This series of blog posts from the Tamarack Institute highlights a number of the creative tensions that CI practitioners face, including partnering vs. pushing, inclusiveness vs. expediency, and balancing organizational vs. community goals.

Embracing the Creative Tensions of Collective Impact Part 1:
To Partner or to Push

"… I must confess that I am not afraid of the word, “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth." Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr. penned these words to the local clergy of Birmingham as he sat in jail for engaging in passive resistance in one of the most racially divided cities in America at the time. He wrote this letter as the leader of what became known as the Civil Rights Movement when the momentum from his non-violent approach was reaching its apex.

At E3 Alliance in Austin, TX, we’ve often debated among fellow staff and partners the question, “Are we undertaking a movement for education change?” Rather than answering this question with a simple, “yes” or “no,” we talk about the characteristics that our work shares with that of a “movement.” One key characteristic that we share is the need to recognize and embrace the “tensions” that exist in transforming systems and that help fuel the necessary growth within our community and within ourselves.

Over the last six years of data-driven, results-oriented collective impact (CI), E3 staff and our partners have noted a number of creative tensions that CI practitioners experience. Today I’m highlighting one that I’ve experienced often in this work: When to Partner versus Push. In navigating this tension, the backbone organizations must decide for themselves which is the appropriate approach based on the unique qualities of their communities and their given roles.

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