Five Good Ideas ®

Five Good Ideas for building a sustainable and resilient collaboration

Published on 08/05/2023

It can be hard sustaining a collaboration, because tackling community issues together creates challenges to partnership and momentum. But you can set up a collaboration for success. Focus on four areas—people, resources, process, and impact—and the factors that determine their quality, like leadership, funding, community engagement, and the ability to influence policy and systems that lead to collective change. When things do get hard (and they will), the collaboration’s resilience will be proven by its overall health and well-being, as well as its ability to adapt, shift, and change.

In this session, Liz Weaver and Mike Des Jardins of the Tamarack Institute share stories and provide helpful ideas about how to make a collaboration more sustainable, resilient, and impactful. They discuss how collaborations can develop a sustainable approach during the early phases of their work. They also pose the question: What really needs to be sustained and how might this work?

Session handout

Five Good Ideas

  1. Get agreement on how you define sustainability and what it is you are seeking to sustain.
  2. Consider the ten factors of sustainability with four core areas of people, process, resources, and impact.
  3. Focus on centering equity in the design, process, and impact of collaborative work to build sustainability.
  4. Be adaptable and resilient because collaboration and communities are changing every day.
  5. Include funders in the conversation about sustainability – what are your shared and mutual goals.



Presentation transcript

Please note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Now, while many of you are dialing in from across Canada, and in fact, I looked at the RSVP and I think we have it covered from St. John’s to Victoria. I’m speaking to you from Toronto. And I’d like to begin today’s session by acknowledging the land where we live and work and recognizing our responsibilities and relationships where we are. As we are meeting and connecting virtually today, I encourage you to acknowledge the place you occupy. I also acknowledge that I am and Maytree is on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot peoples. And is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. We acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit. This territory is covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which is an agreement between the Haudenosaunee, and the Ojibwe, and Allied Nations to peaceably share and care for the lands and resources around the Great Lakes.

Now please let me introduce today’s session and speakers. We all know that to make big change happen, we often need to work in collaboration. But it can be hard to sustain a collaboration because tackling community issues together creates challenges to partnership and momentum. But you can set up a collaboration for success, Liz Weaver and make Mike Des Jardins will discuss how to focus on four areas, people, resources, process, and impact, and the factors that determine their quality. They’ll touch on leadership, funding, community engagement, and the ability to influence policy and systems that lead to collective change because when things get hard, and they certainly will, the collaboration’s resilience will be proven by its overall health and wellbeing as well as its ability to adapt, shift and change.

Liz and Mike will share stories and provide helpful ideas about how to make a collaboration more sustainable, resilient, and impactful. They will explain how collaborations can develop a sustainable approach during a early phases of their work. They will also pose the question, what really needs to be sustained and how might that work? Liz is the co CEO of the Tamarack Institute where she’s leading the Tamarack Learning Center, which is focused on advancing community change leadership. Mike is Tamarack’s manager of sustainability and development for communities and building new futures. It’s now my pleasure to introduce them both to you and to hand it over to them. So Liz and Mike, over to you.

Liz Weaver: Thanks so much, Elizabeth. I think we’re going to hand it to Mike first to introduce and then we’ll talk about our five big ideas. So over to you Mike.

Mike Des Jardins: Thanks, Elizabeth. Hi everyone, and thank you for joining us today. I too like to acknowledge that I live, work, and play on the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations, and within the lands covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum agreement. So a bit of a background before we get into today’s five ideas. The ideas that we generated for today’s webinar are based on content from a recent publication of the Tamarack Institute called 10: A Guide for Building a Sustainable and Resilient Collaboration. We’ll touch on some of the main themes of the guide through the five ideas, but we encourage you to read through the guide when you have some time. We’ve included a link in the resources section of today’s handout. Tamarack has spent the last 20 years supporting place-based work in over 400 communities across Canada and around the world. We’ve learned a lot during that time about what collaborations can do to be sustainable and resilient and also what challenges them.

So Liz and I decided to develop a 10 guide to unpack the concepts of sustainability and resilience, and break down the information into edible chunks, which include 10 assessment questions, 10 factors of sustainability and 10 practices for resilience, 10 inspiring stories, 10 resources, 10 ideas for funders, which is unique to this guide and 10 ideas for going deeper. A 10 guide is a popular publication format at the Tamarack Institute that introduces people to what is usually a timely or emergent concept by sharing great ideas, stories, and resources to help people better understand it. So past additions include engaging people with living experience and navigating the future of work for youth and employers. But for this to develop this guide, Liz and I engaged in an advisory committee that included representatives of collaborations, funders, community-based practitioners and thought leaders to share their wisdom with us.

We connected with collaborations across Canada to share their stories of sustainability and resilience. And we research what others have been contributing to the conversation about these two very important topics. So with that out of the way, let’s get into the five ideas now and I’ll be gutting us through the first two. So the first one is get agreement on how you define sustainability and what it is you’re seeking to sustain. So this is really important to do from the very beginning of any collaborative effort. It’s foundational. It’s also important to check in on your collective definition of sustainability along the collaborative journey to make sure that it is consistent and that there is still a common understanding of it. You need to build a common understanding of what sustainability means because each collaboration that you were involved in will have a unique context to consider.

Each collaboration’s definition may have some common elements, but the overall definition will vary quite widely. Not only is it important to define sustainability for your collaboration so that it helps to guide your long-term planning, but how you do it is just as important. You need to involve all of the collaborative actors in your network, including leaders, partners, funders, people with lived experience and members of the broader community. Be patient in how you approach the process together and be intentional about who you include and how you share power to support everyone. In contributing equitably, we’ve developed a tool to help your collaboration work together to define what sustainability means to you. Assess your sustainability using the 10 factors that we’re going to identify today. Identify strengths to leverage in areas for growth and develop a sustainability action plan. So a link to this tool called the sustainability self-assessment tool is included in today’s handout as well.

So let’s understand what sustainability and resilience are. When we talk about sustainability, we mean effectively resourcing a collaboration with the people, the processes, the resource investments, and the impact approaches to have the power and capacity to continuously respond to identified community issues and create a lasting impact. When we talk about resilience, we mean the internal health and wellbeing of a collaboration, including the ability to adapt to emerging opportunities and to respond to unanticipated challenges. Liz will go deeper into resilience shortly. The concepts of sustainability and resilience are tied together and can affect one another. And when we talk about how the concepts of sustainability and resilience apply to collaboration, I like to use the analogy of a tree. So if you can imagine a tree with a tree trunk, that’s really the collaboration, the trunk. It’s the people, the structure, the organization of the collaboration. And then you have the branches and the leaves that come out of the trunk, which are the projects, the programs and the activities that support the collaboration’s compelling case.

These can change some getting more growth than others and some dying off over time. And then there’s the roots. They’re contributing sustainability factors and resilience practices used by a collaboration. They collectively feed and support the trunk to continue to thrive. And so the roots really are the foundation for the collaboration. All the trees or collaborations are part of a forest or ecosystem of collaborations that coexist and support each other in working towards systems change. So hopefully that visual helps you to understand things a little. It helped me when I imagined it up. Another way we like to support understanding things at Tamarack is through storytelling. We spoke to 10 collaborations across Canada to learn from and include their stories in the 10 guide. Each has defined and approached sustainability uniquely based on their community’s needs and advancing their compelling case. Stories bring theory to life, and so we think these are very important in sharing how sustainability and resilience plays out on the ground.

I certainly invite you to read all of the stories in our guide, but I’m going to touch on just a couple of them now. The first one is Food First NL. It’s a collaboration working with communities in New Finland and Labrador, to ensure everyone has access to affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate food since 1998, since they are building capacity at and across all levels in that includes individuals, local communities, and at systems level. By scaling out, up, and deep to create sustainability. They scale up through advocacy work in shifting systems that impact food security, which in turn impacts laws and policy. They scale deep through partnership development and supporting innovation through social enterprise, which then impacts on cultural roots. They scale out to build sustainability and capacity and grow the food security movement in local communities across the province.

The other example I’ll give is Calgary Reeds. It’s a collaboration that grew over 20 years to support the community’s need to improve early literacy with the goal that all children in Calgary and across Alberta would become joyful and confident readers. They’ve looked at sustainability differently and taken risk to refocus their collaborative efforts by strategically imploding their structure. It was very useful, the structure that they had. Lots of programs were developed and accessed by the community around literacy, but their structure had become limiting despite providing that key programming. So they have embraced adaptability and flexibility and recognized that sustainability isn’t always about maintaining status quo or scaling existing collaborative work. But sometimes it also means returning to core values of a collaboration and taking new paths that better align with them. So as you can see from these two examples, sustainability can look very different from collaboration to collaboration.

And Calgary reads highlights the fact that not everything should be or needs to be sustained. Sometimes projects or programs have served their function or purpose and it’s time to move on from them. Or sometimes the work can be taken over by others in the community who are better positioned to implement them so that the collaboration can focus on its core mandate. Anything to add here, Liz, before I move on to the second one?

Liz Weaver: I think those are really good stories and they really share the kind of nuances around sustainability. While the factors are relevant to every community, each community or each collaboration will implement them differently or think about them differently. So thanks for that, Mike. I think it’s good to see the two really different approaches. And in the guide there are 10 different approaches that people can learn from.

Mike Des Jardins: Excellent. Yeah, absolutely. The stories are very helpful for understanding the concepts. So now let’s talk about some of the factors that contribute to building sustainability. So the roots of my tree analogy with idea number two. Consider the 10 factors of sustainability with four core areas of people, process, resources, and impact. So in talking to folks, Liz and I identify 10 factors that collectively support building a sustainable collaboration. There’s no hierarchy to the importance of these factors, and they’re all equally important and in relation to one another. So they fall under four categories. People, these are about who to involve. And they include things like equity, and inclusion, and design, strong ties between partners, and broad community engagement. The next bucket is resources. These are about the investments that are required, and it includes things like having adequate human and financial resources and partners who are contributing to shared outcomes.

So these factors are the ones that people typically think of first when it comes to sustainability, because they include the money and the stuff to get things done. But sustainability is so much more than that. The next bucket is a process. These are about the why and the how of the collaboration, and include things like having a compelling case that drives the work forward, an ongoing reflection in learning as a collaboration. And finally, impact. These are about the effect and the influence of the collaborative effort and telling the story. And they include things like an approach informed by data and evidence, tracking and reporting, progress and impact, and influencing policy and systems change. These factors are all about demonstrating that nothing breeds success more than success. In our guide, you’ll find a detailed description of each of the 10 factors that I’ve just shared, and each of them has a specific set of actions that contribute toward building sustainability within a collaboration.

So for example, the factor that there are enough financial and human resources to achieve success includes actions like building a budget and funding plan, looking for resource commitments from partners, engaging with funders and investors. That’s something that actually Liz will talk about briefly two. And so one piece of advice about the factors that I would like to offer is that while often the least funded, the factors that involve people in process, they’re critical to investing. If you have inclusive equity centered processes, you’ll have the right people at the table who contribute their assets to the work of the collaborative effort, and then ultimately the resources in impact will flow from there. So start with the people in the process as you build your plan for sustainability. And finally, some things that we heard across all of the collaborations as they reflected on the sustainability factors in telling us their stories.

Equity is at the center of successful sustained collaborations, who the collaborative effort it supports and who it involves and how. Liz will expand on that in the next idea. Collective impact conditions tend to lend themselves to greater sustainability and resilience. The conditions just naturally reinforce sustainability. They capitalize on opportunities to strengthen their collaboration and break down silos to work collectively on a shared agenda. They tend to be values driven and purpose focused. They’re always thinking ahead to next steps and of their collaborative effort conducting sort of ongoing planning, so that they’re building that infrastructure to support their future needs. They see sustainability from an optimistic and abundance mindset rather than scarcity and competition. They seek out insecure, diverse funding that is longer term and flexible and are building relationships with funders to establish trust. And again, Liz will go into that a little bit with idea number five.

They recognize that not everything needs to be sustained. They know when something has run its course or where pieces of the work can be taken over by others in the community. They value and cultivate partnerships and strong community involvement and investment. And then ultimately, they recognize that they’re not perfect at planning for sustainability, and that there are areas whether there are factors or elements that they need to put effort into supporting. And so, one of them that I heard quite regularly in the stories was succession planning, both with staff and leadership. So that covers the factors. So now over to you, Liz, to guide us through the next three ideas.

Liz Weaver: Great. Thanks so much, Mike. And I find the first two ideas really quite compelling, the get agreement on how you define sustainability and what you are seeking to sustain and the factors really trying to understand the factors a bit more deeply. I’m going to speak to the third big idea, which is really about centering equity in the design and the process and in the collaborative work to build sustainability. And so this was the first sustainability factor, and I would say one of the ones that has driven the work at Tamarack from its very beginning, and one that we share in common with Maytree as well in terms of the poverty, the ending poverty work that Maytree is engaged in. And we really believe, and it came out in the stories as well, that the factor of centering equity in the design in the process is such a critical part of this work.

And so we know that in lots of collaborative efforts, you are seeking to change something in your community for the better. This is often something that might be a complex problem. If we think about the problem of poverty, or homelessness, or the two examples that you gave in terms of the stories making, reading joyful and lifelong, or addressing the broader social determinants of food and food access. All of these are complex problems where there are lots of people engaged in both addressing the problem but also looking for the solution. And we believe this as a critical part of this research, and it actually came out in lots of the stories that equity has to be at the center of this. We need to engage people who are being impacted directly by these issues and we have to understand how they are being impacted. What’s the data? What’s the evidence telling us? What’s their lived experience telling us? How are they navigating around the solutions or navigating towards solutions that work for them?

It can’t only be an academic exercise where we look at the literature. We actually have to engage our community in deep conversation. And that means engaging people with lived and living experience. And this actually takes us back to the first 10 guides that Tamarack developed, which is a guide about engaging people with lived in living experience and one that was developed by individuals with lived in living experience. And so equity at the center of the work really helps us understand the issue, the problem, the challenge, or the opportunity we’re trying to solve for when individuals are engaged in that conversation and particularly individuals who are being impacted by that issue every single day. So that’s a critical and perhaps the most important of the 10 factors or it’s kind of the foundation of the 10 factors upon which all the other factors build from, I would argue.

So it is one of those really important people factors, and when we engage in true and honest conversations. And we center equity in the thing that we’re trying to solve for the issue that we’re trying to solve for, we will have a better understanding of the issue and have greater opportunity to become sustainable and move towards success. The second one that I’m going to talk about, but the fourth big idea in this session is how to become adaptable and resilient. And so you referred to resilience as being part of the roots of the tree analogy that you shared. And so our big idea for this session is that collaborations need to understand that things won’t necessarily always go to plan, that there will be curves in the road. Some people will join you at the beginning and then leave as your collaboration moves along.

There’ll be changes in funding opportunities, there’ll be changes in elected governments or government priorities. There might be changes in funding priorities. And so the idea is to build in this ability to be adaptable and resilience because we know that collaborations change over time and communities change over time. And as we talked about 10 factors for collaboration, we identify in the guide 10 resilience practices. And these are really focused on not getting to perfect but getting to good enough. And sometimes where we have seen collaboration stumble is where they try to get the perfect definition of this thing or the other thing where they spend time spinning around the issue, not willing to make a decision or a path forward. And we’re saying that get to good enough. Good enough is good enough and perfect is the enemy of progress sometimes. And so we really want you to think about what’s a good enough plan to move forward, where is the evidence? What is the community telling us? And then how do we move forward?

You need build your adaptability and your capacity for change and really understand that change is happening every day. And so the degree to which the folks around the collaboration table can shift in is really, really important. And this also ties into building partner capacity. So who are the people around the table that have navigated changes recently that might bring that experience to you? So really draw from your collaborative partners and from your collaborative community. I think it’s in that way building from the top and the bottom is really understanding the shifts and changes that are happening in real time. And then the final thing that I would say that is a really important resilience practice is to understand what assets already exist in your community, and then say, “Hey, how do we build from existing assets rather than starting from new?” Because existing assets can give you scope and scale much more quickly. It can help you kind of move your collaboration forward and it really recognizes the capacity that already exists in your community. Mike, are there any of the resilience practices that really shine for you?

Mike Des Jardins: Yeah, well, so just on the last point that you made that… I did some training and they called it collective enoughness, where it’s recognizing all those assets that are already in your community. And then on top of the fact that you’re tapping into those assets when you recognize that people have them, you move out of a scarcity mindset which allows you to start seeing more possibilities. There’s a whole mind biology piece around that, but I found that quite fascinating. So I certainly encourage that. I would probably say my big one would be surrendering the need for control. I’m a bit of a perfectionist myself, so I do have some issues around that, but it is absolutely necessary when you’re doing collaborative work and thinking about sustainability because you need to do it with others. It can’t be competition or duplication. We need to work alongside others to really scale and drive systems change.

Liz Weaver: And then just building on that, our final big idea is to involve funders in the conversation about sustainability and involve them from the very beginning. And I might even add to that big idea, involve funders and your community in the conversation about sustainability. And we’ve got a couple of ideas to share with you around this big idea. And one is that you want to start from the very beginning. If you’re approaching a funder to resource all or a part of your collaborative work, ask them what they mean by sustainability and what does sustainability look like to them? Is it short-term, is it long-term? Is it deep? Is it wide? So really invite them into the conversation and also invite them to learn alongside you. And as you are beginning to test these ideas with your collaboration table, invite the funder into that conversation as well.

You want to share your practice of sustainability, the good things that you’re doing, your strengths as well as your weaknesses, both with your funder and your community. And who knows, perhaps they have some answers that can help you navigate some of your weak points or some of your pain points, or they might have some resources that they can point you to. You might want to present to funders a way of thinking about investing in longer term sustainability in different kinds of ways. So we point to investing in backbone or infrastructure, looking at multi-year sustainability versus… I had my clock on to tell me to spend time on this, not too much time. But invest in your funder, invest in participatory grant making practices in collective innovation practices. So there are some real ways that funders might be able to think a little bit differently about how they might fund this work or resource this work.

And then finally, I think we want to ask funders to learn together about sustainability. So how might we bring, if we have a number of different funders that are resourcing our table or a number of different community organizations resourcing our collaborate collaboration table, how do we get them to work together to learn together, to have these conversations about sustainability, about resilience, about what we’re hoping for in terms of community change and impact and how we might get there together. And so don’t have the conversation only around your collaboration table. Really look to engage as many people, including funders, including key community partners in this conversation around funding, sustainability, resilience, and really at the end of the day, effective collaboration practices. So I think at this point we will turn it back to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Thank you, Liz and Mike. That was terrific and just packed full of ideas. Obviously we only said five and you had 10 of everything. And so there was all kinds of math that had to happen to get it into the 25 minutes. I encourage people in the audience to, if you have questions, to begin to put them into the Q&A box. I already see two there. And I’m going to pick up with the second question because it really picks up where you were, Liz. And it begins to ask questions about engaging funders effectively in this kind of work. And it’s a question I think many organizations struggle with. How do you invite funders to talk about sustainability when they talk about pilots and never sort of getting past that, the sort of pilot electrification or of work and that this is just a common concern, frustration, hold back for so many ideas and organizations. So how do we move past pilot to long-term sustainability? And how do you actually… You can say move funders to there, but how do you move them there?

Liz Weaver: Yeah, it’s a really good question, Elizabeth and whoever provided it. I think funding happens along a continuum. So not every funder is going to want to fund pilots. There certainly are funders that fund pilots. There are funders that might fund second stage opportunities, and then there are funders that fund third, fourth, and scaling kind of opportunities. And so I think if I was doing this work in community, and we are at Tamarack, I’d want to kind of map out who the list of funders are that we have in our community and where do they sit on that continuum and maybe even have a conversation with them about saying, “Hey, we see that you, community foundation, most of your money goes here. United Way, your money goes here. Other funders, your money goes here. We’re wanting to do this work. We know it’ll take a couple of years to do it. Would you consider bridge funding across different elements of the work so that we can scale it up and get to real impact?”

And I think if we have that kind of conversation early on with funders or seek to understand where they sit on a funding continuum, we can be far more successful if we’re working at collaborative change and impact. So it is really about having conversations and maybe they’re not open to the conversation at the very beginning. But let’s kind of proceed with it and see that we’ve done a little bit of our due diligence in terms of mapping, seeing what they’ve invested in in previous times, and then saying, “Hey, is this something that you’re even open to having a conversation about?” Mike, anything you want to add?

Mike Des Jardins: And I think we should be encouraged that we’re starting to see a shift into trust-based philanthropy, where foundations, I at least think foundations are leading the way on building the relationships with their fundees and making it a long-term relationship versus a one-off project experience. And then there’s examples of the circle which has really turned funding on its head. And instead of people applying for funding, funders are being asked to apply to fund the needs that elders’ advisor are what the community needs. So it’s flipping things. And I think we’re just starting to see that shift happening in the philanthropy world.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Can you just clarify, someone put a question in the chat, what is the circle? Not everyone is aware of the circle.

Mike Des Jardins: Yeah, I will. I’ll put a link and I’d invite people to read it over themselves.

Elizabeth McIsaac: It is an indigenous focused group around philanthropy, right?

Mike Des Jardins: Correct. So it’s a leadership of the elders who make the decisions. So they put out the call for funders to invite them to apply to fund what their needs are, which is really the opposite of what it’s typically the funding scenario.

Elizabeth McIsaac: I also want to just pick up a bit of what you were saying, Liz, and it’s, you talked about starting the conversation with funders. And just to be clear, I’m the funder in this conversation, a funder in this conversation. But I think it’s really important for it to be a conversation and to build relationship. And does the funder have an interest in the collaboration as being part of the collaboration? I think the less transactional the relationship is with the funder, the deeper that relationship can go. And I think you naturally begin to see a qualitative change in their engagement in the goals and the change that you’re trying to achieve.

Liz Weaver: I would absolutely agree. And the point that you just made, Elizabeth, was the point that we had from funders who participated in the advisory panel for the development of the 10 guide. They certainly encouraged a more relational kind of approach and a shared learning kind of approach. Now, not every funder will want to go on that journey with you, and then you want to think about is this the right funder for the work that we’re trying to move forward? But certainly periodic check-ins, periodic opportunities to learn together for the funders who want to be involved in the conversation in a more proactive way. I think that that can be really helpful.

And then I think the other thing that I would say is to look beyond the funding. Because funders can bring, and philanthropic organizations of any sort can bring much more than funding. They can bring their relationships, they can bring their knowledge, they can bring their perspective of the systems that they’re working in and with. They can convene other partners to the table. So again, when you’re thinking about that relationship, really think about what is it? How can we enrich each other? And how can we leverage the capacities that any of the partners around the table? Including philanthropic organizations. Any of the partners around the table can really deeply engage with the work.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Great. There’s a lot of questions coming in, so we’re going to start to move more quickly. I’m just trying to see where to go next. Just staying on the grant making part for a second, then we’ll move to other themes. You spoke about participatory grant making and someone missed the second part of that. So are you able to hit rewind on yourself?

Liz Weaver: Yeah, so I talked about participatory grant making and innovation grant making. So one of the projects that we were involved in. There, we were able to work with the funder to set up not only the resourcing of the collaboratives, but also a special innovation fund that the collaboratives had access to, which was a small amounts of seed funding to test out a good idea of one sort or another. And I love that idea because it enables community partners or collaboratives to prototype new ideas to test something small before they invest heavily. And not every idea you need to take to scale. And so this really gave us the opportunity to prototype before we figured out which ideas really got to be taken to scale. So participatory grant making is really driven by community in terms of the types of grants that would be allocated out in a community innovation grant making is allowing that or enabling some of that prototyping.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Great. So now just shifting a little bit to the role of government, both as funder, but other as well. And this is from a provincial perspective, outside of being engaged by community, how can government step forward to take a proactive role in this kind of work? Typically, the mindset has been, “Give us money and then get out of the way.” But is that really the best way to move forward?

Liz Weaver: Do you want to start, Mike, and I can add in?

Mike Des Jardins: I would just simply say that government needs to follow the same process we’re suggesting for the rest of the philanthropic world that we’re expecting long-term relationships. And as Liz mentioned, all those other things that government could bring to the table, they’ve got connections, and they have an understanding of what’s going on beyond the scope of what you might be working on, and they can make those connections for us.

Liz Weaver: The only thing that I might add is under one of the people factors around sustainability, we talk about the role of people in this work and the move from buy-in to ownership. And I do think that government does work on election cycles, which is part of their reality. So you have to acknowledge that. But there are always entrepreneurs, people who are either elected officials, or staff of government that are willing to see slightly beyond the election cycle, or might give you a window into whatever level of government you are targeting, or your collaboration work is targeting. And so really pay attention to who those entrepreneurs are, and make them your friends, and really help them understand the work and how the work might be having an impact on the community. We’re all collaboration is about trying to get to better community outcomes. And so that’s what we have in common.

Elizabeth McIsaac: And so often the system change that we’re trying to achieve requires government to make the change happen. And I’d also just add to that in terms of breaking down, and I think you just did that a little bit, government is not one homogenous thing. There are political actors, there’s political staffers, there’s bureaucrats, there’s different people with different functions and abilities to engage in different ways. So that’s great. So Mike, you mentioned the need to come from a sense of abundance. Many of the collaborations I’m part of… This is the person, not me. Many of the collaborations I’m part of working in atmosphere, very limited resources and have an aversion to duplication and inefficiency in wasting time. Starting a collaboration can be threatening because it triggers these aversions. How do you get past this?

Mike Des Jardins: So I mean it’s building trust relationships first and foremost. I think that collaborations are only successful when trust exists between the actors. And so that’s the very first piece is that you should have those relationships established. But I would suggest that you need to do sort of an asset mapping and see what’s out there because I think people would be surprised. There’s a lot of this sense of competition, but when you map out exactly what people have to offer, it’s not exactly the same thing. And so, when you map it out, you look at… Those people would see it as an opportunity to share their resource versus the opposite where you would think that people would be trying to own it and hold it back. So I would say build a trust and then also do some really good asset mapping.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Great.

Liz Weaver: I think just as we ask the question, what needs to be sustained and how, and do we even need to sustain this beyond the collaboration, I think at the front end we should ask, is this collaboration really needed in our community or are people already engaged in this work? And that’s where the asset mapping comes in really importantly as a key first step because if there are folks that are already working in the area, maybe we join them versus starting something brand new.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Great. So another question which I was also thinking I wanted to hear more from you about, can you go a little bit further on the concept of centering equity? And I know you talked about in the presentation, but just a bit more texture to it would be great.

Liz Weaver: Yeah. So in the ending poverty work and the building youth futures work that we have done at Tamarack, we know that poverty’s very complex. And it looks different in every single community in which poverty exists, which is every community across Canada. So in order for us to deeply understand and tackle this complex issue, we do of course need data, we need evidence. But we need to have real and honest conversations with people with lived in living experience of that issue in the community because they are the ones for whom they know. They know the reality of how poverty is impacting their lives on a daily basis. They’re understanding how to navigate the systems or also what systems are presenting them with the most pain. And systems over time, develop and become more and more complex. And so I think centering equity really understand understanding from a lived experience perspective, both the challenges that individuals are facing and the opportunities that might present themselves really helps us get clarity around the problem that we’re trying to solve for, but also begins to illuminate some of the early paths towards resolution.

And so, that’s such a critical part. And an additional part of that conversation I think is to really engage in this idea that those of us that are service providers, those of us that are funders, those of us that work in government or the business community are contributing to the problem as well as much as we can contribute to the solution. And so centering equity looks at all of us and our unique roles around these collaborative tables, both as having some ideas around solutions. But also a really open and honest conversation about how we’re contributing to the problem as it currently exists because we exist within systems. And so I think that centering equity is about engaging the voice of people with lived in living experience, looking deeply at the demographic data and then having those conversations, those really open and honest conversations about what we each do to contribute to the problem. And then where are the levers that we have that might be able to contribute to some solutions?

Elizabeth McIsaac: Great.

Mike Des Jardins: And it’s worth the time in the investment because the outcomes will be stronger when you are inclusive and equitable in your approach. The other thing I would just suggest is that there’s a bunch of things that you need to do at the very beginning to ensure a level playing field for people to participate at their level. So whether that’s mentoring them into a leadership role, it could be taking care of the basics that they need, whether it’s transportation to get to meetings, child minding, all of those sorts of things to ensure that people are able to contribute at the same level as people who are potentially paid to be around that table too.

Liz Weaver: Yeah. And I think that’s a really good reminder that we have to consider things like how are we compensating people for their knowledge, and their wisdom, and their shared, and lived experience? What are we going to be doing differently to engage in those conversations? Does it mean different meeting times? Does it mean different meeting locations? Does it mean putting into place, enabling practices? And I think all of those things are critical to really, as you said, might create the kind of level playing field where all folks can participate in the conversation.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Great. Great answers. Thank you. Someone is wondering about measuring impact in particular in terms of systems change. So that could be a whole separate session, and I think we’ve had one before with Mark Cabaj. But sometimes you might be doing work at the community level, but hoping that it might lead to long-term policy and systems change. Do you have strategies for measuring that kind of impact?

Liz Weaver: Yeah, it is really interesting. If you look at some of the collective impact work around evaluating impact, they talk about impact happening over three periods of time. And so if you think about collaboration happening over a three to five year period, for example, for some collaborations there might be the formative stage. Which is really to what degree are we effectively meeting together and making sure that all voices are being heard and that all those enabling factors. So that could be the first six months to a year. Then you look at behavior changes. So to what degree is the work of the collaborative really shifting behaviors. Whether it’s having more people participate in a program or service, or participate in the thinking, or shifting how they’re working collaboratively together, or shifting how resources are coming into the community as a result. So what are the behavior changes that we’re observing? And then what are we doing that is actually changing the lives of the folks impacted by the issue that we’re trying to solve for?

So that’s the kind of two to three years. And then the final level of evaluation really looks at system policy and population level impacts. So has the system shifted in the areas that we hope the system would shift in? Have we shifted policies? And what policies? And policies can happen at every single level. As you know, Elizabeth, they can happen at an organizational level. So to what degree is our organization shifting its own internal policies? To what degree is our municipal, or provincial, or federal government policy shifting? And then what does that look like in terms of population level change? So the idea that the folks at the Collective Impact Forum say is that at different stages in a collaborative, you’re probably going to be evaluating different things. Tamarack’s put one more layer of complexity on this and have talked about a multilayer framework.

So if you want to get to systems and population level impacts, you want to think about, okay, so to what degree are we working better together as a collaborative? How are the prototypes leading us to population level impact? What are some of the shifts that we’re seeing in the system and are we leveraging those shifts in the system? And then how do we nudge the system purposefully together? So it takes that idea of shifting over time, but it puts it into a multilayer framework saying, “Hey, can we document across these five layers changes that are happening in real time?”

And I think then we always have to be asking ourselves that really tough question. Are we doing busy work or are we doing work that is leading to population level change and to policy and system level impacts. Because we get involved in a lot of busy work. But it’s that population level work that we want to really focus on and maybe drop some of the busy work to say, “Hey, this one is making a big difference. This is where we should be putting our eggs.” But we’re happy to share with you and with everybody that’s on the call today, a resource around the multilayer framework.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Great. Mike, did you want to add anything?

Mike Des Jardins: Well, I think we just need to get better at telling our story of impact as well. I’ve been working with lots of collaborations and I’m noticing a trend that people don’t sell themselves. We just have to sell the good things that we’re doing. And so, one, you mentioned Mark Cabaj, I’ll throw in his line, no stories without data and no data without stories. And it’s true. We need to use that formula and get better at selling what we’re doing.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Right. A related question, and it prompted me as you were talking about that, Liz. Is there a time when you step back and say, is it the right collaboration still? Do we need to rethink who’s here? Are we headed to the right change? Or has the change changed in the course of what we’ve been doing? So is there a good process for prompting that or enabling that self-critical analysis?

Liz Weaver: Such a great question. I would say annually you should be reflecting on the degree to which if you use a theory of change or whatever approach you use, you want to look at what has happened with us as a collaborative table internally, what has shifted for us. And then what is the external environment doing and what has shifted in the external environment? And then to what degree do we change or are we even relevant anymore? And then if we’re not seen to be relevant anymore, how do we end purposefully and positively for our collaborative table? How do we create a good point for reflection?

I wrote a paper that you can find on our collaborative governance series called Collaboration Beginnings and Endings. And I think we’re very good at the beginnings. We are pretty lousy at the endings. And so I do think it’s such a really good question, Elizabeth, because just as a question around sustainability, the place that we started, not everything has to be sustained and collaborations, when they have done the majority of their work or when they have lost the energy to really move the work forward. Maybe it’s a time to stop to rest, to give us some breathing space and then see what emerges. Maybe something in the future, maybe nothing. But yeah, how do we end well?

Elizabeth McIsaac: Yeah, declare victory and move on.

Liz Weaver: Exactly. Exactly.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Sorry, Mike, you were going to jump in.

Mike Des Jardins: Well, just as part of the handout, we did include the ecocycle of collaborations in there, so we don’t have time to go through at all. But there are traps that you should be keeping an eye out for in those phases that Liz was mentioning. So that’ll give people a chance to dive deeper into that.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Okay. There’s a number more questions. We are at 1:56. There’s one question. I think it’s a useful clarification and it’s a short one. But how do you differentiate between partnership and collaboration? And is it important to differentiate those?

Liz Weaver: Mike, do you want to start?

Elizabeth McIsaac: In two minutes or less.

Mike Des Jardins: Yeah. So really quickly from my perspective would be, you need to define what those mean with specific stakeholders, and that’s the most important piece. So then you can define what a partnership and a collaboration actually is. Liz.

Liz Weaver: Yeah, I would say that’s very true. Sometimes a partnership is fewer people working in partnership to deliver a specific program or service. And sometimes a collaboration can be that as well, but could be longer term and dealing with a complex issue. So I think you’re absolutely right. One of the things that we do is we jump into a word and we assume everybody else thinks about the word the same way that we think about the word. And we do that at our apparels. So I would say define what partnership means for us. Define what collaboration means for us and what does it mean in the context that we’re working in.

Elizabeth McIsaac: Yeah, it never hurts to clarify.


Mike Des Jardins

Manager of Sustainability & Development for Communities Building Youth Futures (CBYF), Tamarack Institute

Mike Des Jardins is the Manager of Sustainability & Development for Communities Building Youth Futures (CBYF), Tamarack Institute. In this role, Mike is responsible for sustainability planning, researching, and sharing best practices related to the sustainability and resilience of youth collective impact work, coaching CBYF communities on developing and implementing sustainability strategies, and telling the story of impact. Mike is a certified teacher in the province of Ontario and has worked directly with youth through program and service delivery and indirectly supporting youth by creating the system conditions to support their learning, development, and well-being.

Liz Weaver

Co-CEO, Tamarack - An Institute for Community Engagement

Liz leads the Tamarack Learning Centre providing strategic direction for the design and development of learning activities. The focus of the Tamarack Learning Centre is to work with community leaders to co-generate knowledge and become a collective force for social change. Liz is one of Tamarack’s popular 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.

Previous to this, Liz led the Vibrant Communities Canada team and provided coaching, leadership and support to community partners across Canada. In her career, she was the Director for the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction (a collective impact initiative), which was recognized with the Canadian Urban Institute’s Leadership Award in 2009. She has also held leadership positions with YWCA Hamilton, Volunteer Hamilton and Volunteer Canada. Liz has a Masters of Management through McGill University. Liz was awarded a Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2002 for her leadership in the voluntary sector and has received awards and recognition from the City of Hamilton, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Parks and Recreation Ontario and Volunteer Canada.