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Principles Over Prescriptions

Posted on December 13, 2018
By Galen MacLusky

people planning on whiteboard-1

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a recipe for community change? A simple, step-by-step process to follow? The problem is that our challenges are too complex and our communities are too unique to ever be encapsulated by a single prescriptive approach. Even robust frameworks like Collective Impact and the body of work surrounding it are not a substitute for grit, creativity, and flexible adaptation to the needs of our community.

In the absence of a prescription, what can help are principles that guide action – heuristics, values, and guiderails that help us decide what to do and how we should do it. We all use principles to navigate our own way through life:

Do unto others as you would have done unto you

Do one thing a day that scares you

Leave no trace

Turn the other cheek

The advantages of principles over prescriptions are many. They help inspire us to strive for better things rather than just ‘getting it done;’ they help us reflect and assess our actions; they enable us to adapt flexibly to each context as it comes. Prescriptions do none of these things, which means they limit our ability to have positive impacts on our community.

So, if you find yourself wishing for a prescription, a process, or a blueprint for effecting change in your community, perhaps instead what you need are the right principles to help you decide what to do next. If that feels right, check out some of the principles referenced below.

Learn more 

  • Michael Quinn Patton has written extensively on the importance of principles in innovation, as well as what makes a good principle
  • The Lived Experience Advisory Council (LEAC) has compiled seven guiding principles for leadership and inclusion of people with lived experience of homelessness
  • With approaches such as Human-Centred Design and Design Thinking, our collective conversations often focus on process and practices rather than the more useful principles

Community Innovation, Blog

Galen MacLusky

By Galen MacLusky

While Galen was at Tamarack he led the Community Innovation Idea Area. He is passionate about working with community organizations to help build and scale new ideas that deepen their impact. An experienced design, innovation, and co-creation consultant, at the core of his work are approaches that help organizations engage with those who are impacted by their services and test new programs and services with minimal investment. Over the past five years, Galen has used these approaches to help Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations across North America reinvent the services and programs they provide.

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