May 12 2013. This past week, the USGBC Hawaii Chapter sponsored an historic roundtable of green building stakeholders to explore using a Collective Impact approach as part of the annual Build & Buy Green Hawai'i Conference. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss opportunities to improve the quality of life in Hawai'i's built environment through this creative approach to addressing complex issues.
The meeting was unusual in some very important ways. Although "everyone knows each other" in the Islands, a formal pathway for continuous communication (one of the conditions for Collective Impact) and coordination (another condition) does not really exist. As facilitator, I asked when the last time this particular grouping, which included local representative-leaders from professional and trade membership non-profits (AIA, APA, BIA, BOMA, CSI, IIDA, NAIOP, ULI, USGBC) and the Sustainability Association of Hawaii (SAH) had formally convened. When the unanimous response was "never" -- the import of the moment became palpable.
Roundtable members agreed they collectively represented thousands of members in Hawai'i, all of whom are involved in developing, designing, constructing, operating the built environment. In addition, they agreed that their collective missions all have in common the goal to improve the quality of that built environment in and for Hawaii. It was a goose bump moment for sure!
The meeting began with an introduction to the concept of Collective Impact (CI),* which in addition to the two conditions mentioned above include a common agenda, shared (and ongoing) measurement, and mutually reinforcing activities. Then we had a round robin in which each roundtable participant shared what they would want if "everyone invited to the party came." Responses generally included raising awareness within the public through education, to sharing resources to stretch them further, to understanding each other's organizations better, to advocacy for a common agenda.
With communication as a first step towards CI, the group also brainstormed ideas for ways to keep in touch and build a common "space" for these organizations to work within for the common good. Responses ranged from using communications technology, such as Go To Meetings, Social Media such as Linked In and Face Book Groups, and Shared Google Calendars, to "live" means such as regular "belly-to-belly" roundtables, and inviting roundtable participants to each other's membership meetings. The only ideas that were not favored were frequent e-mail blasts and a traditional committee format. The latter triggered a discussion on how important it was to rely on communication methods that are streamlined and self-organizing, and to keep the communications within the scope of the common agenda set by the group -- to avoid spam-like activity that would quickly brew disinterest in the CI effort.
Also notable was the fact that this momentous meeting was public In much the way that blue ribbon committees operate, community members were invited to observe the roundtable and were able to submit pertinent questions on index cards that were addressed by roundtable members during a segment reserved for audience participation.
Questions from the audience ranged in detail, from asking roundtable members to comment on the benefits of a Facebook vs. Linked-in group interface to how to deal with the fact that roundtable participants each represent a membership. Underlying this question was an obvious concern regarding initiative-killing delays associated with having to "go back to the Board or membership" to move forward on any matter of substance. The latter question was handled perfectly by Karen Nakamura, CEO of the BIA, who noted: "If the group works strategically in developing its Common Agenda and related initiatives, and the "Why" is in accord with the individual membership groups' Strategic Plans, this should not be a problem."
According to Jason Selley, Chair of USGBC-Hawaii, "This first roundtable was intended to spark a further exploration of Collective Impact." When the roundtable concluded with all participants unanimously electing to continue this process through a show of hands, we had ignition.
There are several benefits to CI, including the fact that new solutions emerge that bridge the needs of multiple organizations or are only feasible when organizations work together. Another is that adoption of the solution can be simultaneous and therefore more effective. One of the challenges of CI is to refrain from bringing prescribed solutions to the table and allowing solutions to emerge from the collective. This goes beyond the "traditional" collaborative effort and asks for more than lobbying for "buy-in" to a particular scheme -- which I blush to say, I have led.
Today, as I sadly fly away from my Hawaii colleagues to my home on Bainbridge Island, WA, I have one "big wish" for Hawai'i , and that is that the leadership contained in this new collective entity work towards finding ways to make sustainable development, design, construction, and building operation EASIER by exploring the barriers together, and finding innovative and smart ways to remove them that are appropriate for Hawai'i, socially, environmentally, and economically.
Alistair Jackson, my colleague at O'Brien & Company, also spoke at Build and Buy Green Hawaii, on the important topic of Resilience in a session sponsored by HUD. If you caught his talk, he speculated that Collective Impact aligns well with the traditional values of Kanaka Maoli (the native Hawaiians) - particularly the Hawaiian concept of Ahapua’a.
We first learned of Collective Impact through an article in the Stanford Society of Innovation Review (SSIR) authored by John Kania and Mark Kramer and published in December 2011. More recent articles in the SSIR explore the concept further, offering useful lessons learned. CI has primarily been seen as an approach to complex social change projects such as those that address crime, hunger, educational, and other systemic barriers. Since the what, why, who, and how of the built environment is a whirl of complex intermeshed systems (and not all of them bricks and mortar), we believe CI has great potential in the green building arena, where we are adding sustainability to the equation. Understanding sustainability as the opportunity for all commercial, social, and living systems to "flourish" it seems quite pertinent. In many ways CI is akin to using the Integrative Process, which O'Brien & Company promotes for advancing sustainable design, construction, and building operation, and is a subject of previous posts on Building Capacity (ref. archives).
Learn more about Collective Impact.
Kathleen O'Brien, Editor of the Building Capacity Blog and Founder of O'Brien & Company, one of the first green building consultancies in the U.S., holds a special place for the work she has been privileged to do throughout the State of Hawaii over the last twenty years. In addition to facilitating the Roundtable on behalf of the USGBC-Hawaii Chapter, she conducted an introduction to the EMERGE Leadership Model (ELM). ELM is a systems-based approach to individual and organizational leadership that is aimed at developing truly sustainable solutions that "stick."