Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Platform Talk

"Jobs?" she said.
"Yeah," I said. "Is there any way we could use this (community health clinic) as a platform for starting businesses?"
"Platform?"
"Or maybe we could have a bakery attached to the clinic, and women could..."
She looked so puzzled, I stopped.
"My English is not so good, I think," she said.

Phil Klay, Redeployment. "Money is the System.

"Platform" is one of those odd words that has increased in usage in the community development world over the past few years. It evokes attributes like sturdy, solid, foundation, infrastructure. Above all, in the community development context, platform suggests capacity, the generative ability to incubate new ideas and attract new resources. In the old days, we might have said CDC -- community development corporation. But today's emphasis on collaboration and collective impact call for something more coalitional, although "backbone organization" has seen increased usage as well.

Sometimes "platform" is evoked when results have been modest and we want to convey that there is ongoing capacity to achieve more results. After all, change takes a long time. Platforms are renewable resources that we can build upon for the future.

I remember curtailing an investment in the 1990s because of lackluster results while another colleague made a capacity-building grant, renaming low performance in a more hopeful way.

Of course, platforms are specialized in their own ways and are not appropriate for all ideas, as this quote might suggest. And, unfortunately, platform is one of those nouns that suggests permanence, when, in fact, community capacity is a fragile asset made up of a web of changing relationships

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