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There are No More Silver Bullets

To understand and address 21st century challenges, we have to become familiar with complexity, systems thinking, and resiliency.

There are no shortage of tools, resources, and information available to guide and support our capacity to tackle these challenges. At interCHANGE 2015, Mark Cabaj outlined the approach leaders need to implement when embarking on challenging, complex work.

MeetingTo start, we must move away from leadership that relies on a “born with it” attitude, to leadership attitudes oriented toward developing the capacities and capabilities of others to support authentic responses to 21st century challenges. For example, developing a leadership capacity for situational awareness or “knowing what’s going on around you”.

Leaders who increase their situational awareness are able to effectively identify issues as simple, complicated, political, complex, or chaotic. The capacity to differentiate between these types of issues begins to orientate leaders and teams towards appropriate responses. Issues that are often the hardest to shift (i.e. poverty, hunger, inequality, community resilience, sustainability, etc.) always fall in the complex category and these types of challenges require leadership capacity to engage in adaptive responses.

Adaptive responses are participatory, systemic, and experimental in nature:

  • Participatory responses engage multiple stakeholders and build broad-scale ownership and action. They are about gathering a wide sense of the multiple facets that make up a complex challenge and understanding the issue from multiple perspectives. Participatory approaches are inclusive, and stakeholders are instrumental in defining the problem and shaping the solutions.
  • Systemic responses begin by understanding a complex challenge by exposing the roots. They recognize the challenge has many interconnected factors and interventions in one area of the challenge will likely result in unanticipated outcomes in another area of the system.
  • Experimental responses aim to learn by doing and iterations (trial and error). The strategy or plan emerges over time as lessons are learned and new approaches are developed. Experimental responses are flexible and shift along with the context they are a part of.
    Adaptive responses move conversations away from silver bullet or cookie cutter solutions and into a new space where unpredictability is embraced, root causes and connections are explored, and diversity of perspective, knowledge, and experience is necessary.

For more information and resources on adaptive responses, check out the interCHANGE 2015 resources page.

2015 Federal Election – Vote with nonprofits in mind

Canada flagEarlier this year, we encouraged Albertans to go to the polls in the Provincial Election. Once again we are calling on all Albertans and Canadians to vote, and to vote with nonprofits in mind in the Canadian Federal Election on Monday, October 19.

After all, we are all impacted by the work of nonprofits. The nonprofit sector includes social services, religious institutions, university and colleges, libraries, hospitals, environmental organizations, health research, cultural associations, legal aid, theatre and the arts, recreation and sports, advocacy, professional associations, and more.

For this reason, we have put together a list of resources to help you vote, to help you mobilize others to vote, and to show why the nonprofit sector is so important this election:

Vote!

Mobilize Others to Vote

#elxn42 Sharing your priorities, concerns, and voice during this election is important – Join the conversation about the upcoming election on Twitter with #elxn42.

#NPVote CCVO has created the first-ever Calgary Nonprofit Democratic Challenge. Join the challenge on Twitter by using the hashtag #NPVote and share the creative ways your organization is encouraging your staff, patrons, members and/or clients to vote. Challenge other nonprofit organizations to participate as well.

Vote Nation Voting is contagious — we know this. If you tell your friends and family you’re voting, they’re more likely to vote too. Add ‘I Will Vote October 19’ to your profile picture with this site. No matter what you are sharing on social media, your message of civic engagement will be included in every post!

Pledge to Vote Try out this CBC election engagement and interactive mapping tool to pledge to vote, share what you care about, and see why other Canadians are pledging to vote as well. Once you have pledged, share the call to action on social media.

Apathy is Boring Apathy is Boring is committed to getting young and first time voters out on Election Day. Visit their website for infographics, information, and tools to better engage these demographics – especially if you or your organization work with young people, immigrants, or marginalized groups.

Nonprofits and the Federal Election

Nonprofits Step Up! The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) and Samara Canada have created an excellent infographic outlining how nonprofits can play a crucial role in strengthening our democracy. Read more about why they are asking nonprofits to start conversations about: what role does (and should) nonprofits play in democracy? How can the nonprofit sector build a healthier democracy?

Election 2015 Hub Imagine Canada has created this hub to keep charities informed and involved this election with information and resources. Find out why and how this federal election offers an excellent opportunity for charities and nonprofits to promote civic engagement and to talk bold about issues important to Canadians and our communities!

2015 Federal Election Resources CCVO has compiled a thorough list of information, resources, and link to support nonprofits, their staff and volunteers, and their clients with their election engagement strategies. Find it on their website.

Nonprofit Advocacy during Elections Check out Charity Village’s tips for engaging in advocacy this election. As long as your organization’s advocacy efforts are issue-based and non-partisan, elections offer unique and important opportunities for your nonprofit!

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

From the Vault: The Learning Journey

Tomorrow, we will be convening with change makers from all sectors at interCHANGE. In the spirit of multi-sector collaborating and collective impact, we are sharing this blog from the vault on building understanding in a partnership, originally posted Oct 13, 2015: 

blogI just spent the large part of the last two weeks at two very interesting and dynamic professional development opportunities; the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) and the Tamarack Communities Collaborating Institute (CCI). These opportunities have filled my head with a lot of ideas, tools and have built new connections and many new possibilities. It is hard to summarize what I have learned and thought about throughout the last two weeks but one idea that has stuck with me was introduced by Adam Kahane at the CCI.

Adam Kahane talked to us about a “learning journey” as a tool to build a greater understanding between players in a complex system so that social systems change becomes possible. As Mr. Kahane described it, a learning journey is when individuals who are from different parts of a system or community go and visit the system together to learn more about each other, their perspectives, and how they are impacted by, and contribute to, the community. It is a literal walk together that Mr. Kahane has seen as an essential component in orienting people towards working on complex problems together. It is a tool to build shared understanding between members within a diverse group, community or society.

It is so simple, going on a walk together, but how often are we asked or interested in walking with someone we don’t understand, have an opposing view point with, or can’t identify with? I find that in professional circumstances the risk for these types of conflicts are high and are also avoided. We go into meetings knowing we may not agree and are unsurprised when we leave without a shared understanding of what needs to change. I have found myself thinking that for community or society to improve we just need to take a “walk in the other person’s shoes” however, I think what the learning journey approach suggests is that we should seek to listen to how someone else lives in their “own shoes”. It’s not about switching places, rather it is about experiencing that same place together and sharing perspectives.

More information on Adam Kahane’s approaches to social change and dealing with complex societal challenges can be found in his three books; Solving Tough Problems, Transformative Scenario Planning, and Power and Love and at REOS Partners.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

Guest Blog: Building Successful Partnerships

The following blog is written by ECVO and originally appeared on their website on August 18, 2015.

Coffeeshop meetingThere is a growing demand worldwide from all sectors for greater competence in scoping and managing the partnering process, especially as many of the partnerships we are seeing evolve are non-traditional, cross sector collaborations.

Many of these partnerships are as a result of complex societal issues that cannot be tackled by one agency or sector in the traditional sense, and nor should they!! Thriving communities are dependent on all sectors working together to move the needle on these issues.

When we look at successful partnerships, we see that they are usually dedicated towards achieving common goals, with all members of the partnership working towards the same end. However, agreeing on a common goal does not necessarily mean that all members of the partnership expect to benefit in the same way. Different entities have different expectations about what they will gain. Ultimately reaching a shared understanding of those expectations is the first step toward finding the common ground necessary for effective collaboration.

Another characteristic of a successful partnership is frequent and effective communication that is ongoing, and honest. In the initial stages of developing a partnership, members need to be very forthright about their needs, what they can contribute to the partnership, and what their expectations are. Goals and objectives need to be specific and clearly communicated. Communication needs to be a priority between agencies as well as within agencies.

In building successful partnerships we often look for additional resources to help advance the process and this is where a partnership broker could help.  Partnership Brokers often act as managers of the partnering process by helping to initiate, develop, maintain, review, revise and support multi-stakeholder collaboration through a deep knowledge and understanding of what it takes to collaborate effectively. Skilled brokering can make all the difference to the effectiveness of complex networks, non-traditional alliances and consortia as well as partnerships.

An effective partnership requires an investment. It takes work but it’s worth it. We can do far more together than we can alone.

 

Interested in collaboration as a means of addressing complex social issues? Join Volunteer Alberta for interCHANGE on September 24th – a one day, multi-sector event offering a unique experience for government, business, and nonprofit attendees to share our knowledge and discover how we can collaborate better, together.

For more on partnership brokering, attend Partnership Brokers Level 1 Training offered by ECVO on October 26th-29th. Gain greater competence in managing the partnering process in a multi-stakeholder partnership – especially when working across sectors. interCHANGE attendees receive a $100 discount on Partnership Brokers Training.

 

Stand out

Six Insights for Systems Leadership

In the Winter 2015 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania co-authored an incredibly valuable article: “The Dawn of System Leadership”. Leading up to Volunteer Alberta’s collective impact event, interCHANGE 2015, I have been reflecting on this article and, more generally, the world of systems thinking and leadership.

The article offers three key points regarding systems leadership:

1. System leaders are not singular heroic figures but those who facilitate the conditions within which others can make progress toward social change.

2. Any individual in any organization, across sectors and formal levels of authority, can be a system leader.

3. The core capabilities necessary for system leadership are the ability to see the larger system, fostering reflection and more generative conversations, and shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.

(http://www.fsg.org/publications/dawn-system-leadership)

As a follow up this article, WGBH, FSG , and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley convened and recorded their event, Catalyzing Collective Leadership, which further expanded on the concepts introduced through the original SSRI article. In addition to the three key points offered in “The Dawn of Systems Leadership,” here are my three highlights from that recording:

  1. A system leader is not full of answers. They have a clear understanding that nothing will change if others are not able to contribute. Systems leaders are skilled at asking questions that surface the ingenuity and know-how of others.
  2. Change is accomplished through teams. Systems leaders foster compelling team cultures that inspire others but aren’t solely dependent on one leader. The culture ripples through the team and is perpetuated by each team member.
  3. Letting go is a pathway to success. Systems leaders bring what is most important to them to the table and are completely willing to have others take it on. This often looks like letting go of control and ownership over decisions and solutions. Sacrifice is not a loss but rather a gift given for the sake of the larger cause.

flockAs Peter Senge puts it: “We need lots of leaders in lots of places everywhere, all kinds of people stepping forward and doing all kinds of different things. We live in an era where the effective use of hierarchical power and authority is simply inadequate for the problems we face.”

The capabilities used by systems leaders are learned and more importantly practiced, reflected on, and refined. I encourage all of us to try on the capabilities of systems leadership and explore our world through a systems lens. Through practicing the capabilities above I am sure new worlds will open, old assumptions will crumble, and access to previously unidentified levers for positive change will emerge.

Annand Ollivierre
Volunteer Alberta

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