Friday, February 24, 2012

Whose Got Backbone?

"Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization(s) with staff and a specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies."

Fay Hanleybrown, John Kania,and Mark Kramer. "Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work." Stanford Innovation Review. January 26, 2012.

The infamous Saul Alinsky argued for the formation of People's Organizations -- amalgams of ground-level associations that together provide a powerful counterweight and advocacy tool for leveling the playing field for poor communities.The result was (is) changed investments, new legislation, and changed behaviors by powerful institutions. What you needed first was a sponsoring committee, some flexible money, and a Community Organizer.

Today, one can hardly be in a conversation about social change without the invocation of "collective impact" and the concomitant nail-biting about identifying a Backbone Organization that can keep things focused and together and moving in the right direction towards results. Few mention power, the grassroots, entrenched interests, or the dispossessed. This is a movement of the enlightened to get their acts together and have fierce conversations. A great idea. And there is real movement.

Of course, this is a both/and moment. And coalitions for common purposes aren't really new. I do worry, however, that the importance of community organizing and the investment in community organizing will get diminished in the stampede for collective impact and the search for backbone organizations.

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