What makes the status quo so challenging to change?

collective impactPerspectives from the field: A conversation about collective impact and collaboration from Australia and Canada

Over the last month, Liz Weaver, Vice President, Tamarack Institute and I have been engaged in an email exchange puzzling out the answers to many wicked questions about collective impact and community change. Below is part IV of V, where we discuss how to ensure a community agenda not just a shared agenda. If you would like to view previous posts, please click on the part you would like to view: Part IPart IIPart III.

What makes the status quo so challenging to change?


The status quo is deceptive. We are entranced by the busyness of our work. Our days are filled with meetings, applications for funding, telephone calls and endless emails. This frenetic pace feeds our ego and makes us feel important and at times, invincible. And yet, the problems that our communities are facing are not going away and many are getting worse.

This frenetic pace feeds our ego and makes us feel important and at times, invincible.

We know that complex problems need the engagement of diverse stakeholders to get a deep understanding of the problem. We also need to move beyond the status quo, the partners we usually work with, to bring new partners to the table.

The status quo does not allow us to go deeper, to ask the difficult questions. A number of years ago my colleague and friend, Jay Connor asked me these provocative questions: Just who are you doing this work for? Are you here to maintain your job or impact the community?

The status quo does not invite provocative questions.

If we are dissatisfied with the growing inequity in our communities. If we are dissatisfied with going to work every day and seeing increases in the demand for services that meet crisis but are not preventative. If we want a change, we need to rail against the status quo. We need to do something different. We need to ask tough questions, engage in systems and work to impact policies. This means railing against the status quo.


I reckon you’ve nailed it Liz. What I would add is that systems exist for a reason. Being explicit about the pay-offs for the status quo somehow makes it easier to change it. The status quo is working for some. It may be a CEO whose primary concern is to their own career and reputation, or to please their board (to keep their job or receive a pay increase). The status quo may serve organisations who are primarily focused on meeting KPIs set by their funding bodies. More provocatively, the status quo can also serve socially disadvantaged groups in a curious way. It may be easier to remain in a dependent, oppressed state and give up, or complain, than to accept the opportunity to be part of a solution.

I recall my work as a social worker reading extensively about family dynamics, especially Salvador Minuchin. He talked about homeostasis being the ‘tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes’. Applying this concept to a family system Minuchin posed that while most people in a family will collude with the family dynamics, it will only take one player in the system to behave differently for the whole system to change. It may go into chaos, or a state of flux until a new, hopefully healthier homeostasis is achieved. I think the same applies to collective impact initiatives. There is a kind of collusion that occurs in the current system, otherwise it wouldn’t be there. Once understood, people and organisations can make choices because there is a higher purpose involved, or different pay offs, by daring not to collude.


Do you agree with their perspectives? Do you have other questions they should consider? What are the challenges you are facing as you engage in collective impact? We invite you to add your comments and join the conversation here.

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