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Are We Sleeping Through the Revolution? Tough Questions About the Next Evolution of Collaborative Problem Solving

As I sat down to write this piece, I admit I couldn’t find much motivation. Writing another blog about collective impact felt a bit like sitting down in the middle of a raging inferno to tinker with an idea. So instead, I listened. I listened to my own disquiet and decided to share the questions that I can’t seem to answer, in hopes that I can invite you to do the same.

tough collective impact questions

As I think about the world I want for my daughter I am struck, and overwhelmed, by the complexity of the problems that headline the news every day. Epic surges of refugees, overwhelming relief efforts, and complicated histories of racial inequity exploding in communities all over the United States, to name a couple. It takes an enormous effort to grapple with the types of challenges that are emerging today. However, I am finding that it takes more effort to maintain the fallacy that these challenges are not my problems.

The closing remarks of Tamarack’s 2015 Collective Impact Summit called on us to face the challenge of change:

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I believe we are in one of those great periods of social change now. We are grappling with what we have, or can develop, to address massive and complicated problems. Collective impact has been so well received because it begins to offer a roadmap out of our previous paradigms of problem solving. But, it’s a snap shot of one point in time on this journey. Let’s not get entrapped tinkering with this framework, let’s not sleep through the revolution. Let us keep pushing ourselves to define the next, and the next, and the next evolutions of collaborative problem solving.

The promise I see now is a hunger to have difficult conversation and a willingness to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and that we are all impacted by what we used to think of as “other people’s problems”. How do we move from a growing appetite for change and a growing awareness of the problems, to being successful in healing the parts of the world that we simply cannot abide?

Collective impact is a new frame and many people have rushed to apply it to persistent problems. However, in some cases I think we need to get clear on what the real problems are so we are not playing around the edges. So I ask, “What are the problems that we really need to solve?”

My previous post explored context, culture and equity, which was a big theme of the Tamarack Summit. Just as I think we may be missing some of the fundamental causes of problems, I think we are also missing big parts of the solution. So I ask you, “Who are you uncomfortable inviting to the table to solve the problem?

Al Etmanski noted, during Tamarack’s 2015 CI Summit, “the social problems we face are not just technical or environmental but cultural.” So I ask you, “What about the way we are living now is part of the problem we are trying to solve?”

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Mona Jones-Romansic

Mona Jones-Romansic

Mona is known as a highly intuitive and insightful consultant whose systems-focused approach surfaces the fundamental obstacles facing her clients rather than simply addressing symptomatic issues.\r\nHer facilitation style creates a safe space for her clients to reflect, turn towards challenges honestly and openly, and leverage their unrealized strengths for greater impact.