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Learning Circle 2017

On March 29th Youth CI held its second Learning Circle at Foundation House in Toronto. The learning circle practice comes from Indigenous traditions and is grounded in the value of honouring the collective wisdom of the members of the group present. The goal of the Youth CI Learning Circle was to create a space that allowed participants to drive their own learning and discussions about their experience leading Collective Impact projects, as well as provide an opportunity to learn about each other’s work.

The program team was excited to welcome over 30 participants from different Collective Impact initiatives that represented eight regions of Youth CI’s work in Ontario. Participants included Executive Directors, board members, youth leaders, project organizers and youth with lived experience.

Youth CI’s facilitators Lynn Fergusson and Sally Fazal of Social Impact Advisors kicked off the day by asking participants to think about some major themes that bubble up in their Collective Impact work: their challenges, their big “aha’s”, or other burning questions they have been waiting to discuss with other collectives. Many big themes filled the wall of the Foundation House boardroom, and these then formed the breakout discussion topics for the day.

These different conversations culminated in ten leading insights that can spark deeper conversations and help other groups engaging in Collective Impact. Here is a sample of some of the insights gathered that we hope can be useful advice for others building their initiatives and seeking to create large scale change:

  1. Clarity on the target outcome is key. A strong focus has the power to drive your initiative forward and hold your collective together. The issues can be complex, so choose a goal to start with and sequence your effort.
  2. Gather relevant data early in the process. Use it to build a business case for why organizations should participate in the Collective Impact initiative.
  3. Group turnover can be disruptive. Document your journey – where and when you started, why, your membership, your progress, where you are at now – so you can more easily get new members up to speed and not derail the group.
  4. Roles should be clearly defined and action steps delegated to move work ahead.  Be clear about whose role it is to move the strategy forward.
  5. Secure backbone support early, ideally with dedicated staff, to coordinate and maintain focus on this work. Consider hiring youth for this role.
  6. Youth engagement is critical. Ensure youth with lived experience have the supports they need to contribute and understand the implications of sharing their stories on various scales.
  7. Provide capacity building for youth early in the process to build towards engagement.  This work also supports building youth resiliency and other outcomes of many of the collectives.
  8. Engage large players to change the system. Approach school boards and other large institutions early, through agencies that are already partnered with the Board or individual school.
  9. Communicate with and engage the broader community. Regularly refresh what collective impact means locally in terms of mandates, funders, agencies and the ways it operates. Collective Impact is a broad framework – adapting to your own community and context will encourage engagement.
  10. Reinforce openness to innovation. Remind players often of your common cause and the freedom in collective impact to innovate in achieving it.

Youth CI and Innoweave have heard from the collectives we support how important it is to have opportunities to share and learn from other groups. We hope to continue to bring Innoweave Collective Impact groups together for more discussions like these so that we can share common experiences more broadly and move Canadian communities toward engaging in needle-moving Collective Impact work.

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