Contents of Fall 2004 Collaborative Solutions Newsletter:

In this issue:

Collaborative Solutions - Six Key Components
1. Engage a broad spectrum of the community.
2. Encourage true collaboration as the form of exchange.
3. Practice democracy, and promote active citizenship and empowerment.
4. Employ an ecological approach that builds on community strengths.
5. Take action by addressing issues of social change and power.
6. Align the goals with the process.

Tom Wolff & Associates - What is new?
       Catch Tom Wolff live on video delivering keynote address
       New clients

       Geoffrey Canada moves from programs to community transformation
       Community Food assessments


       What does the phrase Collaborative Solutions really mean? The answer to this question has been the driving force behind thirty years of my work with hundreds of communities and organizations. It is a fascinating yet daunting question. In its simplest form collaborative solutions involve doing together what we cannot do apart.
       First, a bit of history:
       Thirty years ago I directed programs for a Community Mental Health Center. The Center was trying to place two emergency service beds in a community, a process that required a community hearing. I represented the Center at the meeting; the meeting was chaotic. The police and fire departments raised a variety of questions and concerns, as did the City Councilor from Ward Two, where the beds would be placed. The Mayor sat and listened. The Department of Mental Health responded to the questions by accusing the City of a NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) attitude and a stigma against the mentally ill. Then, the Mayor got angry. The environment in the room was conflictual, hostile and unproductive. I used my best group process skills to identify the issues, the disagreements, and future directions. Agreement to site the two beds in the community occurred. The Mayor announced that he would not tolerate this level of discord, and he was creating a Mayor’s Task Force on Deinstitutionalization. Then, pointing at me he said “And you, young man, will chair it!” So, I spent the next nine years facilitating, refereeing, and learning about how parties in a community that could be in total disagreement with each other could find productive ways of seeking new solutions through collaboration. The Mayor’s Task Force on Deinstitutionalization was where I really began to learn what it takes to bring together organizations and a community to seek collaborative solutions.
       Today, my work often involves bringing parties together to solve problems in a collaborative manner. Sometimes these parties are within one organization; sometimes they represent the various groups within a community; and, sometimes they come from all over the country. The focus of their work is extremely varied. Some recent examples include: health access, violence prevention, neighborhood organizing, asthma, community development, tobacco, children’s health needs, multi-ethnic coalitions, end of life issues, non-profit management, and child abuse. In all situations, they are seeking help in finding collaborative solutions.

       So, what does it take to create collaborative solutions? I propose six crucial components:

  1. Engage a broad spectrum of the community, especially those most directly affected.
  2. Encourage true collaboration as the form of exchange.
    Practice democracy, and promote active citizenship and empowerment
  3. Practice democracy, and promote active citizenship and empowerment
  4. Employ an ecological approach that emphasizes the individual in her/his setting, and builds on community strengths and assets.
  5. Take action by addressing issues of social change and power based on a common vision.
  6. Align the goals with the process.

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Engage a broad spectrum of the community.

       In order to seek collaborative solutions, we need to bring together all the key parties. How can we think that we will find workable solutions without engaging the key players, especially those most directly affected by the issues? Yet, we often try to resolve gang violence without gang members at the table, combat youth drug abuse without talking to the youth, address the needs of new immigrant communities without bringing immigrants into the room, or understand why front line employees are disgruntled without asking the employees.
       Collaborative solutions require that we bring all the parties into the room with each other – just that step is a triumph. Then, we need to create an atmosphere of respect where the racial and cultural diversity of the community is celebrated as being central to the community’s or the corporation’s wholeness. Until we are able to understand that our diversity is our richness, we will continue to struggle to find collaborative solutions that truly meet the needs of all in our communities or organizations.

       Spotlight: In Santa Barbara, California when the Pro Youth Coalition wanted to understand and halt an outbreak of gang-related killings, they brought the gangs to the table with the coalition. Ex-gang bangers became the staff for the programs that would engage the gangs in seeking new solutions.


Encourage true collaboration as the form of exchange.

       We use the term ‘collaboration’ quite easily, often glibly, without really defining the word. My colleague, Arthur Himmelman, has done us all a great service by defining collaboration and differentiating it from networking, coordination and cooperation.
       Networking: Exchanging information for mutual benefit.
       Coordination: Exchanging information and modifying activities for mutual benefit.
       Cooperation: Exchanging information, modifying activities and sharing resources for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose.
       Collaboration: Exchanging information, modifying activities, sharing resources and enhancing the capacity of another for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose by sharing risks, resources, responsibilities and rewards.
       (Reference: American Journal of Community Psychology 2001, vol. 29, p. 277-284)
       Himmelman’s definitions help us to see that collaboration is a sophisticated, multi-layered, and radical concept. To enhance the capacity of the other requires a transformation. In many systems, opposing community institutions, organizational departments, or state agencies are aligned to be competitive and even hostile to each other. When City Hall works to enhance the capacity of the city’s neighborhoods and the neighborhoods can enhance the capacity of City Hall, – then we have a transformation to collaborative solutions.

       Spotlight: In Rockford, Illinois when the Violence Prevention Collaborative wanted to engage the African-American community they offered small minigrants to African-American churches to support summer youth activities. Through this new partnership, the Violence Prevention Collaborative was able to enhance the capacity of these churches to acknowledge and intervene in the violence in their community, and the African-American community was able to see the value of the Collaborative and join the Collaborative’s Board.

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Practice democracy and promote active citizenship and empowerment

       When a coalition sets up their chairs in a circle and fills the room with a broad spectrum of the community, we have the possibility for democracy and participation. When the leader asks everyone in the room to list the top issues facing their community and the Mayor’s answer and the grassroots residents’ answers are written down on newsprint with the same pen and given equal weight, then we have one of the most concrete examples of real democracy that we find in America today. Creating settings where all voices can be heard, respected, and counted is our first step.
       In successfully seeking collaborative solutions, we need to examine our own processes to see how we are encouraging and supporting civic engagement in a way that truly allows the airing of diverse issues, and the pursuit of new solutions. This goes beyond just bringing those with the least power to the table; it means designing ways for all views to be heard and respected by those with more power – not any easy task. It also requires that we support those most disenfranchised in gaining the skills and finding the opportunities to practice active citizenship successfully. We have learned through our work with youth that you cannot just bring youth to the table and achieve success. You must create a setting and educate the adults in the room to act in such a manner that allows the voice of youth to be heard.

       Spotlight: The North Quabbin Community Coalition in rural Central Massachusetts identified transportation as their key issue in their first year of existence. Five years later, not much had happened on this issue. At that point, the graduates of the local literacy project decided to make transportation their cause. In partnership with the coalition, they became the backbone of a persistent lobbying effort to the state and federal legislators for a solution to the lack of transportation. In the meantime, they modeled Margaret Mead’s famous saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” They began a volunteer rides program to fill the gap and sold buttons with Mead’s quote to fund the operation. A few years later, their Congressman delivered the funding for the first comprehensive transportation system for the area; residents could now get to jobs, health care and shopping. In the first year alone, there were 23,000 rides

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Employ an Ecological Approach that Builds on Community Strengths

       In my first undergraduate psychology course, I was taught that behavior is a function of the person and their environment. Many decades later, I marvel at our inability to take in both the person and their environment at the same time. When the issue of obesity lands in the headlines, we see attempts to either blame the victim or, blame the candy/soda manufacturer. We have a hard time simultaneously understanding the role of each party and their interactions.
       However, I think that the asthma epidemic will be our ultimate teacher of this important lesson. Asthma requires careful medical management of the disease at the same time requiring careful management of the environmental factors that trigger asthma. We will never get a handle on the asthma epidemic without doing both at the same time.
       The World Health Organization’s Ottawa Charter spelled this out most clearly by listing the pre-requisites of health: peace, education, food, shelter, equity, income, social justice, a stable ecosystem and sustainable resources. By listing the social determinants of health, the Ottawa Charter has set an individual’s health in the context of their larger environment.

       Spotlight: In one community in Connecticut, the local Asthma Coalition has developed an ‘anti-idling’ policy for school buses; buses no longer idle outside the schools while waiting for children to be dismissed. This seemingly simple action took enormous collaboration amongst a broad group of players (as an ex-elected school committee member, I know what it takes to change a school district’s bus contract!). An anti-idling policy recognizes the key role of environmental triggers in the high rates of asthma among schoolchildren.

       Identifying and building on a community’s strengths and assets is another key component of the collaborative solutions process. Once we decide that a person’s environment is critical to their lives, we can begin to look at the assets that both they and their environment bring to the possible solution of problems that may arise. John McKnight (Kretzmann, J. and McKnight, J. Building Communities From the Inside Out, 1993) has taught us to seek the assets and strengths of communities and this remains a key variable in finding collaborative solutions.

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Take action by addressing issues of social change and power based on a common vision.

       Taking action: Collaborative solutions do not come about automatically by just getting the right people around the table and talking respectfully. Indeed all that may be produced by such meetings is hot air. Community change, organizational change and systems change happen when the group decides to act. Too often we sit around and study issues to death and never get around to creating change. The spotlight that follows illustrates a collaborative that did create change:

     Spotlight: In the 1990’s, Provincetown had one of the highest rates of HIV infection in Massachusetts. In order to get adequate care, however, persons with AIDS had to travel to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, a three-hour drive from Provincetown. For those without a car or those who were unable to drive, their only mode of transportation was the bus. Daily, the public bus left Provincetown in the morning and arrived in Hyannis where they had to change for the private Boston connector. Unfortunately that Boston bus regularly pulled out on schedule fifteen minutes before the bus arrived from Provincetown. Once in Boston, the patient had to make their way across the city to Beth Israel. This was ridiculous.
       At this time, the Lower Outer Cape Community Coalition, an organization committed to collaborative solutions, was working to enhance transportation in their area. When this transportation issue arose at a coalition transportation task force meeting, the coalition called for action. The private and public bus providers made an agreement to talk and see if they could find a common solution to this problem of uncoordinated schedules. And, they did. Within a few weeks, bus schedules had been modified; now, the Provincetown bus arrived in time for riders to catch the connector to Boston. A few weeks later, the Director of the company that managed the bus to Boston took a ride to see what AIDS patients faced when they arrived in Boston. He was so impressed with the arduousness of the trek across Boston by foot and bus that he decided to have his own buses stop at the hospital directly. This simple, no cost collaborative solution eluded those involved until a conscious process of coalition building convened the community and addressed the issue.
       Addressing issues of social change: In collaborative solutions we are not only looking for action, we are looking for action that addresses issues of social change and power based on a common vision. So, one of our first step is to create a common vision, one that has been created and agreed upon by all the sectors of a community. Then, as we begin to act on the vision, we have to be willing to address issues of power As Judith Kurland, one of the founders of Healthy Communities in America, has stated "our work is not just about projects….programs …. or policies. Healthy Communities is about power. Unless we change the way power is distributed in this country, so that people in communities, have the power to change the conditions of their lives…. we will never have sustainable change.” (Video “Healthy Communities America’s Best Kept Secret” see )

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Align the goal with the process:

       Gandhi stated “Be the change that you wish to create in the world.” This quote speaks eloquently to the final component of collaborative solutions. We must create collaborative solution processes that parallel and reflect what we hope the outcomes will look like. If in our common vision we are seeking a community that is respectful of its diversity, then we must get there through collaborative processes that model diversity and respect. If we wish to create a caring and loving community, then our collaborative must be caring and loving too. This is the spiritual aspect of the work, that we rarely talk about.
       In much of the work I am asked to do, I am engaged with people whose goal is to improve the lives of those in need. These are wonderful people who have committed themselves to helping others. When I ask them whether they have chosen this work for the prestige, high salaries, plush offices or stock options, the answer is always “Of course not!” Indeed, as one person stated, “I do this work because of something greater than me. A sense of being interconnected.” I would call this a spiritually-based motivation. What if we started to ask and explore how that spirituality contributes to our capacity to successfully seek collaborative solutions? Who knows what could happen?
       We need to talk about this key component in the lives of so many who are part of our collaborative solutions work.

       Spotlight: Founding coordinator of the North Quabbin Community Coalition, Barbara Corey, epitomized the aligning of the goal with the process. Barbara had a practice of ‘carding’ people. This involved sending postcards of appreciation to people after their special participation in a meeting, whether it was a presentation or staying afterwards to help with the dishes. All of us who received cards from Barbara cherished and saved them. And then we did something special – we bought a stack of cards to keep in our desk so that we could ‘card’ others. It was ‘infectious appreciation’ and represented the caring and concern the coalition was trying to create in the community.

       The six key components of Collaborative Solutions will be expanded upon along with many real world case examples in an upcoming book by Tom Wolff. Stay tuned.

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Tom Wolff & Associates - What is new

Catch Tom Wolff Delivering Keynote Address to the Champions Conference in Snowbird, Utah.

       This June, Tom Wolff had the honor and privilege to address the Champions for Progress gathering in Snowbird, Utah. Champions provides support to a national network of those working with children with special health care needs. We are pleased that Champions chose to put the video of the keynote address on its website. Click below to catch the full talk:

Recent Clients of Tom Wolff & Associates

National Councils on Aging, Washington, DC
Champions for Progress, Utah
Institute for Educational Leadership, Washington DC
Community Catalyst, Boston
New Hampshire Extension Service
Institute for Community Peace, Washington, DC
Keeping Children Safe Downeast, Maine
Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, Covington
New Hampshire Tobacco Prevention and Control Program
North Quabbin Community Coalition, Athol, MA.
Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, Fitchburg, MA
North Central Massachusetts Minority Coalition
Institute for Non Profit Development at Mt. Wachusett Community College Gardner, MA

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       Many of us know of Geoffrey Canada’s remarkable work on youth violence from his 1995 book “Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun.” The articles below are an account of his new transformational work in the Bronx where Canada has moved from remedial programs to community and systems transformation. It is an amazing example of the kind of effort that is needed all across the country. Bravo Geoffrey!

New York Times Profiles Harlem Children's Zone – From Philanthropy News Digest

Geoffrey Canada is a man on a mission, a mission to change the way America thinks about the problems of thousands of kids growing up in poverty, the New York Times reports. In 1990, Canada was president of the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families, a Harlem-based nonprofit organization that offered an array of not-so-unusual services -- after-school programs, truancy prevention, anti-violence training for teenagers -- to disadvantaged kids and their families. After a few years of running programs, however, Canada's ideas about fighting poverty began to change, inspired, in part, by a waiting list he was forced to establish for an increasingly popular after-school program. His frustration with only being able to serve five hundred children, rather than every child that could benefit from the program, combined with his growing knowledge of what worked and what didn't when dealing with the problems of disadvantaged kids and their families, made him resolve to find a new way to address those problems. Rather than helping a few kids to beat the odds, he wondered, why not change the odds altogether?

Three years ago, that's what he set out to do. Choosing as his laboratory a twenty-four-block zone of central Harlem (now expanded to sixty blocks) -- an area with about 6,500 children, more than 60 percent of whom live below the poverty line and three-quarters of whom score below grade level on statewide reading and math tests.

Canada reinvented Rheedlen as the Harlem Children's Zone and reached out to funders for help in creating a comprehensive, cradle-to-adolescence approach to addressing the problems faced by kids growing up in poverty.

The HCZ approach combines educational and social programs with medical services serving preschool children, grade-schoolers, adolescents, new parents, grandparents in parental roles, and others. The programs are carefully planned and well run, but none of them, on their own, is particularly revolutionary. It is only when considered together, as part of a larger, holistic framework, that they seem new. Canada believes that each child will do better if the children around him are doing better. So the organization's recruiters go door-to-door to find participants, sometimes offering enticements to parents who enroll their children in the group's programs. The result is a remarkable level of "market penetration," as the organization describes it, with 88 percent of the roughly 3,400 children under eighteen in the core 24-block. HCZ neighborhood already served by at least one of its programs. The objective, as Canada describes it, is to create a safety net woven so tightly that children in the neighborhood can't slip through.

    Tough, Paul. "The Harlem Project." New York Times
    Magazine 6/20/04.

Community Food Assessments

       We are constantly impressed by how many groups are adopting a collaborative solutions approach to their unique work in the world. While working in the field of healthy communities we held conferences that gathered those around New England who were working in parallel fields such as sustainable communities, smart growth communities, safe communities, civic engagement, community building, livable communities, restorative justice, and others. We realized how much we had in common, and how much we could learn from each other.
       Now we have learned about another collaborative solutions approach called Community Food Assessments from our colleagues in the Community Food Security Coalition ( They define a community food assessment as “a participatory and collaborative process that examines a broad range of food-related issues and assets in order to inform actions to improve the community’s food system. Through such assessments, a diverse group of stakeholders work together to research their local food system, to publicize their findings, and to implement or advocate for changes based on those findings.” (Community Food Security News Spring 2004). More information is available at

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