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Guest Post: The Art of Disruption – A Reflection

This post originally appeared on the Tamarack Institute blog on July 25, 2016.

Join Tamarack in Toronto this September for the Community Change Institute!


Last week, Tamarack’s Liz Weaver and Paul Born hosted a webinar on Community Change: The Art of Disruption as part of a Community Change Webinar Series. In this conversation Liz and Paul discussed some emerging ideas and strategies that are disrupting how some communities today are responding to the complex issues that they face.

There were quite a few ideas that emerged from this conversation, but three in particular stood out to me:

Number 1 | The Power of Connection

Number 2 | The Power of the People

Number 3 | The Power of the BIG 5

The Power of Connection

Liz began the conversation with the acknowledgment that in today’s society people seem to be so connected, yet so disconnected at the same time. We see this in everyday life – we are constantly connected and dialed in to one another’s lives via Text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the list goes on and on. But at times it feels that despite this constant online connection, many people are experiencing less and less real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction.Diverse_Hands.jpg

The same could be said of the many organizations that are working tirelessly to create real, meaningful change in our communities and across the globe. Thanks to technology we see change-makers across the globe praising one another’s work, sharing their successes and supporting one another – we also see the criticism, the analysis of each other’s failures and at times, outright competition. Within the realm of community change, individuals and organizations alike are so much more aware of what other organizations are doing and what is happening in other communities, but we are not as involved or connected as we could be. Change-makers are often so disconnected in their work and when they do connect it is often very surface-level.

During the webinar, Liz reminded us that there are so many wonderful organizations doing incredible work but many are not achieving the big-scale change that they so desire. When you look at groups that are creating real traction in their communities you notice that there is something different going on and I think the answer circles back to this idea of connection.

To create real change, both in our individual lives and within our communities we need to connect – real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction. We need to completely disrupt the ways that we have existed and worked within the realm of community change thus far and do something different.

The Power of the People

A second aha moment that came from this recent webinar was in regards to the power of the people. As Paul explored ideas of community change and disruption he was simply overflowing with the possibilities of people. Paul reflected on the ways in which Canadian citizens have completely stepped up when it comes to positive community change, citing the example of many Canadian citizens’ support of Syrian refugees. He also mentioned incredible examples of leadership happening in the realm of poverty reduction in cities like Toronto and Edmonton. We are beginning to see a huge shift in social responsibility – where people and their cities are no longer waiting for big governments to step in and take action, but rather the people and the cities themselves are becoming the leaders in large-scale social change.

Protest-1.jpgWe are in a wonderful time where it seems people are no longer waiting on the world to change – they are creating that change. They have decided to throw out the rule book and write their own. This is disruption at it’s finest.

Citizens want to be involved, so let’s involve them. Citizens want to be engaged, so let’s engage them. Paul reminds us that within the realm of community change it is our responsibility and our privilege to truly and deeply engage the people within our communities who are outside our organizations. There is definitely something to be said about the power of the people and their ability to disrupt and impact real change.

The Power of the BIG 5

During the webinar, Liz and Paul also touch on Tamarack’s five BIG ideas for making significant change:5.png

  1. Collective Impact
  2. Community Engagement
  3. Collaborative Leadership
  4. Community Development and Innovation
  5. Evaluating Community Impact

Our Idea Areas are key principles and techniques that help community leaders to realize the change they want to see. It doesn’t matter what issue you are facing – whether you are tackling poverty reduction, dealing with food access issues, wanting to improve health or trying to deepen the sense of community in your city – the thinking around these five areas and the application of the guiding techniques will help you to achieve impact.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: How do we use these five BIG ideas to create positive disruption within the realm of community change? And what does the future of these five key idea areas look like?

Collective Impact

Liz talks about the future of Collective Impact – Collective Impact 3.0 if you will – and the emphasis on evolving from a shared-agenda, to a community-wide agenda. In order to create real, disruptive change the goals of a Collective Impact initiative must be owned by the entire community, not just the folks doing the ground work.

*Liz and Mark Cabaj will be hosting a webinar on Collective Impact 3.0 – Register now! They will also be writing a paper on Collective Impact 3.0 so keep your eyes open for this!

Community Engagement

In our cities and communities, a new generation of community engagement is emerging. People want to be engaged in decisions, they want to work together and they want better outcomes for themselves and their neighbours.

Paul talks about how he used to look at community engagement in three stages: inform, consult, and involve. But over the years has discovered that we can no longer separate these three pieces, we must inform, consult and involve in one stride. Engaging citizens in every stage is a critical component of any work that will impact community in any way.

Collaborative Leadership

In the conversation about Collaborative Leadership a listener asked the following question How can we better engage business in Collective Impact initiatives?” To which Liz responded that there are business leaders “with heart.” The more important question, Liz suggests, is how do we engage those business leaders who have heart and how do we connect them with community change?

Liz suggests that the best tactic to address this issue is to:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Find the right fit and engage in real conversations (remember that thing I said about connection? It works – we promise;))
  3. Don’t stress about the “no” – focus on the positive outcomes

The future of collaborative leadership is a future with positive, cross-sectoral relationships that disrupt the current boundaries set in place.

Community Innovation

In their conversation, Liz and Paul stress that positive disruption can come at a systems level but also at the level of community programming. Often times innovation is happening right on the ground, centred within a community. This is the type of innovation that is key to real community change and this is the type of innovation that should be shared.

This is the kind of work that we want to highlight at Tamarack – both at the Community Change Institute this fall but also in our everyday work.

Evaluation

Liz says “evaluation is key but what can we do about learning and sense-making amidst evaluation?” – It’s time to take evaluation to the next level. We need to begin to think about what we can truly learn from the evaluation process and results and really make sense of what is discovered.

For me, the Art of Disruption is about engaged people and organizations rising up, breaking through boundaries and working together in new ways. The Art of Disruption requires flexibility and encourages the evolution and adaptation of perspective and practice.

I recently attended a one-day event with Paul Born in London, Ontario and at one point he jokingly began to sing a song that I feel sums up the Art of Disruption beautifully…

“The more we get together, together, together – the more we get together the happier we will be!”

 Continue Learning: 

Happy Learning!

Sienna Jae Taylor
Tamarack Institute

Young team

Curiosity: Make it Your Leadership Advantage

This is a guest post by Kathy Archer from Silver River Coaching.


Leaders need to be in control, in charge, and have all the answers. Right? No. That is not entirely accurate. In fact, the best leaders often don’t have all the answers.  What the greatest leaders have is a tremendous amount of curiosity. In other words, they ask a lot of questions that they don’t know the answer to.

Doesn’t asking questions make me look dumb?

Why is it important to ask questions you don’t know the answer to? I mean really, doesn’t that highlight how unwise you are? Are leaders not supposed to be intelligent, invincible, and have all of the answers?

No.

A leader has two primary jobs:

1. To grow and develop others

2. To move the organization and it’s people (the ones they are growing and developing) from where they are now towards a shared vision of the future

If a leader already knows how to achieve the desired results then they would be doing it. But they are at the beginning, not at the end point of success. That is because they don’t know how to get there, yet! Additionally, despite what some leaders might believe, they can’t do it on their own. A leader needs a team. The best way to grow that team and to move toward the future vision is to get really curious.

Do you know where you are going?

To create a vision you need a clear picture of where you want to be. Start by asking questions:

  • If we were really successful at making positive changes in the next year, what would be different?
  • Imagine a year from now we are reaching significantly improved outcomes. What processes would we be doing differently?
  • What impact would our positive changes have on our relationship with our stakeholders, clients, and funders?

mapDo you know how to get there?

To figure out how to realize your vision you need a plan. Creating a plan requires more questions:

  • Imagine we changed our intake processes to make them more streamlined. Where did we start?
  • What skills would our teams need to develop in order to achieve those desired outcomes?
  • If we were to look back a year from now, what roadblocks would we have to overcome (and how did we do it) to achieve that new vision?

When a leader is willing to ask questions, explore possibilities, and invite introspection, they can spark incredible growth in their team.  A leader’s willingness to explore the unknown may open the door to discover a whole range of possibilities that may not have existed if they had merely provided a solution.

What it takes to be more curious

Being curious requires a leader to be vulnerable and admit they don’t have all the answers. By applying curiosity in situations, there might be a bubbling up of resistance or fear in ourselves. Yes, you could be opening up a whole can of worms. Yes, you might discover something you don’t like. Curiosity requires you to let go of control and accept ambiguity and uncertainty. It requires admitting that you don’t know it all and need help.

Learning to let go of control takes time and effort. Be intentional about it. You may select an area to focus on. For example:

Rather than implementing a new hiring system myself, I am going to ask 3 staff to develop the system. I am going to work on giving them more control and autonomy because I know it will help them grow. They will have the opportunity to become more confident and feel they are valuable, contributing members of the team. I’m going to simply get curious about what they can create. 

The advantage of curiosity

The reality is there is an incredible wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience in a whole team. When that vast information becomes available, it surpasses what one leader can do on their own. This expanded potential is what sets incredible organizations way out front of average organizations. Groups are able to excel when leaders are willing to leverage everyone’s strengths, talents, and experience.

ThinkingThe way to get more curious

Ask questions. Ask lots of questions! Inquire with no judgement, no preconceived answers in your mind, and no prior expectation of a right way to respond. Probe with open-ended questions and a child-like playfulness as you search for new insights.

  • What other options have we not looked at yet?
  • What else do we need to explore?
  • What have we not thought about?
  • What would you like to try?

Use curiosity to your advantage

Many of the best leaders are curious souls. They ask a lot of questions they don’t know the answers to.  A curious leader’s inquisitiveness helps them grow and develop their team so they can achieve a shared vision, together.

Let go of control. Let go of fear. Replace it with curiosity. When you do, you may find yourself and your organization more rapidly achieving your desired results.

 

Kathy Archer
Silver River Coaching

 

Kathy is a leadership coach for women who want to strengthen their leadership and find balance in life. She mentors women as they rediscover their purpose, passion, and persistence for life while dealing with office politics, jerk bosses, and the challenges of family life. In her signature program Women with Grit: Leading with Courage & Confidence, Kathy gives her ladies the hope and inspiration they need along with a kick in the pants to makepositive change in their lives.You can find Kathy at silverrivercoaching.com

 

Happy swing

Organizational Well-being Starts with Staff

A major component for organizational well-being is staff well-being. With nice weather, longer days, and often a change of gears to match the change in season, summer is a great time to experiment with new approaches to staff wellness.

At Volunteer Alberta, we strive to support staff well-being in a variety of ways. While we are always growing and improving, here are 3 ideas we have already implemented that you might want to borrow!


1. Vacation Time

Jump with JoyWe have a generous vacation / time-off policy. As a nonprofit, one way we can stay competitive is with paid time-off as part of our staff compensation package. We can provide staff with time to rest, relax, explore, and recharge and create a workplace culture that values work-life balance. After all, I want to bring my ‘whole self’ to work, and that is made much easier when I have the time to grow and develop personally, as well as professionally.

Part of our staff vacation time includes the summer bonus of extra long weekends from May until September. Anytime we have a long weekend during the summer months, we add an extra day of office closure. This works out to four extra days our staff have to enjoy away from the office and to get the most out of the season.

2. In-Office Yoga

Part of my ‘whole self’ includes my training as a yoga teacher. As a new teacher, I needed an opportunity to practice teaching. Luckily for me, many of my colleagues were willing participants! Teaching yoga at the office has the mutual benefit of supporting my personal development, giving me a chance to practice professional skills, and creating great value-add for other staff. Plus, I find it fulfilling to support the mental and physical well-being of my colleagues. It has been a great opportunity to build community and de-stress on Friday’s at lunch, and, of course, it’s optional so no one feels pressured to join in.

3. Take Advantage of our Surroundings

RestaurantOur office happens to be in the heart of downtown. We are next to restaurants and bars with great summer patios, as well as Edmonton’s river valley. Going to a patio with colleagues after work is an excellent way to end a work day – soaking up sunshine, relaxing, and building friendships. Staff also bring our meetings to our neighbourhood cafés, restaurants, and patios for a change of scenery and to embrace a casual, creative way of working together. Some staff members have even tried out walking meetings to get outside.


While these are my favourite ways Volunteer Alberta supports staff well-being, there are other ways as well. Staff benefits, flexible work hours, professional development opportunities, and sharing our lunchtime together are also positive influences on Volunteer Alberta’s well-being, individually and as an organization.

What kind of work environment would feel satisfying and promote wellness at your office?

No workplace, or office culture, is quite the same. This is especially true in our diverse sector: different peak times, staff sizes, volunteer involvement, facilities, communities, the list goes on. For this reason, activities that promote well-being for your staff need to be responsive to your nonprofit’s current reality and future goals.

What is your organization doing already to promote well-being in the summer and year-round? What ideas would you like to try out? Let me know in the comments!

 

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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Are you successfully sharing your data with your Board?

Have you ever wondered how to use all the data your organization collects to measure your success and report to your Board? How do you show whether the organization is doing a good job?

Organizations and their Boards define what a ‘good job’ looks like with a series of objectives. These objectives, known as strategic directions or goals, are included in an organization’s strategic plan. One way to measure these strategic directions is to examine how successfully the organization’s services are being delivered using the data your organization collects.

Volunteer Alberta has five strategic directions. One of our strategic directions is to ‘Facilitate knowledge exchange and access to learning opportunities to strengthen organizations’.

Using this strategic direction as an example, we’ll investigate two foundational considerations to report on meeting this strategic direction by using data that we collect. The key is to ensure the data tells a meaningful story to the Board.

Selecting a performance indicator

Web Stats1Do you want to tell your Board the number of participants at a training session? Or do you want to tell your Board about whether your clients are more skilled or confident following a training session?

The answer is… it all depends.

The rule of thumb is both. Report outputs when your initiative is new and you are just beginning to gather data. Report outputs and outcomes when your program or tactic has been in place for a reasonable period of time.

Outputs: the scale or number of actual activities that your organization undertook (ex. number of participants at the training session, or the number of training sessions). Outputs answer the question ‘What happened?’

Outcomes: the value or impact of your program (ex. what people got out of the training session). Outcomes answer the question ‘Why does it matter?’

When starting a new program or initiative (ex. a training session), the number of participants and sessions are meaningful for the Board. When a year or two of the training has passed, outcome-based measures become more relevant. By year two and onwards, the Board wants to know whether participants are more confident, for example, or can apply something new to their jobs as a result of the training. Regardless, outputs (the numbers) are always required for context as they show the scale of the service (and any growth).

Reporting the performance indicator

Using our data, outputs, and outcomes, how do we report to the Board on our progress and achievement of our strategic direction: ‘Facilitate knowledge exchange and access to learning opportunities to strengthen organizations’?

There are multiple programs and initiatives Volunteer Alberta works on to contribute to this strategic direction, and we report on several different performance indicators to share our progress with the Board. One performance indicator might be ‘% of participants who feel they can apply something new to their job that they learnt at the training session’.

Data over several years is especially powerful as it shows trends. If this indicator % reduces, then it may indicate that the training is not as useful as it once was, or alert us that it may be time to review and update the training material.

In addition to numbers, data also includes additional context and stories. Ex. Did the facilitator change? Is there a particularly inspiring story from a participant that we can share? How is the organization’s communication plan impacting this particular training opportunity?

With the data your organization is already collecting, it’s likely that you have a good amount of outputs and outcomes, along with additional information that you can share with your Board and truly measure the success of your work against your organization’s strategic directions.

Have more questions about reporting data to your Board? Ask in the comment section!

Susan Gulko
Volunteer Alberta Board of Directors

Header photo attribution: WOCinTech
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Advocacy: Networking for a Cause

prl_logoThis week we are sharing a blog by Meredith Bratland, Communications Coordinator at Parkland Regional Library. The article originally appeared in their publication, Quatrefoil Summer 2016.

While Meredith focuses on advocacy for libraries, we believe her insights are valuable for nonprofits in any subsector!


Advocacy work can be a hard sell. I’ve been conducting advocacy workshops with library boards throughout the region for three years and sometimes it sounds more political, complicated, and quite frankly like hard work than it truly is.

Basically, advocacy is networking for a cause.

Advocate (verb): publically recommend or support.

Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.

When advocating for your library in the public sphere, you are still getting many of the benefits of traditional networking. It can be even more fulfilling because you are not just focusing on developing your own career but developing public services for your community as well.

Advocating and networking have these common characteristics that go together like peanut butter and jam:

  • Meeting and connecting with community members.
  • Building your list of contacts within the community.
  • Investing in your social capital.

Business writer Margaret Heffernan explains that “social capital is a form of mutual reliance, dependency, and trust. It hugely changes what people can do. This is more true now than ever. It’s impossible in modern organizations to know everything that you need to know. What you need are lots of people who know lots of different things. Collectively you’re smarter.”[1]

By creating a network of people in your community and letting them know you’re an advocate for the library, you can impact your library’s goals significantly because of the opportunities that arise from involving other perspectives.

Advocacy quoteThere are a few tips that make networking easier for introverts and extroverts:[2]

  1. Approach someone confidently.
  2. Have your elevator pitch, a concise 30 second message, ready and polished.
  3. Ask thoughtful questions.
  4. Be genuinely interested.
  5. Say something memorable that emphasizes or demonstrates your elevator speech.
  6. Follow up!

It can be even more straightforward by creating an advocacy plan. In the workshop, we discuss and create key messages that can be your elevator speech. We identify stories, which would act as a memorable tidbit that emphasizes the key message or elevator speech. Your entire library board will be sharing a similar message and the chance of success increases exponentially because of the connections created in each of your separate networks.

Your social capital will rise and your library’s goals and visibility in the community will improve too.

Meredith Bratland
Parkland Regional Library

 

[1] Career advice for millennials (and really, anyone) from Margaret Heffernan by Juliet Blake
[2] Practical Networking Tips for Introverts by Maricella Herrera Avila
Header photo attribution: WOCinTech

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