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”

Words for a Young Woman

A young woman looking at the sky

Last week I was approached by a young woman looking for help because she’d lost her belief that the world can become a better place. She had just attended a workshop I’d given on how to expand strategic alliances. Throughout the session, she said, it was clear that I believe change is possible. How, she asked, have I maintained such optimism in the midst of so much wrong in our world?

It reminded me of a talk I gave last spring last spring, titled: How to Avoid Burnout While Trying to Change the World, in which I describe how I have spent 25 years as a community and political organizer and still wake excited for each day.

Continue reading “Words for a Young Woman”

Stakeholder Engagement in Montana

Community members in discussionI recently was honored to author a guest blog for the Education Commission of the States, entitled: Stakeholder Engagement in Montana: How one SEA does it. The full text is below.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ups the ante on stakeholder input into state education plans.  Collaborative Stakeholder Engagement, a report from the Education Commission of the States, is a terrific guide for state education agencies (SEA) and stakeholders alike.  For many SEAs, the report observes, stakeholder engagement is limited to informational websites, press releases and statewide advisory councils. This kind of input rarely allows for new insights and strategies to emerge.

Continue reading “Stakeholder Engagement in Montana”

Circles of Influence

circles of influenceGraduation Matters Montana (GMM) was fortunate to have Liz Weaver of Tamarack Institute deliver the keynote address at our June 2016 Summer Summit. Liz shared the findings of her recent paper, “Transformational Change is Possible”. Much of her analysis aligns with the GMM framework, and I was pleased that Summit participants connected with her presentation.

At a follow-up workshop, Liz provided an overview of collective impact, and led several activities to help collaborative efforts expand scope and effect. It was during one of the activities – 100 Names, in which teams brainstorm three people they know who can advance their mission – that someone commented, “It’s easier for people to talk about what we can’t do, rather than what we can do.” Several people nodded in agreement.

It made me think about “circles of concern and circles of influence,” and how I use this concept in my work. Continue reading “Circles of Influence”

The Northwest Art of Bringing People Together

GMM community meetingI was honored to submit a blog post to Philanthropy Northwest entitled The Northwest Art of Bringing People Together. Full text is provided below.

I received an invitation to our nation’s capital last month for a gathering of 100 practitioners working on high school dropout prevention across the country. Continue reading “The Northwest Art of Bringing People Together”