I introduced the concept of collective impact a couple of weeks ago in my blog post. One of the first characteristics of creating collective impact is to define a common agenda. It sounds easy, right? We all agree to go in a common direction.
Well, when it comes to community organizing and finding a common agenda, it is one of the most difficult things to do. The difficulty is created because each person brings their own agenda and, when part of an organization brings their organization’s mission or purpose to the agenda setting table. Our own personal agendas come from our own experiences in life. Perhaps we grew up poor and have experienced the embarrassment of being teased for wearing garage sale clothes. Perhaps we have been called a “queer” or “faggot” without really knowing what the words meant, yet felt the shame associated with the power behind the derogatory terms being thrown in our direction. These personal experiences will shape our agendas.
If we are part of an organization doing good work, we also have an agenda. If I’m working to improve lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender rights, then that is an agenda item I bring to the table. Perhaps I’m committed to helping feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. I might believe that pollutants and toxins are destroying our environment and I need to fight for environmental justice. Genetically modified food is seen as pure evil and I need clean food.
Putting multiple agendas on the table and then using group processes designed to find common elements in these agendas is a piece of the process. One of the tactics to define a common agenda is to look at a root cause of something. As we at United Way of the Greater Triangle started listening to people and looking at data around health care, economics, literacy, and school success, we started to see an underlying issue, poverty, as something that impacts all of these areas.
Poverty and income inequity are a root problem impacting all of the issues we are facing as we provide human services to those in need. Poor people have limited access to health care. Poor people have limited access to education. Poor communities, often times, find environmental pollutants closer to them than more affluent communities. Poor communities have limited access to nutritous food (ie., food deserts).
When we identify a root cause to something, that begins to create a starting point for a common agenda. It becomes a place where we can begin to organize. It can be a place where common interests begin to merge.