The community values cross-organizational collaboration and thinks it is critical to advancing lasting systemic change. However, on an industry level there is less consensus when it comes to answering the questions: What does effective collaboration look like? and, How do we get there?  We began to tackle these questions during our October 2015 Co-Hosted Session titled: “Mapping the Path to Collaboration” held during Opportunity Collaboration’s annual conference in Mexico.

The conversation brought together 40 leaders from across the impact ecosystem including many members, longstanding allies, and new friends.

large group 

Opportunity Collaboration invites delegates to bring their “whole selves” to the experience, combining their personal and professional identities.  We designed our OC Co-Hosted Session in this spirit, to invite participants to reflect on their personal and organizational practices related to convening. In particular, we asked the group to answer the following questions:

  • Why are you a convener?
  • Why do you believe convening is a powerful tool for change?
  • How does your organization use convening?
  • What are ways that convening has created positive change for your organization?

The resulting answers were as diverse as the cohort, however, common themes emerged.  These themes include the importance of creating trust, developing relationships, building networks, fostering innovation, cultivating peer-learning, and enabling problem solving.

We were inspired by the language our community uses to identify itself.  We would like to share some of those responses with you below:

Why are you a convener?

“…Because true partnership moves at the speed of trust.”

“…To meet and find points of synergy.”

“…To help build fields and bridges that were not there before.”

“…Because there is magic in bringing together people.”


Why do you believe convening is a powerful tool for change?

“…Because it helps us develop and deepen relationships.”

“…Because it allows us to create group energy strong enough to fuel a collective movement.”

“…It encourages empathy and innovation.”


How does your organization use convening?

“…To learn and solve problems.”

“…To build trust and create partnerships.”

“…To accelerate the work of our community members.”


What are ways that convening has created positive change for your organization?

“…We have been able to incubate multi-organizational supported initiatives which otherwise would not have been created.”

“….It has helped us emerge as a thought leader.”

“It has allowed us to diversify our membership and strengthen our network”

“…It has enabled the local community to engage with our program’s participants”


Aligning Interests: Prioritizing Issues Areas for Collaboration Exploration

Once everyone in the group had a chance to introduce themselves and their connection to convening, the conversation moved towards discussing convening-related issue areas for collaboration.  We first asked the room to generate a list of all of the convening-related issues they could think of faced by actors in our ecosystem.*

*Let’s unpack this, the ecosystem we refer to is the community of people using convening as a tool for addressing the critical issues facing humanity.  The actors are people and organizations that interact to create the impact convening ecosystem.

When we had a long list,  we then asked them room to prioritize this list of topics either by identifying “Issues in which you are interested in potentially collaborating? ” or “What issue, if resolved, would have the highest positive impact on participants’ organizations?”

The list of prioritized topics included:

  • Impact-Related Metrics
  • Convening Content
  • Speakers at Convenings
  • Convening Funders and Sponsors
  • Affinity Groups
  • New Voices

Once the list was confirmed, session participants broke into small groups to further discuss one of the topics. Each group was given time to delve into their topic and then present to the whole group with the goal of generate a more nuanced-understanding of each challenge area, and identify how solutions to the presented problems might move forward the larger impact-ecosystem.

Confirming Next Steps for Collaboration

For each of the key topics identified by the participants, has developed a next step in which the wider community can collaborate.

  • Impact-Related Metrics
    • Webinar Jan. 12th, Followed by Best Practice Blog
  • Convening Content
    • Agenda Aggregation Collective Impact Project (CIP)
  • Speakers at Convenings
    • Moderator Training CIP
  • Convening Funders and Sponsors
    • Customized Education Project working with family foundations to do more work better
  • Affinity Groups
    • Women’s Affinity Group meeting Jan. 13th and reporting to Affinity Group CIP in June 2016
  • New Voices
    • Increasing Attendee Diversity Co-Hosted Session in NYC Feb. 9th (date is tentative).
    • Increasing Speaker Diversity through Speaker Directory.
    • Exploring Memberships with Non-Self Identifying Impact Conveners
      • Health, Education, Philanthropy, Development, Cybersecurity, Peace, Human Rights, etc.

Conveners Collective Impact Projects

To continue work towards solutions beyond the session, participants were invited to join official Collective Impact Projects (CIP) focused on identified issue areas. From this discussion the following CIPs were formed.

Content at Convening: Agenda Aggregation

There are continuing to be unintentional themes across convenings that are evident to those that work the conference circuit.  This Collective Impact Project will look at the agendas from 2015 and identify conveners who may benefit from collaborating on content and cross promotion. They will share their insights in June 2016.

Speakers at Convening: Moderator Training

Speakers represent a broad category of stakeholder for conveners, and the community at Opportunity Collaboration identified Moderators as a critical link in improving overall quality of panels.  This Collective Impact Project will explore what kinds of resources would be most helpful in training moderators and preparing conveners with the best practices for selecting moderators.  They will share their insights in August 2016.  

Affinity Groups

Effective collaboration requires connecting with others “in your tribe” – the community of people who share your values and have commonalities from which you can share experiences.  There are a variety of commonalities that could define an Affinity Group: Geography, Sector Focus, Target Audience, Invitation Focus.  This Collective Impact Project will learn from the experience of our inaugural Women’s Affinity Group which starts meeting this week to define how affinity groups can be most helpful.  Starting in June 2016, this Collective Impact Project is looking for more participants.

We look forward to updating you on the outcomes from our Collective Impact Projects later this year.