Posts Tagged ‘The Power of Collaborative Solutions’

Highlights from our live chat about collaboration with Tom Wolff (Audio)

“In its simplest form, collaborative solutions means doing together what we cannot do apart,” says author Tom Wolff. If you find yourself in the position of considering collaboration or you discover your organization is lacking a specific competency or resource, consider Wolff’s book, The Power of Collaborative Solutions, your next read. From introduction to index, it’s full of interesting case stories, web-based tools and useful guidance.

Interview highlights

We recently held a lively interview via webcast with Wolff and he answered CausePlanet reader questions. Wolff opened our discussion by highlighting his book, why collaborative solutions are encouraged, six principles for effective coalitions and concerns with our health and human service system.

Sound bite about what’s broken?

These concerns translate to other service agencies, so I wanted to share them with you in a sound bite from the interview with Tom Wolff. You can follow this list below as you listen (the sound bite covers one through eight):

  1. Fragmentation
  2. Duplication of effort
  3. Focus on deficits
  4. Crisis Orientation
  5. Failure to respond to diversity
  6. Excessive professionalism
  7. Detached from community & clients
  8. Competition
  9. Limited and inaccessible information
  10. Loss of our spiritual purpose
  11. Failure to engage those most directly affected

Professionalism versus democracy

Number six, “excessive professionalism,” resonated with me in particular. Wolff talks about how we’re quick to get a room full of “experts” to solve a problem when what we really need is a more democratic process. In other words, involve those most directly affected by the problem to identify root cause and generate potential solutions. Is it messy? Sure, but it will help you arrive at the answers you’re looking for. Wolff says, “When we are facing serious community problems, shouldn’t we just get professionals to solve the problems and avoid the messy process called democracy? The answer to this question is a resounding no.”

One of our interview attendees, Kim Fossey with Louisiana STEM Works, had this to add to our discussion afterwards:

“This was perhaps the most enjoyable webinar I have attended in some time. The concerns for providing comprehensive services and achieving impact are right on as well as the six “common sense” principles.  My biggest takeaway was the need for applying more values-based discussion to our work and use of the six requirements for effective participation.  I see these both as missing –particularly in education-based reforms.  Thanks for a great webinar.  I plan to purchase the book and recommend it to others.”

In The Power of Collaborative Solutions, Wolff says he shares “the ‘highs’ of seeing coalitions gain momentum, attract and hold a solid membership, set a focused agenda, achieve results, gain early, small wins and reach significant changes in program policies and practices. The book also covers the ‘lows’ when the opposition is fierce, the membership dissolves, our best plans collapse and we feel like giving up.” Find out more at

CausePlanet members: Register for our next live author with Kari Dunn Saratovsky when we’ll discuss the why and how of Millennial engagement and the book she coauthored with Derrick Feldmann, Cause for Change, on Wed, Sep 25 at 11 a.m. CST.

Find out more about the book, The Power of Collaborative Solutions or our Page to Practice™ summary in our CausePlanet library for subscribers or the Summary Store.

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What are we most often forgetting during evaluations?

Are you guilty of pleasing only the funder? Many well-behaving nonprofits know the evaluation process pleases the funder but coalition builder and The Power of Collaborative Solutions author, Tom Wolff, would add that the evaluation process should be serving a more comprehensive purpose so you can leverage the full potential of the collective group.

When you sit down to evaluate your collaboration, consider if you are asking the right questions. We interviewed Wolff about what’s most often overlooked in assessing progress in our CausePlanet Q & A and he shared the following answer:

CausePlanet: You have quite a few web-based tools you offer online and in the book. One in particular is the evaluation process. What’s the most frequently overlooked aspect of assessing progress and celebrating success?

Wolff: Here is what is most overlooked: The most successful and useful evaluations most often occur when the collaborative itself decides to look for answers to critical questions, such as: After having been at this for three years, are we getting anything done? Are we being effective? Is the way that we are set up the most effective? What do all our members think about what we are doing? These kinds of questions can motivate a collaboration’s steering committee and staff to undertake an evaluation process with a high level of interest and beneficial results. When the only interest in doing an evaluation is to keep a funder happy, we get less coalition engagement in the process. Just as the key to success in coalitions is to “keep your eyes on the prize” (make outcomes matter), so it is for evaluation. We need to undertake evaluations that look for changes in programs, practices and policies that are related to the coalition’s vision and goals. When we find them we need to note the changes, make them visible and celebrate them.

If you’re involved in a collaborative, what questions do you regularly ask to keep your colleagues on task toward the outcome?

Save the date: Get more out of your collaborations and save the date for our author interview with Tom Wolff on Thursday, August 22 at 11 a.m. CST.

Register now: Our next author interview will have you taking a fresh and bold look at cash flow management with coauthor Richard Linzer this week on Thursday, July 27 at 11 a.m. CST.

See also:

Community by Peter Block

Do More Than Give by Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer

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Isolate your root cause with democratic problem-solving

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of heart.” The change of heart Gandhi speaks of can only be accomplished by an inclusive process that observes the viewpoints of those directly involved and affected. Tom Wolff’s The Power of Collaboration stresses the importance of democracy in the collaborative process and uses the North Quabbin Community Coalition to demonstrate his point. We asked Wolff about democracy in our Page to Practice™ interview and included an excerpt from our summary:

CausePlanet: You discuss the importance of encouraging democracy in the collaborative process. How do we encourage democratic participation without overwhelming the process?

Wolff: What we have learned from coalitions is the productive use of democracy builds ownership and participation in coalition members. Through shared decision making we get things done. Why is practicing democracy a critical part of community building? When we are facing serious community problems, shouldn’t we just get professionals to solve the problems and avoid the messy process called democracy? The answer to this question is a resounding “no.”

While professionals have a great deal to offer along the path to solutions, they understand the view from above, not the view from the ground. Without everyone’s perspective, any solutions devised will focus on symptoms, rather than root causes. Some are concerned that democratic processes grind coalitions to a halt. That may be the case in the U.S. Congress but does not have to be in our communities.

A synopsis of Wolff’s North Quabbin Community Coalition case

“Without everyone’s perspectives, any solutions devised will focus on symptoms, rather than root causes,” explains Wolff.

To practice democracy, we need systems to fairly and productively elicit public opinions, and people in the community need to have the skills and confidence to participate. Communities need to have a say and be involved, not just vote on an issue. We need to look at our systems’ encouragement or discouragement of democracy, the people we wish to engage, and the interactions between our systems and constituents.

How democratic are you?

Wolff suggests a Ladder of Participation, originally developed by Armstein and modified by Williamson and Fung, to help identify how democratic your process is. The ladder ranges from manipulation to citizen control. Wolff also provides ways to encourage the democratic process ranging from arranging the room in a circle to collaborative leadership suggestions to study circle techniques to a consulting resource, The Public Conversations Project.

Valuing Our Children democratizes their solution

The North Quabbin Community Coalition had struggled with addressing child abuse. Finally, it received generous funds to pursue its concerns. It formed Valuing Our Children (VOS). First, its hired director went door-to-door to low-income neighborhoods to find out the stresses and needs for support in their families. It spent time talking to the residents and formal and informal helping services before jumping into a program too soon. Then, VOS found a parenting curriculum. Afterward, it focused on its grassroots goals to involve those most affected in the program. It recruited low-income parents (some whose children had been taken away by Social Services) and trained them to become leaders, who participated in many VOS programs. They also had opportunities to communicate with the Department of Social Services to voice their concerns. Ultimately, this program engaged the community in the democratic process first to develop a successful program that fulfilled its needs.

Learn more about The Power of Collaboration by purchasing the book, executive summary or subscribing to our executive summary library and author interviews. Watch for our interview with Tom Wolff on August 22 at 11 a.m. CST. Register now for our interview with nonprofit financial expert, Richard Linzer on Thurs, June 27 at 11 a.m. CST.

See also:

Community by Peter Block
Do More Than Give by Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer

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Are nonprofit clients involved in your collaborative vision?

“In its simplest form, collaborative solutions mean doing together what we cannot do apart,” asserts author Tom Wolff in his latest book, The Power of Collaborative Solutions.

Today’s complex social issues require the strength of many. Wolff’s Power of Collaborative Solutions is our new Page to Practice™ feature at CausePlanet and is a highly useful guide for nonprofit leaders who want to assemble an efficient and collective effort toward their causes.

Wolff leverages his 40-plus years of community problem solving to tackle each of the areas where we fail to collaborate and illustrates how to develop healthy partnerships through numerous case stories and examples.

Wolff has distilled effective problem solving into six essential principles we must follow as collaborating leaders. He shares extensive insight into winning coalitions as well as hard lessons learned from habitually troubled collaborations where resistance is fierce.

I asked Tom the following interview question about why community problem solving efforts fail. Here’s what he had to say:

CausePlanet: You discuss 11 different ways traditional community problem-solving methods fail. Which of these is the most common and why?

Wolff: Many of the dysfunctions in our helping system that I describe in the book happen way too often. The one I am most concerned about at this moment is the lack of connection of our coalition efforts with those most affected by the issue. In the book I emphasize the importance of engaging those most affected by the issue–sometimes called the grassroots communities. Depending on the focus of the work, this can mean youth, immigrants, communities of color, survivors of domestic violence, the LGBT community, etc. We cannot do authentic community work without their voices at the table as shared decision makers.

In my experience when we do not have them at the table we develop programs that are more likely to be ineffective. In my book I note the ones who succeed at engaging those most affected by the issue tell us consistently there are a series of efforts that we must make to adapt our practices so that the community can come to the table. These include: holding the meetings in the evenings, providing child care and transportation, feeding the group, providing translation services if needed, and even providing a stipend (a coupon for a local grocery store, etc.).

CausePlanet members: Learn more from Tom Wolff and register for our author interview with this collaboration expert. We’ll dive into his six essential collaboration principles, plus address more of the common failures to avoid. Mark your calendars for Thursday, August 22 at 11 a.m. CST. Register now for our July interview with nonprofit financial expert and coauthor, Richard Linzer.

Not a member yet? Learn more about our summary library and author interview schedule and archives.

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Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances

Do More Than Give

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