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Sorting through the Archives for Gold, or At Least a Can Opener

Sorting through the Archives for Gold - header illustrated with handdrawn pile of boxes labelled "camping"

Inspiring Communities releases “Learnings of the Organization from a Collective Impact Perspective”

Have you ever decided to sort out some storage boxes and found yourself, hours later, sitting with photos in front of you, half sorted, texting your sister to try to remember what you used to call your third cousin with the big hands?

It looks like you have accomplished little, but your mind and emotions have begun to process a whole dusty pile of things you haven’t looked at in a while. And while you still have the actual sort to accomplish, starting that processing is actually the bulk of the real labour. 

Some of us here at IC have spent a lot of time in our storage boxes these last few months.

Inspiring Communities recently undertook two separate projects that involved backwards-looking and archiving: one was a Records and Information Management project of reviewing and reorganizing the files in shared drives, and the other, a research deep dive into the large pockets of rich data that IC’s evaluation team collected over the last five years. 

The two projects felt somehow entangled, although they were being carried out by different teams and had no overt connection. And somehow, they have both managed to reach completion at about the same time. 

In the spirit of ‘all levels all the time’, the first part of the research project was also a capacity building project. Intern Yajvan Suresh, a recent Political Science graduate, and our Community Engagement Specialist Treno Morton were supervised by Nancy Carter, our Evaluation Manager, a skilled teacher and long time evaluation expert. Yaj and Treno crawled through shared drive files, seeking to ferret out any relevant material in what was then still a fairly disorganized space. The process was not unlike searching for the camping can opener in a big pile of boxes of camping stuff that someone else packed. 

When Treno and Yaj had found what they could and put together a draft, Communications Manager Charlene Boyce worked with Nancy in polishing it, restructuring, validating the data, and editing. The report was then reviewed by other staff to ensure nothing egregious was missed. In the end, the document was as iterative as much of our other work. 

With the report, as with the file restructure process, it was clear that more voices improve the quality of the final product. After all, just because you label a box “Camping Food Stuff”, your family may not recognize that that means a can opener. 

a hand drawn messy pile of boxes labelled "camping", Camping Stuff

Yaj described what surprised him in the initial findings: “I was surprised to learn that systems change is indeed possible.” He also noted, “The framework of collective impact across initiatives not being implemented equally was my first surprise. I later learned that not everyone has the same experience and resources with collective impact initiatives and that could be a reason as to why.”

We are pleased to now share this document. We recognize that a 50-page report evaluating collective impact may not be easy reading for all. In fact, one of the takeaways from the process of crafting the report was (re)discovering the ways that jargon can introduce barriers, preventing not just our communities from fully engaging with us, but also our colleagues. We learned how many different understandings of collective impact our team had been working with, over time and between initiatives.

This lack of common understanding of some of the basic tools we use led us to a cohort-based systems practice course,  which is described in our A Year of Transforming report. 

That report, along with this one, are  pieces of our five-part series of shared reflection and rebuilding our common understanding of who IC is and what we do.

The other documents are:

  1. Inspiring Communities’ Strategic Directions 2022
  2. A Year of Transforming (2021-22)
  3. Learnings of the Organization from a Collective Impact Perspective

and two more to come:

  1. Evaluation and Learning Systems Framework
  2. End of year 2022-23 report 

PS – in case you are burning with curiosity about the outcomes of our RIM project, this is a Marie Kondo dream:

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