Systems Change through Collaboration

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It’s no surprise that many of the people who are drawn to systems thinking conferences are in leadership positions for large-scale, collaborative projects.  Goals to do things like ‘improve educational outcomes for at-risk youth’ or ‘increase access to quality healthcare for the uninsured’ are systemic in nature and require collaborative thinking and action by its leadership and participants.

I’ve been fortunate to engage with many different collaborations over the years–as a participant, as a leader, as a consultant.  While the idea of working together is compelling and often touted in nonprofit, government and philanthropic literature as the solution for handsall of our social ills, the call to collaboration is not for the faint of heart.  It requires that we first deepen our understanding about our systems, and about each other—which requires an appreciation for multiple viewpoints and interests.  We must then create a shared vision for what’s possible, while avoiding the seductive trap of a false sense of like-mindedness.  Third, we need to approach implementation as an adaptive dance of doing, learning and communicating with each other.  Next, we evaluate, or step back to check on results thus far—which looks a lot like returning, at a new level, to deepening our understanding of our systems and ourselves.

If this is challenging, time-consuming and messy, we are on the right track. 

Starting this week, I’ll be writing on topics of collaboration and systems change, and highlighting some promising models and resources along the way.  Stay tuned.

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