function to support our work; and, make judgements about where it can’t. In our work to support social change, we’ve approached Collective Impact as an adaptive process, not a finished product.

A critical aspect of our approach has been a very strong focus on creating a culture of adaptive learning – especially within the Backbone team. Our approach to adaptive learning and our evaluation methodology informs our strategy, not the other way around. This focus on adaptive learning has led to a greater tolerance and appreciation for ambiguity; and, has also improved our collective capacity to assess, adapt, implement and learn from ‘real time’ feedback loops to inform the next iteration of our work.

Learn More:

Share this article:

Icon_Tamarack_LinkedIn.png Icon_Tamarack_Twitter.png Icon_Tamarack_Facebook.png

Collective Impact

Blythe Butler

By Blythe Butler

Blythe’s practice focuses on change management, evaluation, and capacity building to support the development of adaptive learning cultures within organizations and collaboratives. Her current work is focused on the development of several nonprofit sector collaboratives, using network analysis, developmental evaluation and capacity building to improve process (systems) outcomes, inter-organizational outcomes and client-level outcomes.

Related Posts

Five Community-Driven Pathways for Systems Change

Expanding Collective Impact Across the Globe

Disrupting Systems as a Field Catalyst