Generating ideas, connections, and action

The Lab: The Impact Brokers Virtual Learning Laboratory

Janice Epstein

Welcome to the Impact Brokers virtual learning laboratory where your thoughtful input is seriously welcome! What is Impact Brokers (IB), you ask? In a nutshell, IB is a radically different way of ‘doing’ social change. We are a group of nonprofit organizations, funders, consultants, and community members who have been meeting since January 2008 to solve complex social problems together by identifying common issues, discovering root causes and strengthening our collaborative capacity for change. We meet quarterly for Learning Community Meetings to, among other things, review individual and shared capacity building projects and otherwise strengthen our relationships for the benefit of the whole.

LLC awarded IB’s Boston Member Circle a Community Seed grant to support an online learning lab to explore the themes of social capital and networks within the framework of adaptive and collective leadership. If you are choking on that sentence like I am, here’s a Heimlich: we’re going to deepen our understanding of what we do and how we do it so that we can capitalize on our relationships for the benefit of all involved.

So, to christen this learning laboratory, we want to talk a bit about leadership and, specifically leadership that is not carried out by one person. For in the IB Boston Member Circle, there purposely is no one leader. In A New Look at Leadership in Collaborative Networks: Process Catalysts, Mandell and Keast write that leadership in collaborative networks is “the process of getting all members to interact in new ways that tap into their strengths” and that “leadership…is about focusing on the processes of building a new whole rather than primarily focusing on more efficient ways to deliver services.”

It might be fair to say (other Boston IB Circle Members chime in here) that the efficient way of delivering services is imbedded in the Impact Brokers model so that the group can focus on creating a different kind of learning and working environment. The IB model was vetted by dozens of community members prior to opening the doors to participation and that model maintains enough flexibility for a group to enact changes should they see fit. Currently, the group is having an ongoing dialogue about a Member Charter amendment they would like to make. This dialogue and eventual amendment is an example of focusing on the process of building a new whole. This process orientation is how we keep the group environment healthy enough to withstand disagreement and safe enough to be honest and stretch into new ideas. While no one person leads this process in the traditional sense, there are facilitators of the process. (It is important to note that the facilitators of the process could change depending on the topic at hand and the relevant strengths of the members.)

While all this focus on process is occurring, the capacity building work continues right alongside of it or maybe even because of it. That healthy, safe group environment allowed this group to talk about their very different work environments and find common issues. Recent dialogs have led the group to embark on a shared IT capacity building project based on common needs. By not having predetermined capacity building outcomes, the choice to focus on IT issues came about very organically and the shared capacity building solution could not be implemented by any one organization alone-what may be a hallmark of collaborative networks.

We hope this learning laboratory will also be a collaborative effort in a forum safe enough for all sorts of ideas to bubble up. I’d like to leave you with a few questions to ponder:

  • Do you have questions about what Impact Brokers is? For more information, read our Impact Brokers Introduction and Boston Circle Member and Partner Biographies . We will gladly answer specific questions and please know that we are still discovering it for ourselves.
  • Do you know of research that would be relevant to any of the above content? Please point the way to more knowledge for us!
  • Do you have ideas about collaborative networks and leadership that would enhance our current thinking or direction? We would love to hear them.