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Possible: When the Improbable becomes the Inevitable


Written by Lorna McCue, Executive Director, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition

I’ve just returned from a week-long Collective Impact Summit, hosted by Tamarack: An Institute for Community Engagement from Sept. 28 - Oct. 2, 2015. About 250 people from all over the world and many different walks of life gathered in Vancouver to learn and share their experiences about Collective Impact.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Collective impact, it is a process of bringing people together, in a structured way, to achieve social change. Five essential elements of collective impact have been identified: a common agenda; shared measurement; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication; and a strong backbone; i.e. an organization or team that orchestrates the work of the group. For more information about Collective Impact please see

The theme of the summit was “Possible: When the improbable becomes the inevitable”. I admit that I didn’t really “get it” when I first read this tag line, but its meaning became clearer as I heard some of the speakers explain how they used a collective impact process to create sufficient momentum to move improbable ideas to the point where their implementation became inevitable.


collectiveimpact2The summit was an extraordinary event, filled with a great many gifts for our minds, bodies and spirits. The organizing team designed an innovative format that enabled us to collectively co-create a fabulous learning experience, tailored to our own particular needs and aspirations.

Each day started with a plenary session, featuring a musician, poet and/or artist, followed by a keynote speaker and discussion. A variety of formats were used for break-out sessions; workshops, discussion panels, tools sessions, case study presentations and learning labs. The labs consisted of a group of participants who met once or twice each day to reflect on the presentations, synthesize and share our learning, and collectively generate new possibilities for our work and personal lives.

Other optional activities included early morning yoga, walks and discussion dinners. The Learning Commons, which was a “hub” for networking, arts, crafts and music, included a Learning Wall on which participants could post their where questions, insights and reflections. A major highlight of the summit was a celebration at the Musqueam Community Centre. We were given a tour of the grounds, entertained with drumming, dancing and singing, and enjoyed an authentic Coast Salish feast.

Here are some of the thoughts that I brought back from the summit:

  • Collective Impact (CI) practice is evolving and now we need to build the capacity (e.g.; skills, methods, tools and mental models) and create the ecology (e.g., networks, policies, resources, culture) to support it.
  •  CI requires an alignment of goals and resources, and minds that are open to doing things differently.
  •  We need to involve front line workers and “clients”, not just upper management and “decision-makers” in our CI initiatives.
  • Deep and durable changes in population level outcomes require changes in complex adaptive systems.
  • The development evaluation approach can strengthen adaptive responses. 
  • Many positive yet unintended benefits can result from a CI approach; it creates space and time for relationship development and learning about context, culture, root causes and assets.
  • Shared measurement is a powerful tool for story-telling and to test our “theory of change”.
  • Use of “best practices” discourages social innovation. 
  • 61 Canadian communities have developed plans to end homelessness.
  • Wolves in Yellowstone Park changed the river - see

All the presentation slide decks, summaries of each day and extensive resources have been posted at:

The value of swapping stories
Racism and Health Series - Indigenous Health


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