Here’s the full list of “traps” that we have encountered. Over these three entries, I’ll feature a different set of these traps:
o Let’s Get Comfortable
o Let’s Put On a Show!
o We’re Not Ready
o Oh, That’s Their Problem
o We Need a New Organization
o We Need to Collaborate More
o Data First
o Money First
o What If We Get It Wrong?
o But What Are We Going to Do?
Oh, That’s Their Problem
“The Blame Game” [link to Habit #5 in my Seven Habits of Highly Effective Communities post] can go both ways—refusing to take responsibility for poor outcomes, or insisting that your organization, sector, or silo “owns” that problem and keeping others out of the effort to solve it. If you let your citizens believe that your organization owns education or health or economic development, they will fold their arms and say, “Let us know when you succeed.” But these are our problems as an entire community. We all own them together, and we can only solve them together.
We Need a New Organization
Working at the community level does create a work load that someone needs to manage. An organization or an individual leader must commit to convening meetings, preparing handouts, taking notes, reporting back, and convening the next meetings. Successful communities have dedicated staff time to facilitate the process. But the last thing we need to encourage working differently is another organization to feed.
In our 2003 book, "Community Visions, Community Solutions" we called this type of community support a "community support organization." The recent work on Collective Impact call this effort a "backbone organization." Both of these conceptualizations envision a stand-alone entity. But I have seen many communities make great progress at achieving outcomes without the formal establishment of an "organization." The key is a means for the community to work in this new cross-sector, outcome driven space. In Erie, PA, for example (www.erietogether.org), Mary Bula holds this space, despite being housed in the United Way and supervised by a partners group from Mercyhurst University, The United Way and a leading community action council: GECAC. Someday they might form a separate organization, but they didn't dissipate a lot of the community's energy thinking organization, before they though outcomes.
Don’t assume that a new 501(c)3 will make everything easier. It feels easy, because that has been the standard answer in the past. But it may damage your ability to achieve aspirations, because it will take ownership from the community and put it in the “new, super-duper organization.” This creates an excuse for disengagement. How often have we seen the community metaphorically clap the dust off its hands and say, “Well, that’s done,” and move on to some other equally uneventful activity?
Your desired outcome isn’t to create a new organization but to create a new way of working as a community that balances activities and solutions. Find other ways to get the work done through existing mechanisms. [link to “A New There” post]
We Need to Collaborate More
Whenever we visit communities and ask executives how many collaborative meetings they attend in a month, the average number is 7 or 8 meetings. That’s 7 or 8 different collaborations for different purposes. Now, we’re all about bringing organizations and community members together, so we obviously advocate for collaboration. But no organization can change its structure, processes, and measures [link to “Implementation Kit” in the Tools upcoming posts] 7 or 8 different ways to meet the goals of all these collaborative efforts.
The problem is that most collaboration occurs around activities and funding, not around outcomes. Communities that are working differently require fewer collaborative groups, because they are no longer building coalitions for each program or funding stream. Instead, they have begun with the question, “What do we want to accomplish?” and then built an infrastructure to get there. Collaboration occurs in order to achieve the outcomes that everyone has agreed on together. This creates a fundamentally different way of organizing work and, therefore, of organizing how we all work together.
How do you know if you are engaged in worthwhile collaboration? Check out this tool and test yourselves. [link to “Collaboration” in an upcoming Tools post]
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