What might we be prepared to give up to work together differently?

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 V 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 and Part IV.

What might we be prepared to give up, or suspend, to work together differently?


Getting to systems change and impact requires leaders to work differently. This means employing some strategies that they may not have employed in the past.

This includes determining which partners needed to get to impact. This can mean working with partners that you already have a relationship, but it also means working with partners you have never engaged with. For example, having an impact on youth means that they must be at the table. This means investing in their capacity and leadership and supporting them. It also means leading from behind or servant leadership.

In some cases, there might be another partner who is doing work that has a greater impact. This means determining who is best positioned to deliver the service.

The final strategy is to engage deeply with data and results. Understanding the problem from a data perspective is critical, who is impacted and how. But it also means tracking outcomes and impact. Is the community better off as a result of these interventions?

Working differently requires an enhanced leadership skillset. It includes servant leadership, a curious and persistent approach focused on results, and understanding the nature of systems.

What are your thoughts Max?


I couldn’t agree more Liz. I would only add that having more tolerance for failure, throughout the system, is necessary to create a shift. It is worth freeing up the expectation or demand that everything must work. Invariably, it is unclear if and how well, a new arrangement or initiative will work. Being curious, learning, and not being lured back to the default setting is important. But also, being able to say ‘Hey, this isn’t quite working as we had hoped. A few unintended consequences – what can we learn and how might we pivot? Or perhaps we stop this, draw on what we have learned to try another way.’

One of the ways the status quo remains, and why it so difficult to shift, is seeing any frailty or weakness in attempts to change it; and then play the blame game. To ridicule the effort and to promote the ways things were better in the past. It is important to build on what has worked in the past, but generally a collective impact initiative comes about because the results are simply inacceptable. Therefore, returning to the way things were should be no more acceptable than continuing with a new approach that is not working as well as hoped.

During a recent piece of work with Peer Academy in Melbourne, looking at innovating in the public sector, an important reframing occurred. We stopped using the term ‘safe to fail’ and replaced it with ‘safe to learn’. It is not about celebrating failures, and there is no excuse for not attempting to succeed. It’s about having the system increasingly curious, willing to adapt, and to open to new ways.

Well that is probably enough for now. It’s been great conversing with you about this Liz. I am looking forward to feedback and further commentary. There is certainly lots of wisdom out there. Any final comments Liz?


I agree Max, these are challenging questions. I know that the work of community change and collective impact is about acting, reacting and adapting. I think our responses reflect the need to community change leaders to be flexible as well as purposeful. Thanks Max for your thoughts.



Vice Present, Tamarack Institute, Canada

Liz is passionate about the power and potential of communities getting to impact on complex issues. Liz is Tamarack’s Vice President and Director of Operations. In this role, she provides strategic direction to the organization and leads many of its key learning activities including collective impact capacity building services for the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Liz is one of Tamarack’s highly regarded trainers and has developed and delivered curriculum on a variety of workshop topics including collaborative governance, leadership, collective impact, community innovation, influencing policy change and social media for impact and engagement.

Prior to this role, Liz led the Vibrant Communities Canada team and assisted place-based collaborative tables to develop their frameworks of change, supported and guided their projects and helped connect them to Vibrant Communities and other comprehensive community collaborations.


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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