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Healing-Informed Collective Impact: The Reflection and Practice

Read the first blog in this series, Healing-Informed Collective Impact

Applying the TIS philosophy to a traditional collective impact model required us to unravel how our processes as backbone organizations and facilitators can create respectful, healing-informed partnerships, central to the development of trust, social cohesion, innovation, and results. To do so, we asked the following questions of our organization:

What power does our backbone organization hold (historical, structural, positional)?

What about your individual or institutional power must you take ownership of as a backbone or a facilitator?

What does reparations for the community look like? What is within your control for repairing?

How do you center the community in your systems change?

How can you encourage reflection and self-care in your collective impact work?

This reflection resulted in a very intentional and formulaic, yet evolving, practice for our collective impact across the initiative. Examples of this practice include the repositioning of power, Anti-Racist Results Based Accountability, and community-defined data dashboards.

Repositioning Power

The backbone organization for the HOPE SF collective impact initiative sits within the San Francisco Mayor’s Office. Therefore, facilitating a collective impact group—bringing together partners from other city departments, non-profit providers, developers, funders and residents — is laden with challenging dynamics around power and positional authority. In order to create a trauma reducing structure, those formal power differentials had to be consistently acknowledged, and a sense of shared accountability needed to be fostered to build trust among partners. We attempted to create more transparent systems—through data dashboards and action items—whereby the Mayor’s Office was held equally accountable to delivering by other partners in the room. The Mayor’s Office facilitator openly owned shortcomings in the systems that we represented, or shared when we were experiencing our own challenges with following through on data or actions. It was essential that Mayor’s Office facilitators be willing to be honest about the challenges happening within our own office or systems—to model vulnerability in the name of accountability and systems change.

We intentionally developed a facilitation method that situated the Mayor’s Office backbone staff facilitator as an organizer (think: inside-outside strategy), rather than playing the role of compliance officer or funder as is more typically the case when City staff convene community collaborative meetings in San Francisco. A system for charting and note taking highlighted the policy, systems, and operational issues raised in the room. We utilized each conversation as a means for educating community partners and residents on the systems and structures that needed undoing to empower their advocacy. Overall, I asked my team to hold their authority with humility, and enter the space with a spirit of reconciliation, healing, reflection, and results. This approach was integral to the healing and reparations work of collective impact.

Anti-Racist Results Based Accountability

Our Anti-Racist Results Based Accountability (RBA) framework acted as a powerful organizing tool to allow otherwise fragmented partners to see how their contributions aligned and to encourage collaboration towards a shared result. By disaggregating administrative data by race, we were able to consistently centralize the disparities, the urgency of our implementation strategies, and everyone’s role in moving the needle to better results. The anti-racist lens allowed us to center racial equity in every discussion, which ultimately built trust amongst partners who may have otherwise not seen each other as allies, due to the position of their respective organizations, race, or socioeconomics.

A core practice of RBA is to identify the “story behind the curve” or the root causes of the data. By consistently facilitating root cause discussions at collective impact tables, we were able to push partners to think deeply about their practices to identify the layered reasons for the disparities shown in the data. By asking ourselves “why” at least seven times, we were able to dig deep, see the connection to systemic challenges, and identify interventions along the roots to focus efforts for better impact, rather than selecting strategies were band aids obscuring deeper wounds.

Community-Defined Data

Developing a new relationship with data is integral to a results-based collective impact approach. Data is often used as a tool for punishment or manipulation. Accordingly, most of our partners were accustomed to delivering data for grant or contract compliance, in which measures were often pre-defined and didn’t capture their “secret sauce,” or the most important impacts of their work.

So, in order to act as a healing organization and increase pride and ownership of outcomes, we needed to revisit how we developed and approached our data for collective impact. Through TII, we were encouraged to take a non-punitive approach to data and to utilize data to learn, reflect and lift up change. As such, for our community collective impact tables, we engaged our community based organizations in an exercise to create self-defined performance measures. We built their capacity in understanding how to develop measures or proxies, which answer the question, “Is anyone better off from our work?” We emphasized that the data reporting was not for the Mayor’s Office, but rather for community partners to hold each other accountable to achieving outcomes for residents. Ultimately, for residents to be able to evaluate the work of these organizations in their communities. It wasn’t for us, but for them. It was an opportunity for organizations to tell their stories and lift up what they were seeing and learning in the trenches. Through this process, we also saw organizations more willing to share their data publicly in collective impact meetings.

Through our backbone and partnership operations, and our collective impact tables, we continued the hard work to create an equity-focused, non-punitive, results-based culture that allowed our plethora of partners to come with their best selves, best ideas, and a true spirit of collaboration for achieving better outcomes. We broke down silos, deepened relationships – we started to see results. Through repetition of these tools and others, we strived to build an culture that respected the residents we served enough to push practitioners and the organizations they represent to do better by community.

Because it is our daily practice, not the ribbon cutting, that defines us. Honest and respectful partnerships. Trust and transparency. Equitable Innovation. Reflection. Questioning our own positioning and power, and ensuring our systems are set up for the better of community. We are here to undo not perpetuate, and to create the system that will heal.

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