Thursday, December 26, 2013

Connecting a Million Minds around Complex Problems

As we head into 2014 I'm constantly reminded of how many thousands of people are already involved in some way in helping disadvantaged youth succeed in school, stay safe in non-school hours, connect with a caring adult mentor or tutor, and continue their movement toward adult roles and responsibilities.

I'm also reminded of the overwhelming amount of information that is available via the internet to support our understanding of problems and inspire us with potential solutions.

Last week I reviewed this Standford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) article on collective impact, titled "Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity".

In an introductory paragraph the authors write "Under conditions of complexity, predetermined solutions can neither be reliably ascertained nor implemented. Instead, the rules of interaction that govern collective impact lead to changes in individual and organizational behavior that create an ongoing progression of alignment, discovery, learning, and emergence."

In past articles I've focused on the challenges of bringing large groups together for on-going learning so that their could become a shared understanding, trust-filled relationships, and a convergence on shared goals.

This process takes time. It requires the work of network-builders.

Some may be high profile community leaders. Some could be self-appointed organizers. I guess I fit that role. I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to fill a void. No one had a master database of Chicago non-school tutor/mentor programs, and thus, no one was leading a year-round marketing/advertising campaign intended to create shared understanding, or a distribution of needed operating resources, talent and dollars. Thus, with the support of six other volunteers the T/MC was created to fill the void.

I created this PDF to illustrate the goal of "building a network of purpose". It shows four strategies that I've attempted to support on an on-going basis with the limited resources I've had available every year.

I created the essay below to illustrate the process of network building, which is a role many people need to take if we're to reach the thousands of people who need to be connected to each other, and learning from a common body of information.

I've created an extensive web library, with links to more than 2000 other web sites. Each represents a star in a universe of knowledge and stakeholders. Each has it's own network of followers and supporters.

In addition, I've created a list of nearly 200 youth serving organizations, each with its own gravity and sphere of influence. I've also created this concept map showing intermediaries in Chicago and Illinois who focus on the well-being of young people.

As we head into 2014 my goal is to help these organizations connect with each other and to the ideas and library of information that I've been developing for more than 20 years. This Enough is Enough article that I first wrote almost six years ago describes a learning process that could be taking place in thousands of locations. A measure of success would be to find blog articles like this, and links to web libraries, on a growing number of the web sites I point to, reflecting a shared effort at creating a collective understanding of problems, process and solutions.

I also hope to rebuild my own organizational capacity to support this effort, while finding younger leaders who will share this work, and carry it forward into future years. Most of the collective impact efforts that SSIR points to are only a few years old. I think people have been building libraries and trying to bring people together to solve problems for many years longer than these efforts. They just have been named differently, and have had different champions and supporters.

The real test will be if in 30 or 40 years any of these organizations can show an ongoing history similar to what I show on this concept map, showing my start with a tutor/mentor program back in 1973 and its formation in 1965.

If you'd like to connect and begin a conversation around these ideas, or follow up from a meeting or contact made in 2013 or before, just reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, Linked in, or the Tutor/Mentor Connection forum. I can join you in your space and hopefully you'll join me in my space.

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