Words matter. Indeed, words are a kind of matter, with weight, velocity and power, especially when humans are talking with other humans about their journeys through life. This became vivid in two days with Stakeholder Health partners in DC followed by two in Minneapolis with Larry and Connie Pray. All four days were about life and its fears and possibilities emerging in the fields of relationships from which come all that matters.
Health systems have dropped roughly three bazzillion trillion dollars on technology in recent years, but we still find a big gap in technology that fits the Stakeholder Health model of transformation. The whole drive of Stakeholder is to move toward, not away from, human complexity, so we don’t want control techniques or technologies; we want “relational” technologies. It seems like there should be tools to help that happen without us hospital people turning into programmers. Surely some kid in Bangalore could figure this out. We’re stumped.
We aren’t the only ones thinking about community health these days. No idea is currently more powerful or less helpful than the framework of “Collective Impact” promoted widely by the Stanford Social Innovation Review
The idea is that a community needs a backbone organization that can bring common metrics and analytics so that everyone behaves in a more socially effective manner. Originally designed to help foundations move toward more collaborative local funding, the idea is now being applied to all sorts of community scale schemes and popping up in all sorts of grant proposals. Not surprisingly, everyone wants to be a backbone.
Is the “backbone” the right body part? Don’t we need a heart or mind more?
Is “impact” the right verb? Aren’t real places more like gardens? Would any gardener, farmer or forester speak of impacting their garden, farm or beloved woodlands?
Metaphors are most dangerous when they encourage us to take the self-serving, sell-reinforcing nature of power lightly. Collective impact emphasizes the role of the backbone organizations which plays into the way local elites LOVE rigid central spine organizations. The same people (often the exact same people) end up populating them replicating over and over again the social dynamics that tend to settle for minor improvement schemes when true transformation is both necessary and possible.
This is not a matter of poetic correctness, but programmatic effectiveness. We are foolish, not just impolitic, to think we think we can impact communities into the complex sustained generative processes that produce vital, emergent life?
Larry says we can speak the language of life without all the footnotes. “We are born fluent in life. It is not just enough. It is plenty.”
We find our life as we move through connections and meanings and possibilities and hopes as we generate all that might uplift and nurture Gracia and all she will come to call beloved.
We would not speak of impacting her.
We hope for far more.