Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Article on Collective Leadership

Sarah and I wrote the following article on our work with the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.

Nonprofit Boards and Governance Review Newsletter
Collective Leadership and Shared Governance: A New Approach to Increasing the Impact of Foundation Investments
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This article is co-written by Cassandra O'Neill and Sarah Griffiths.

In 2009, the board of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA) began the process of rethinking the way the foundation granted its unrestricted funds. The board believed that the foundation’s community investments were not always getting them the biggest impact, or thinking another way, the best bang for their buck; and that even though their unrestricted funding allocation was relatively modest, the grants process could be leading to greater community impact.

In starting the change process, the first step of the board, and the Community Investment Team (CIT) — a community committee charged with the oversight of the foundation’s grants process — was declaring a new goal: to increase the impact of their funding. The second was to develop a set of guiding principles aligned with their values and the new model they had decided to adopt. The guiding principles adopted by the board are as follows:
• We treat our grantees and donors as valued partners
• We believe that people support what they create
• We invest resources to build on strengths in the community
• We believe that providing general operating support allows organizations to be more effective
• We support collaborations because, together, we can create more positive impact in the community
• We understand that sustainable change takes time
Two years later, the community foundation has changed its funding model. It has moved entirely away from its traditional model of funding small amounts to individual organizations. Its new model is focused instead on building and funding multi-organization teams that are working together on a system change goal. This is the story of the process.

We have divided the story into two short articles: Article 1: Explores the model, the process and gives a brief overview of the work of the collaborative teams. Article 2: Looks at what makes this model unique, its philosophical underpinnings and alignment with best practices in the field.

CFSA’s 2010 Community Investment Model
The foundation has now funded three multi-organization, collaborative teams working toward a shared system change goal. These teams have been awarded larger multi-year grants (three years). The teams are characterized by:

• Self-selection—during the community investment process the community foundation invited any community organization that wished to participate to come together and explore what they could possibly do together that they could not do alone. The self-formed groups articulated their own “big goals”—all decisions around the goal chosen, participation, and strategies or activities selected to reach that goal have been made by the collaborative teams themselves (not the community foundation).

• Collective leadership—each collaborative team has a broad leadership team that is engaged in the process of developing the skills and behaviors that foster collective leadership. Throughout the course of the three-year grants, all members of each collaboration team will be participating in a self-administered collaboration assessment aimed at gauging the efficacy of the collaboration and their journey toward building collective leadership.

• Shared governance—although each of the collaborative teams has a lead, fiscal agent, the work of governance is shared within the collaborative teams and each team has developed an infrastructure to facilitate this process.

• System change focus—the work of each collaborative team has been structured around system change. During its early facilitated meetings the community foundation introduced all participants to Julia Coffman’s systems change framework (Julia Coffman, “A Framework for Evaluating Systems Initiatives,” August 2007). This provided the structure for the proposals and has formed the basis of the evaluation of each collaborative team toward its system change goal.

• Evaluation of impact—the community foundation CIT and board are very interested in the measurable impact of this new model. All teams are expected to do two levels of evaluation (mentioned earlier in this section). The first is aimed at demonstrating the progress that each collaborative team is making toward its system change goal. The second is aimed at gauging the efficacy of the collaboration and the journey toward building collective leadership and shared governance.

• Reflection—at each step of the way the collaboration teams are being invited to reflect and adapt. To consider where they have come to, where they need to get, and to adapt as necessary.

The Community Foundation’s Community Investment Process
In 2010, the community foundation hosted two large community meetings. The goals of these meetings were:

• To give participants an opportunity to explore collaboration and reflect on what they could possibly do within a collaboration that was greater than what their individual organization could achieve alone.
• To introduce the new community investment (grants) process, including a draft proposal template for the participants’ review and an overview of next steps.
• To share the system change framework that has been used throughout the application and implementation process.
• To help people meet others who might share the same goal.

Following these meetings, proposals for planning grants were invited. The proposal template did not include a needs question, rather applicant teams were asked to state their big goal. There were several reasons for keeping the process open in this way. Most organizations are used to working at the program level, identifying strategies that will lead to a larger goal. However, by focusing primarily on organizational strategies, organizations often end up trying to convince potential partners to adopt their strategies, rather than jointly developing strategies that meet a shared goal. By asking organizations to identify a broad, shared, system change goal, and then think about how they could achieve this by working together, a completely unique set of strategies were developed. And by using the systems change framework, the proposed strategies were aligned with system change efforts that would benefit the collective, i.e., all organizations operating in the chosen system, as well as residents or clients impacted by the select systems. This way of thinking was new to many organizational staff and the boards of the organizations applying as collaborative teams.

A challenge for all applicant teams was to develop shared leadership among the organizational partners. Organizations are used to partnering on grant proposals as subcontractors. Meaning, they divide up a pot of money amongst the groups. This does not lead to system change. The applicant teams were challenged to figure out how to devote resources to the system changes that would, if successful, benefit the entire system. Changes were made in all aspects of the application process including the budget forms for proposals, so that the requested funding was designed to match the work necessary to change the system, not split up a pot of money. This shared governance requirement, was new to some of the organizations and partnerships, and posed one of the greatest challenges to the collaborative teams.

The key to this new approach was letting these teams form themselves—and choose which big goal they would work toward, how they would achieve the goal, and whom they would work with. Key to the operation of the teams is shared governance, reflected in a multi-organization letter of agreement signed by the partners and a lead agency which serves as the fiscal agent. An example of one of the collaborative team’s system change goal is the goal of a rural community in Southwestern Arizona. This team seeks to change all aspects of the food system to result in healthier food being grown and eaten in the town. The other two teams are working toward neighborhood revitalization, and changing the way seniors experience supports, services, and opportunities as they age.

Ajo, Arizona Regional Food Partnership
Lead Organization: International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA)
Ajo is currently defined as a “food desert.” Fresh fruits and vegetables are not grown locally and must be brought in from Phoenix. There is a severe problem of obesity and diabetes in the nearby western communities of the Tohono O'odham Nation (next to the town of Ajo). Diabetes was nonexistent in the 1960’s among this population, when the local diet was based on traditional, locally grown foods. Economic development in Ajo has been limited since the mine that employed many of the local residents closed. The Ajo Regional Food Partnership, through a diverse collaboration of groups, intends to address these issues resulting in a sustainable local food system, new community awareness and engagement in making healthy food choices, restoring the residents’ rich cultural foods heritage, and developing new food-based economic opportunities for community residents. This means that food would be grown, distributed and processed locally with robust educational support not only for the growers, distributors and processors, but also for the whole community. The result will be improved community health and an enhanced local economy.

• Transforms Ajo from a food desert to a desert oasis
• Integrates Ajo and Tohono O’odham food, economic development, health and obesity initiatives
• Involves all elements of the food system and engages entire community leadership

Part 2

Different Process, Different Results
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
This article is co-written by Cassandra O'Neill and Sarah Griffiths.

In December of 2010, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article called “Collective Impact” (John Kania and Mark Kramer, Winter 2010). This article explores multiple collective impact initiatives and looks to find the common ground, or best practices, in collective impact efforts designed to help multiple organizations work together to achieve an outcome greater than any one organization could create by themselves. These findings align with the findings of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA) in this shift to increase impact. The work that the community foundation has undertaken to design this Community Investment model and partnering to build the collaborative teams is not easy. It requires shifts in thinking and behavior.

The First Shift in Thinking
Collaboration and competition are frequently framed as an either/or. Through this either/or lens, strong collaborations and strong organizations are seen as mutually exclusive. Organizations can either collaborate or they can compete, but according to many of our mental models and our organizational and community dialogues, they can’t do both.

When the community foundation began looking at collective impact as a goal, it recognized that collective impact and individual organization impact are not mutually exclusive; that organizations must be able to work together toward large system change goals while remaining successful as individual organizations. It saw that organizational goals are directly aligned and nest within the system change goals. Both are required for a good result, and for people to commit to the time and energy required of system change, they must be able to see that by reaching their system change goals, they will also help meet their organizational goals.

Key Elements of Collective Leadership
The key elements of collective leadership are described by Alain Gauthier in “Developing Collective Leadership: Partnering in Multi-stakeholder Contexts” (2006). Gauthier states: “Leadership can be defined as speaking, listening, and acting in a way that enables an organization or community to address its challenges and opportunities. Collective leadership (or co-leadership, for short) is, simply stated, leading together as partners.” He goes on to cite Petra Kunkel’s definition of collective leadership, “The capacity of a group of leaders to deliver a contribution in service of the common good through assuming joint and flexible leadership, according to what is perceived and required.”

Gauthier adds the following:
• “Unlike heroic leadership, co-leadership embraces the diversity of people and perspectives and frees up self-initiative and collective intelligence. When practiced across sectors, it creates the conditions for societal learning and innovation through an increased sense of interdependence and a deeper trust in self-organization.”
• Collective leadership can be “A transformative experience that enables each co-leader to grow personally, while generating benefits for the whole that could not have been produced otherwise. This is only possible when partners are committed to both support and challenge each other, so that optimal learning conditions exist within the partnership.”

The following additional information on collective leadership from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s, The Collective Leadership Framework, builds on this understanding. www.iel.org/pubs/collective_leadership_framework_workbook.pdf
• “Collective leadership becomes possible when the members of a group, motivated by a common purpose, begin to build relationships with each other that are genuinely respectful enough to allow them to co-construct their shared purpose and work. This is about expanding from the solo perspective of “I” to include the “We.”
• “The process begins with a shared dream that forms in the heart of a group of passionate individuals with diverse skills. As relationships are formed around a shared purpose, the group creates a common awareness of challenges and develops ownership of creating new approaches/solutions. This type of leadership engages communities in activities that can effect sustained and systemic change. It connects those who are often seen as “outside” of an institution with those who are on the “inside.”
• “It means being willing to be pushed and pulled as a result of being in relationship with others who share the dream. It means developing group and individual potential. It means finding what will be most effective in making needed changes in a specific time and place.”
• “Building collective leadership is a cyclical process; it does not happen once and end. Instead, it continues evolving as communities change. As groups grow and move, they continue to learn and relearn about their community as they change and it changes.”

Managing the Polarities of Collective and Individual Leadership
A useful lens in looking at competition and collaboration is polarity management (see Barry Johnson’s book Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems. 1996.) Polarities are “seemingly opposing forces that are both required for a good result,” like collective and individual leadership.
The book provides a detailed account of how to map polarities. However, for our purposes it is useful to look at the result of the process:

What happens when you have the best of both collective and individual leadership?

Individual Leadership

When its working well it looks like this:
• Measurable results attract funding and investment
• Individual organization satisfaction
• Autonomy
• Empowerment
• Control
• Alignment with mission

Collective Leadership

When its working well it looks like this:
• Shared resources
• Increased impact
• Shared goals
• Connection with person
• Clear communication
• Shared goals
• Alignment of organization’s mission and collective good
• Constructive dialogue

If an organization is hitting the mark in each area the result would be: broader impact, efficiency, synergy, creativity, capacity to do even more, and would result in the ability to make a difference.

The polarity map illustrates that the greatest success can be achieved by having the best of both collective and individual leadership, and by extension, collaborations and organizations.

Capacity Building for Collective Leadership and Shared Governance for System Change
The collaborative teams funded by CFSA have received technical assistance to develop their capacities for reaching their big goals by building collective leadership and shared governance. In a recent publication by St. Luke’s Health Initiative called “Learning through Networks” three types of capacity building were described in a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is the basic skills, infrastructure and relationships that all organizations need to function effectively in a highly regulated and competitive environment. The intermediate level focuses on practices that lead to high impact in organizations. The top level is collective impact through networks and systems change. This is the level of capacity building that has been provided to the collaborative teams. Ongoing technical assistance has been focused on helping the teams develop the capacities, skills, behaviors, and knowledge necessary to operate through shared governance in multi-organization collaborative teams.

The Second Shift in Thinking
The first shift in thinking explored the implications of embracing collective impact and seeing this as a way of increasing both individual organizational impact and collective impact. Viewed through the lens of polarity management, collective impact and individual organization impact are not mutually exclusive, they are both required for a good result.

The second shift in thinking explores how we view process. Process matters. Different processes lead to different results. The process builds relationships and provides the scaffolding for developing the skills and behaviors associated with collective leadership and shared governance.
In addition to developing engagement strategies that helped people identify and manage polarities that affect their collective work, the application process provided multiple opportunities for participants to build shared leadership and governance strategies and engage in a new way that focused on system issues.

• The Community Investment Team (CIT), in the process of choosing the grantees, utilized the same methods of engagement and facilitation that created conditions for learning and inquiry. This resulted in a shared understanding of the new language, processes, and expectations for both applicants and CIT members. This is a major departure from traditional review processes.

• The engagement of participants was at the highest level of Peter Senge’s ladder of engagement—co-creating; the lower levels are buying, selling and attempts to get buy-in. Co-creation is more generative and results in more informed planning, decision making, shared passion, and collective leadership.

• The strategies the collaborative teams are using are aligned with strengths-based approaches to change, and differ from deficit-based approaches because these approaches rely on activating people’s passions and building resiliency. This is a departure from approaches in old paradigms that attempt to make positive change by activating fear or anger in residents and community members. The strengths-based approaches are reflected in the language used by the teams in their descriptions of the strategies, goals and outcomes they have. The teams report an unprecedented level of collective leadership, excitement among partners, energy, and participation in this work.

Key Differences from Traditional Philanthropic Approaches
The community foundation process and the outcomes (increased engagement and collaboration among organizations toward shared goals and the development of collective leadership) are aligned with and were informed by the following:
• Recommendations of the Committee for Responsive Philanthropy related to increasing funding of advocacy and community engagement, and making the funding application process requirements comparable to the amount of funding being awarded.
• Alternative approaches to grantmaking of a community foundation, shifting focus to collective impact and system change rather than focusing on growing and sustaining organizations. The traditional approach focuses on increasing the number of programs, the number of staff and the amount of services delivered by an individual organization.
• Positive psychology and neuroscience research about how to create positive sustainable change.
• Strengths-based philanthropic approaches that promote resiliency and build on strengths rather than traditional deficit approaches.
• Changing worldviews and paradigms regarding what creates sustainable, positive change.
• A framework for comprehensive system change developed by Julia Coffman from the Center for Evaluation Innovation (see Part I of this article).
• The collective impact work described by Mark Kramer and John Kania. They suggest that “. . . substantially greater progress could be made in alleviating many of our most serious and complex social problems if nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact.
• Collective leadership.
• Research about high impact and movement building.

During the community investment process the collaborative teams have been given technical assistance and have now formed a community of practice. They meet quarterly to share progress and network. A key focus of these meetings is to support the teams in continuing to build the skills and behaviors necessary for collective leadership and shared governance.


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