If the problem is big, think big – and bring together partners from different sectors. Complex problems like climate change require leadership from a diverse set of partners: from government leaders to community organizations and businesses. But how can we create a collective impact initiative that transcends casual co-operation or grantmaking, that becomes something larger than the sum of its parts?

The Tamarack Institute, Canada’s knowledge broker for all things related to making lasting change in your community, recently hosted a webinar to answer this question. Together with two other collective impact practitioners, I had the privilege to share TAF’s experience.

The webinar was remarkable, because it brought together the rich expertise of presenters who advance very different mandates: Elena DiBattista, Director of Our Kids Network, seeks to increase the ability for children to thrive in Halton Region. Cathy Wright, former Executive Director of Living SJ, supports poverty reduction in Saint John, New Brunswick. On behalf of TAF, I showcased our work to get robust funding for public transit in place through the multi-sectoral Move the GTHA collaboration.

Despite our different goals, we share key insights. We can’t really move the dial on our issue without understanding its impacts across a broad spectrum of society. And that we need to understand and engage diverse supporters in hashing out successful solutions.

Together, we identified some important lessons on what works and why:

  • Complex issues need innovative solutions, and these are often generated from the constructive conflict that arises when different perspectives are applied to a problem;
  • Getting a diverse set of groups and perspectives around the table helps others see the issue as a community priority;
  • The collective approach takes a lot of time and effort, so choose wisely about when to use this method;
  • This work usually is a long haul, so make sure you set interim markers and monitor your progress;
  • Having a “backbone” organization gives the collective impact groups stability and support;
  • Establishing shared values early on provides clarity about “what’s in and what’s out” – where the group can and cannot agree – that can serve as a useful touchstone when things get complicated – as they surely will.

Check out the webinar recording to learn more about the lessons learned by collective impact practitioners who have been getting their hands dirty. And while you’re on the Tamarack site, be sure to browse through their extensive knowledge offerings and upcoming events to help you up your collective impact game.