Community Narratives

This fall I logged over 1,000 miles traveling to towns in western Montana to talk about community, on behalf of the Headwaters Health Foundation, which sought to engage communities in the design of their strategic plan.

At each meeting, we asked participants – healthcare and mental health professionals, educators, local government and nonprofit organizations – to describe the strengths their community brings to tackling challenges.  These strengths included a history of working well together, having local organizations with the vision and capacity to lead change, and local projects that make a difference. Continue reading “Community Narratives”

Collaborative Frameworks

This blog was originally published by the Tamarack Institute.

Earlier this month I participated in a workshop on collaboration at a gathering of several hundred grantmakers, hosted by Philanthropy Northwest. During the session, Collaborative Exchange, I presented on Graduation Matters Montana, a public-private initiative that resulted in record-breaking high school graduation rates.

As I was preparing for the session, I was reminded of a Tamarack Institute talk in which Liz Weaver and Mark Cabaj described what effective change efforts have in common. There are three things, they posited: (1) a framework; (2) principles; and (3) practices. How, I wondered, could I describe our work raising graduation rates, based on Weaver and Cabaj’s insights? Continue reading “Collaborative Frameworks”

Build your team like Broadway

This blog was originally published by the Collective Impact Forum.

Building a steering committee or leadership team for a collective impact initiative can feel high stakes. When done well, it opens the door to innovation and impact; when done poorly it can dissipate precious time, commitment and enthusiasm for the endeavor.

Whenever I build a leadership team, I like to think about Broadway. Not because we all need a little razzle-dazzle once in a while, but because recent research on teams, networks, collaboration and creativity has learned a lot from show biz. Continue reading “Build your team like Broadway”

Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Have you ever heard the maxim, “Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching?”  You’ll see it on greeting cards, fridge magnets and Facebook memes.

I like the notion. It makes me think of having the freedom to be myself and to find joy in living. Friends of mine can attest that I’m often the first on the dance floor, and I have experienced great heartache yet now share a deep love with my husband.  It’s the first phrase, “Work like you don’t need the money” that’s been the hardest for me to grasp. Continue reading “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching”

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

clothes line laundry

This blog was originally posted by Tamarack Institute.

I recently attended an extraordinary conference hosted by the Tamarack Institute. I met wonderful, warm and interesting people, the workshops I gave were well-received, and to top it off, my mother came to see me present and she was very proud of me. Really: I couldn’t imagine a better work week.

As I was flying home, relishing my experience, I thought: “Uh oh… After the ecstasy, comes the laundry. Time to prepare for the crash.” And sure enough, the following week was one of the roughest since starting my own business, with self-doubts and obstacles blocking my way at every turn.  How predictable. Continue reading “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”

Data is More Than Just a Four-Letter Word

This blog was originally published by Tamarack Institute.

I recently spoke with a very experienced, very frustrated community organizer. She had just come back from a meeting with a funder who repeatedly admonished her to provide measurable evidence that her project is making a difference.

“For me, data is a four-letter word,” she stated, only half-joking. “Some things we do aren’t easy to measure or prove, but I know they work, and I’m not going to stop doing them just because I can’t measure them!”

I can relate. Though a lifelong community builder, I have often avoided the data question. Continue reading “Data is More Than Just a Four-Letter Word”

Building Trust for Collaboration

This blog was originally published by Tamarack Institute.

“Do you trust me?” Jack asks Rose in the movie, Titanic.  Jack is holding Rose by the waist so she can lean over the bow of a massive ship to experience what it might feel like to fly. Had Rose replied “No,” or had Jack been untrustworthy, the movie would’ve ended there. Luckily, there was trust, and so we all experienced something beautiful.

If, as Stephen Covey said, “Progress moves at the speed of trust” – the practice of developing and fostering trust is essential to any complex endeavor.

I recently facilitated a discussion with child care providers who asked, “How can we build trust with kindergarten teachers?”  Too often, trust between child care providers and kindergarten teachers breaks down. “All you care about are the ABCs,” a child care provider might say. “All you do is babysit,” a kindergarten teacher may respond. Who suffers most in this Continue reading “Building Trust for Collaboration”

100 Cups of Coffee

This blog was originally published by Tamarack Institute.

Before launching a new initiative, I often advise groups to have “100 Cups of Coffee.” Not to be confused with the popular Futurama Frye video clip, 100 Cups of Coffee is a way to understand the complexity of an issue, build relationships with key people and organizations, and discover opportunities for synergy.

For instance, I was recently asked to design a statewide collective impact initiative to advance early childhood learning. Even though I have over 20 years’ experience launching complex initiatives, I approached the project with a “beginners mind” – resisting set assumptions about what is needed, or what will advance the cause. Continue reading “100 Cups of Coffee”

Sharpening One’s Saw in Rural Communities

As interest in collective impact grows, the question of how this work can look in rural communities continues to arise.

This blog was originally published by Tamarack Institute.

Rural communities face unique challenges when considering collective impact.  With sparse organizational infrastructure and minimal philanthropic dollars, rural collective impact practitioners are asking:  What does a backbone organization – or even a backbone function – look like when there are few local organizations, and even fewer private or public sector funds available to support the work?

Continue reading “Sharpening One’s Saw in Rural Communities”

First Best Place

Montana is known for its big skies, mythology about cowboys and Indians, and as home to writers who describe the state as the “Last Best Place” in the world: a place of uncommonly beautiful landscapes, capable residents and a simpler way of life.

Much of this is true. It’s certainly a good part of what drew me to Montana as a young woman, and what has kept me here to fall in love, raise my children and do my life’s work.

Yet Montana is also the “last best place” to make certain policy commitments and public investments in its families and children. It is the only state in the nation that does not provide public funding to educate 19-year olds still enrolled in high school and it remains one of five states yet to ensure every child can go to preschool, regardless of income.

What would it take for Montana to become the “first best place” in the country, in terms of investing on one of its long-term interests: children? Continue reading “First Best Place”