Taking Off the Training Wheels

It’s been almost a month since FSG held its collective impact conference with Stanford Social Innovation Review in California. More than 300 attendees arrived and engaged in standing room-only capacity, and 800 more attended the sessions that were streamed live from the event.

A month is also typically about the time that the energy and momentum of a conference can wane. The excitement, promises, new calls to action, the connections made and conversations started begin to fade into the weave of our busy lives, pressing demands and deadlines, other imperatives, and new opportunities on which to focus. But not so with collective impact. Instead, we’re hearing about and seeing a community grow: hungry to learn and practice collective impact, at all levels of entry and ability.

The momentum and energy around this idea set of collective impact has morphed into discussions of how to take the next steps in implementing collective impact initiatives, how to identify and define ‘backbone’ organizations, how to develop technology-enabled roadmaps and solutions, and many more topics…related to finding ways to transcend from the concept and framework level of these long-term and complex systems changes into concrete, practical applications.

So how do we capture and sustain the incredible energy and dedication to learning and progress that I witnessed at this event? How do we continue to become more proficient, more skilled and more confident in our application of collective impact, beyond the aspirational concept and framework?

For each of us, I suspect dropping our training wheels in collective impact will be a little different, much like how each of us learned how to ride a ‘two-wheeler’. Like many kids I couldn’t WAIT to ride my bike (a blue stingray with a banana seat and monkey bar handles) without training wheels as quickly as I could. Same was true for my next door neighbor, Stan, from a family of four active boys. Stan dropped his trainers, took off one morning with his brothers down our street and proceeded to take a dive bomb over his handle bars, and with a bleeding head was rushed to the ER. He was fine, but his adventure certainly made a mark on me when I saw his bandaged head and bruised body come home. I decided to take it a little more carefully on our graveled street, not stopping in my pursuit of learning, but distilling the experience of another and modifying as I applied this learning to my own case.

We may come to learn, adapt and adopt an idea or a practice more or less quickly. Some of us may need to keep one trainer on the ground. Others may be ready to drop both trainers and race down the roadway. Others may drop the wheels, take them back again, and go through an iterative process while learning how to ‘do’ collective impact successfully.

None of us knows exactly where we will end up 3, 6, 18 months from now in our collective impact efforts. At FSG, we believe that this particular topic has struck a powerful chord in the psyche of the social sector, and we are dedicated to carrying the momentum further and farther still.

We want to learn more about your stories of “Collective Impact in Action” and figure out the best tools and ways to share them with each other and with the field. What the end product may look like, we’re not certain, but we know that the momentum of your interest in collective impact will help us keep our balance as we continue to pedal forward.

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