[COMM-ORG] Fall 2009 Collaborative Solutions Newsletter
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From: "Tom Wolff & Associates" <Tom_Wolff__Associates at mail.vresp.com>
Fall 2009 Collaborative Solutions Newsletter:
In This Issue:
The Power of Collaborative Solutions by Tom Wolff=E2=80=94to be published
A Focus on the Nitty Gritty of Coalition-Building =E2=80=93 Communication
Agendas and Meeting Minutes
What=E2=80=99s new at Tom Wolff & Associates?
The Center for Health Equity and Social Justice
The new Global eJournal of Community Psychology Practice
Welcome back to all of you.
The Tom Wolff & Associates Collaborative Solutions Newsletter has been
on vacation for the past year while I was busy putting the finishing
touches on my new book. It=E2=80=99s done! I have just reviewed final pages
and it=E2=80=99s almost time for the publisher, Jossey-Bass, to send it to =
printer. This is the near-final cover:
The Power of Collaborative Solutions:=20
Six Principles and Effective Tools for Building Healthy Communities=20
by Tom Wolff=20
To be published by Jossey-Bass/John Wiley in February 2010.=20
Foreword by Neal Peirce =E2=80=93 nationally syndicated columnist with the
Washington Post Writers Group
The Power of Collaborative Solutions is the culmination of thirty
years of community work that I have participated in. My goal in
writing the book is to help other people discover the amazing power I
have witnessed in communities that work together to solve their own
biggest problems.=C2=A0Inside you will find six key principles for success
in building health communities, along with easy-to-use, effective
tools and inspiring stories of ways that people have rediscovered
democracy and turned their communities around.
The Power of Collaborative Solutions is timely=E2=80=94because we need
solutions to serious social problems now. The collaborative process is
innovative because it includes the full broad spectrum of community
members, offering methods of empowering all citizens to be capable
actors in their personal and community lives.
This book, like the work it encourages, is based on a broad and deep
vision of community. I hope that in these pages:
Grassroots leaders will find both encouragement and methods they can
use to address community issues.
Community residents will discover the inspiration to tackle the local
issue that they have been mulling about, whether that is building a
new playground, reducing violence, improving school, or finding a way
to help and be helped by the isolated elderly members of their
Professionals in the helping system will be inspired to address the
dysfunctions in that system and to make their existing coalitions far
more effective and enjoyable.
Community problem-solvers will see the strengths of a collaborative
approach and will find new tools to help them reach their goals.
Anyone who designs systems for communities will see the urgency of
working across =E2=80=9Csilos,=E2=80=9D thinking of the community as a vita=
rather than a collection of detached parts.
Teachers and students will encounter principles, stories, and tools to
invigorate their classes and to help them keep their ideals alive when
they take theory into the real world.
There is a strong spiritual component to my journey and to the work of
community collaboration. Seeking collaborative solutions calls on us
to engage communities with acceptance and appreciation, to work with
various groups with deep compassion, and ultimately to understand our
deep interdependence on each other. When we pursue our spiritual
purpose in this work, we come to understand that indeed we are one,
and that we can do together things we cannot do apart.
(above is an excerpt from The Power of Collaborative Solutions)
Wow!=C2=A0. . . I literally couldn't stop reading...not something one
normally says about a book by a professional in any field!=C2=A0
This=C2=A0is a truly transformative book and a =E2=80=9Cmust read=E2=80=9D =
concerned with overcoming the limits of the possible through
collaborative action.=C2=A0Tom Wolff crafts a path to change that is at
once visionary and achievable.=C2=A0Interweaving poignant stories and hard
facts, he reminds us of what=E2=80=99s at stake =E2=80=93 and shows us the =
difference we can make by committing to bold new visions of
collaboration and community.
Meredith Minkler, Professor of Health and Social Behavior,=C2=A0University
of California, Berkeley, and co-author of Community-based
Participatory Research for Health (Jossey-Bass, 2008)
If you want to bring about sustained positive change in your
community, read this book. The stories will inspire you, and the
lessons will shine a light on your leadership path.=20
Tyler Norris, Founding President, Community Initiatives
Why=C2=A0collaborate? Because that's how to make change, now and in the
Here you'll find not just theory, but also the hard-won, down-to-earth
detail on how to make collaboration=C2=A0work where you live and act.=20
If you=C2=A0are a practitioner or academic looking to energize and
strengthen your collaborative skills, Tom Wolff's The=C2=A0Power of
Collaborative Solutions will pay dividends=C2=A0many times over.=20
Bill Berkowitz,=C2=A0Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of
Tom=E2=80=99s passion for social justice is equaled only by his courage and
commitment to progressive causes. Tom has a tremendous fount of
knowledge and he knows just what to do with it and how to help others
use it. He makes quick connections to practice and research and vice
versa. His kind and commonsensical manner means that his intellect is
Linda Bowen, Institute for Community Peace, Washington, DC
I am offering all my newsletter readers the opportunity to place a
pre-publication order for autographed copies for themselves and for
their colleagues with free postage in the US and Canada (click below
to order autographed copies, which will be shipped as soon as copies
are available from the printer in late February/March).
To pay by PayPal pal click this button:=20
To pay by check click here
A Focus on the Nitty Gritty of Coalition-Building: Communication
As I return with pleasure to the writing of my newsletter, I have
decided to focus on the basic nitty gritty of coalition-building
because so often in my work I observe that this makes the difference
between frustration and success. In this issue we will start with one
of the basics of successful collaborative solutions =E2=80=93 communication.
Communication includes all the ways that a coalition keeps its members
and the community informed of it activities, progress, and successes.
The primary communication methods are agendas and meeting minutes;
newsletters; and web sites.
Why is communication so critical to successful collaborative
A coalition is a group of individuals and/or organizations with a
common interest who agree to work together toward a common goal.
Finding our common interests, creating our common goal, and finally
creating joint action to create community change all require=C2=A0us to
share considerable information and to communicate clearly with each
other. We need to gather various voices in a room, create a respectful
environment where people can exchange information and seek common
solutions, and ensure that we really listen to each other. As we
proceed, we then have to be able to keep information current and
updated and disseminated to the coalition=E2=80=99s members and the wider
Poor communication has serious consequences.=C2=A0When we do not achieve
our communication goals, (1) members drop out because they don=E2=80=99t
believe they are being heard; (2) others undermine our efforts because
they don=E2=80=99t know what we are doing and fear the worst; and (3) we ha=
limited impact on our community because no one knows the good work
that we are doing.
For more information, see the Community Tool Box: =E2=80=9CDeveloping a Plan
So what are the keys to good communication in collaborative solutions?
I=2E Agendas and Meeting Minutes
Any coalition without agendas and minutes is a coalition in trouble.
Agendas bring order to meetings, allow us to plan for the work to be
done during the meeting, and allow members to know what is going to
happen. Seeing the agenda for a meeting often helps me decide whether
I will attend: Does it look like it will be a productive meeting? Does
it interest me?=20
It is best to have a small group put together the actual agenda so
that more than one person has input. It is even better if=C2=A0agenda items
are generated at the end of the previous meeting, and that those items
grow out of the last meeting. This produces an organic sense of
continuity from one meeting to the next.
It is then important for the meeting to actually adhere to the agenda.
How often do we go into meetings where people bring up =E2=80=9Curgent=E2=
that displace the planned agenda? Often in retrospect the =E2=80=9Curgent=
issue can be seen to have been less important than the topic on the
agenda. Obviously, flexibility is necessary because issues do arise
suddenly in communities. However, I have worked with coalitions where
crises, or perceived emergencies, constantly disrupt the group=E2=80=99s
capacity to plan and make progress.
Agendas also often have time indicators attached to items for
discussion or action. This structure can help the coalition get its
work done in the available time. Starting and ending on time are
critical norms for meetings that involve many over-committed people.
Attention to the use of time is also a sign of respect for the
Finally, it is very useful to record the commitments that people make
in a given meeting and to check in on their progress at the next
meeting. I have attached a variation in a structure for coalition
agendas and minutes that I learned from my colleague Greg Meissen,
from Wichita State University (link). In this system, the minutes end
with a section on past meeting agreements and commitments, in which we
record who agreed to do what by when. We circulate this section at the
end of the meeting. Then we check in on the items at the next meeting.
This has many benefits. First, this process makes it clear that we
expect coalition members to accomplish homework between meetings
(otherwise, how will you ever get anything done?). Second, it
indicates that we take our commitments seriously enough to record
them. Finally, when tasks appear in the minutes and we check in on
them at the next meeting we make it clear that if someone commits to a
job we actually expect that person to come through. This counteracts
the tendency in many coalitions for people to make commitments that
are then forgotten by everyone.
For more information, see the Community Tool Box: =E2=80=9CChecklist for
Please click here for a sample agenda.
When I mention creating a coalition newsletter to a new coalition
leader, I always get the same response=E2=80=94a deep groan or moan: =E2=80=
not a monthly newsletter!=E2=80=9D
A newsletter seems like it will be just another task, but once leaders
realize how much work the newsletter replaces they discover that it is
an incredible time-saver.=20
The coalition newsletter serves many purposes and becomes the major
form of communication for the coalition:
It announces your next meetings.
It gives updates on the progress of all your work groups.
It provides a place for personal commentary by the coalition
It opens a channel for community announcements.
It becomes the community presence of the coalition=E2=80=94some members may
not come to many meetings, but will read the newsletter regularly and
carefully. (We know this from coalition evaluations.)
It says to the community that the coalition is =E2=80=9Creal.=E2=80=9D By r=
your ideas and processes, it shows people that you are inclusive. By
celebrating your successes, it shows that you are effective.
It can be sent to all the major stakeholders in the community (the
mayor and other members of government, police, schools, clergy, and so
You can quickly see that a newsletter allows you to eliminate many
time-consuming tasks: distributing notices for monthly whole-coalition
meetings, delivering schedules for work group meetings, writing press
releases, collecting work group progress reports, and more.
To streamline the nuts-and-bolts of making the newsletter, create a
blank format for a front page that includes the coalition masthead and
core information, like your mission and contact information. When you
reuse that format each month, you will keep the mission in front of
the membership (and head off comments from those who say, =E2=80=9CWhy are =
doing this activity? It is not part of our mission.=E2=80=9D).
Some samples will make the value of a newsletter clear:
The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and the North Quabbin
Community Coalition have both been around for more than 20 years. Each
of these groups sends out a monthly newsletter that follows the layout
described above. Most of the copies are sent through email, which
eliminates the cost (and effort) involved in preparing and mailing
paper copies. In addition to other resources, you will see that their
newsletters include photos, calendar events, and listings of
people=E2=80=94work group members, staff, members of the board of directors,
donors (along with appeals for donations), legislators=E2=80=94and of
organizations, including agencies, churches, media outlets, and so on.
The Better Oral Health Massachusetts Coalition produces a one-page,
monthly, email-only summary that serves many of the above functions
but is shorter and simpler.
The Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, which serves a neighborhood of
residents, sticks to hard copies because its newsletter can be
distributed by hand at local sites. The newsletter, run off in color,
includes many photos of local residents. The focus is on engaging the
low-income Latino community surrounding the center, so the material is
in both English and Spanish.
Holyoke Unites/Holyoke Se Une created a beautiful email-only format
that they used for announcement of coming meetings and updates (see
For more information, see the Community Tool Box: =E2=80=9CCreating
III. Web sites
In this twenty-first century web 2.0 era, web sites are critical
communication resources for coalitions. Web sites can serve all the
functions of coalition newsletters and more. They are not just a
monthly mailing but a constant presence. And unlike newsletters, they
allow for the possibility of interaction with members and the
community. This interactive quality opens up the most exciting new
uses of web sites for coalitions. For example:
The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (NBCC) web site
takes advantage of many new web features, including online discussions
that allow NBCC members to keep dialogues going after a meeting ends.
The website becomes, in effect, an ongoing coalition meeting.
Donations are also managed through the web site.
The Better Oral Health Massachusetts Coalition (BOHMAC) web site
has become the crucial communication link for the organization=E2=80=99s
active work groups. Each work group has a location on the web site.
Members have passwords that allow them access to these locations,
where they can see draft documents (like goals and SMART objectives),
agendas, meeting notices, minutes, and so on. This wiki-like
interactive capacity encourages active engagement by work group
Holyoke Unites/Holyoke Se Une has a bilingual web site
It was set up not only to be a resource for the coalition but also as
a web 2.0 Information and Referral site for the community. Agency
listings link to Google maps, so residents can see where the agencies
are located. Because keeping this sort of information current is
always a major headache, the site was designed so the individual
agencies are responsible for updating their own material. A person at
each=C2=A0agency has been given training to do this.
As we can see from these examples, coalition web sites go beyond the
role of archiving coalition information and become another site where
members can participate and through which collaborative solutions can
emerge. Getting that participation on the web is not always easy, but
as more coalition members are more computer-savvy, the sites become
increasingly powerful tools. Interestingly, they can also encourage
involvement by younger community members.
For more information, see the Community Tool Box: =E2=80=9CCreating a Web
If your coalition has innovations in communication, whether they
involve minutes/agendas, newsletters, web sites, or something we
haven=E2=80=99t mentioned yet, please share them with us (tom at tomwolff.com)
and we will include your ideas in the next Collaborative Solutions
IV. What=E2=80=99s new at Tom Wolff & Associates
The last year has been full of exciting and rewarding work with people
and communities, in addition to the writing I have done on The Power
of Collaborative Solutions. I am indeed blessed to be working with
wonderful folks in communities across the country, and more recently
around the world.
After presenting a two-day workshop on coalition building in June 2008
in Lisbon, Portugal, as part of the Second International Community
Psychology Conference, I was invited back to Lisbon in December 2008
by the European Union to give an address called =E2=80=9CSocial Change and
Social Innovation: Creating Collaborative Solutions,=E2=80=9D for a gatheri=
entitled Powering a New Future Conference.
I am honored to have been asked to do a similar two-day workshop at
the Third International Community Psychology Conference, which will be
held in Puebla, Mexico, in June 2010.
I find the international interest in collaborative solutions
fascinating and I learn so much from the variety of cultural views of
the collaborative process.
Work with the Boston Public Health Commission=E2=80=99s Center for Health
Equity and Social Justice on issues of health disparities=20
For the past few years, I have been privileged to work with the Boston
REACH 2010 Coalition, which has focused on health disparities in Black
women with breast and cervical cancer. This remarkable coalition,
composed of community women who have had personal experience with
cancer, created significant change in Boston. (See their Black and
Pink campaign poster, below, which appeared on the outside of every
city bus for quite a while.). The work of this coalition is based on
the Boston Disparities Blueprint:
The CDC has recognized the work of this coalition by naming it one of
the national Centers of Excellence for the Elimination of Health
Disparities (CEED). With this acknowledgment, the group=E2=80=99s work has =
expanded to a region-wide effort. The focus of the participants in the
REACH coalition is on undoing racism and addressing the social
determinants that have a negative impact on health. In this way, their
approach harkens back to a healthy communities approach=E2=80=94with a
stronger dose of social justice and grassroots empowerment. I don=E2=80=99t
know of more difficult yet more exciting work happening anywhere in
the U.S. I am delighted to be a consultant to a number of the
coalition=E2=80=99s sites and to the Center itself as it pioneers this
critical work. I=E2=80=99ll keep you informed as we progress. This winter t=
Center will publish a manual that describes the group=E2=80=99s coalition
building process. In the meantime, if you have not yet seen the TV
series Unnatural Causes (www.unnaturalcauses.org), then catch it as it
replays on television this fall.
New ejournal arrives on the scene with a splash: The Global Journal of
Community Psychology Practice (GJCPPP)
My professional association has always been with the field of
community psychology. Over the past five years, I have helped
spearhead efforts focused on the practice of community psychology in
communities. Out of those discussions has emerged a brand new
international ejournal=E2=80=94The Global Journal of Community Psychology
Practice. With an international editorial board, plans for publication
in multiple languages, and the capacity to accept not only traditional
papers but also videos, the GJCPP has remarkable potential. We are now
accepting submissions (from all of you in the field who have something
to share related to community practice) for the first issue. So submit
now by going to www.gjcpp.org.
Now I=E2=80=99d like to share some exciting resources that have crossed my
desk in the past few months.
Thanks to my colleague Robert Gallant for alerting me to a new paper
entitled =E2=80=9CCommunity Capacities and Community Necessities,=E2=80=9D =
great =E2=80=9Cphilosopher of helping systems=E2=80=9D John McKnight=20
This past summer=E2=80=99s town hall meetings on the proposed national heal=
plan were often disrupted by protesters opposed to any change, and to
thoughtful discussion of alternatives. This led to some interesting
internet exchanges on the use or misuse of the work of the great
organizer Saul Alinsky (who would have celebrated his 100th birthday
this year) and an interesting piece on Saul Alinsky in the New York
We featured Geoffrey Canada=E2=80=99s Harlem Children=E2=80=99s Zone in our=
almost five years ago
Now we are thrilled that the HCZ
model is being endorsed by the Obama administration as it solicits
applications for Promise Neighborhoods.
My dear friend Bill Berkowitz shared with me a fascinating manual from
the federal government on the new push for citizen engagement in
government through the web =E2=80=93 great reading. It=E2=80=99s the Interg=
Solutions Newsletter called =E2=80=9CIncreasing Citizen Engagement in
Finally, I have always been a fan of the columns of Neal Peirce, a
columnist whose writing is syndicated in the Washington Post and 50
other newspapers across the country (including my local Daily
Hampshire Gazette). He recently wrote a few columns on collaboration
that are especially interesting to those of us deep in the
collaborative solutions trenches=E2=80=A6.
=E2=80=9CAgencies Collaborating: Affair of the Year,=E2=80=9D April 19, 2009
=E2=80=9CAn Overdue Breakout from =E2=80=98Silos,=E2=80=99 Borders,=E2=80=
=9D June 28, 2009
I am pleased to say that Neal Peirce also agreed to write the foreword
to my upcoming book.
Tom Wolff & Associates
24 South Prospect St
Amherst, Massachusetts 01002
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