Changing systems requires people in those systems to transform the way they think and act. That’s at the heart of the theory behind Collective Impact. The whole thing hinges on people acting differently, yet there’s been little talk about how to enable them to change their behaviors. Working with StrivePartnership, I’ve learned a lot over the past several years about the best [and worst] ways to change behavior.
In Cincinnati, we’ve been at this for more than a decade. StrivePartnership was created in 2006 by community leaders trying to better align the effort and resources we were putting into education.
Over the course of the last 10 years, StrivePartnership has led the way many times in pointing out what we should be doing – digging into data to uncover what programs are working, investigating promising practices that are getting results in other communities, etc. However, knowing what we should do doesn’t get us any closer to making change happen if we aren’t capable of putting that knowledge into action. We’ve realized that an important, but too-often neglected, element of Collective Impact is building the capability of systems leaders to drive change.
I am not aware of anyone who has “achieved collective impact.” What we have done here in Cincinnati is begin to understand the stuff it takes to drive the people that make the change.
Five things that are critical to changing hearts and minds in the pursuit of collective impact:
1. Know where you’re going. Have a clear theory of change, and how to measure it.
Often we go into “leadership trainings” without specific goals or a plan for measuring and tracking impact. Many capability building offerings, especially those targeting organizational leaders, deliver well-thought out and intentioned curriculum that provides the leader with frameworks and tools for strategic planning and organizational improvement. However, the program designers rarely answer these questions:
“What behavior change should occur as a result of this training?”
“How will we know if we are successful?”
Building a person’s knowledge and skill so that they can do what they do better is a hard thing to measure. People are the product. Here’s the thing though – behavior can be observed, and therefore measured.
2. Tell a compelling story. You need to grab their hearts first, and stories are the best way to do that.
If you’re reading this, then you likely have a vested interest in capability building. Maybe you’ve experienced a training that made you better at what you do. Maybe you went all-in on a new approach to your work that seemed promising…but it flopped. Or, perhaps you are just as big of a nerd about improvement as I am. Whatever the case, there is a story. Personal experience is what connects us. When you’re trying to explain why a person should buy into having their brain reprogrammed, give them a compelling “why.”
3. The customer always knows best. Include those you serve in the design for capability building.
People who are working in the nonprofit and education world do the work they do because they are driven by an intrinsic motivation to make something better. Despite the widely-accepted belief that we do this work because we care, we don’t include our “customers” in the problem solving or decision making. Traditionally, we have created solutions and new interventions without the input of those that we hope will benefit from it. Irony overload. Can you imagine Amazon rolling out a new service without ever beta testing it with customers? No, that would never happen.
Whomever you serve, include them in the design for capability building. They have the single best vantage point of anyone in your system. Use it!
4. It’s all personal. Be flexible and individualized, not prescriptive.
My plea to those of you working in Collective Impact: please, please, please, leave the dogma at the door. Too often we approach capability building with a one-size-fits-all approach. We provide one approach, one set of tools and one way of thinking and assume it will work for everybody.
The most important lesson I’ve learned is that we will never know everything there is to know to solve social problems. The issues [and players] are complex and systemic. The toolbox for solving social problems has to continuously evolve. Do we have a pretty good idea of the things that are helping folks get better results? Yes, but we still need to be open and willing to try out new tools as we learn and discover.
As long as you can clearly articulate your goal, the levers that move the system and the ideas you want to try, you can use any tool you want – it doesn’t have to be my, your tool or their tool. It just needs to be what works. Changing hearts and minds calls for flexibility, humility and, most importantly, grace.
5. Friends first. Start with the willing, open-minded influencers and opinion leaders.
We’re followers. We just are. It’s the reason Tom from MySpace is on Facebook. So, build your following with the people who can influence the rest of the herd. Don’t waste your time on the nay-sayers. I don’t think it’s true that “if you build it, they will come.” But, I bet they’ll come if Oprah tells them they should.
Find out what matters to your Oprahs and show them – in their terms – how they could be better at what they do. They will come, and they will start behaving differently.