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Roundtables as Backbone Organizations: An Example from Germany

We recently came across the work of the Bürgerstiftung Stuttgart, the Community Foundation of Stuttgart, Germany, which is leveraging the idea of structured roundtables to catalyze multi-sector action on social issues.

A recent essay, by Irene Armbruster, a Board Member of the Breuninger Stiftung, which is funding the initiative, discusses the characteristics of effective roundtables, including:

  • A clear, unambiguous goal;

  • A shared attitude of among participants;

  • A “host and caretaker” that ensures the roundtable is an event participants look forward to; and

  • Shared assumptions, including the “deep conviction that people are in fact capable of creating shared solutions.”

Importantly, Dr. Armbruster notes that “real consensus can only be reached if every participant can freely question and critique the ideas on the table. They also should be able and willing to follow up on their own commitments to the group.” In this way, roundtables provide “a level playing field for participants. Nobody should be able to pull rank. Every contribution has to be equally valued and appreciated. There are no hierarchies. Donors are just as important as volunteers sharing their experiences or experts chipping in with their knowledge.”

We were struck by how similar these characteristics are to the “essential intangibles” of collective impact we discussed last week.

As always, we’d love to hear from you: To what extent are community foundations natural “backbone organizations” for collective impact initiatives? What has been your experience with structured roundtables? What criteria are essential to make them effective?