Let's Talk About This Thing We Call 'Leadership'

Tracy Knutson
Executive Director

This past week, we had the pleasure and the privilege of convening a group of leaders as we move forward with our work in Collective Impact. Our work focused on looking at the idea of collaboration and what we need to do it well. Concepts and needs related to ‘leadership’ always surface - and the need to turn the dial on how we position leaders in the work we do.

These days, I am hanging out with many folks who have chosen to intentionally grow and deepen the practice of shared or transformational leadership. In one of the practice circles, Margaret Wheatley’s work was brought forward as a centering point for learning and conversation. This quote so beautifully describes the leadership style we are striving for in our work to bring people together:

“A leader is anyone who wants to help at this time. In fact, in this day and age, when problems are increasingly complex, and there simply are not simple answers, and there is no simple cause and effect any longer, I cannot imagine how stressful it must be to be a leader and to pretend that you have the answer. And a life-affirming leader is one who knows how to rely on and use the intelligence that exists everywhere in the community, the company or the school or the organization. And so these leaders act as hosts, as stewards of other people’s creativity and other people’s intelligence. And when I say host, I mean a leader these days needs to be one who convenes people, who convenes diversity, who convenes all viewpoints in processes where our intelligence can come forth. So these kinds of leaders do not give us the answers, but they help gather us together so that together we can discover the answers.” (Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, Margaret J. Wheatley)

Does that resonate for you? Sure does for us! Take it a step further and check out this video of Margaret talking about shifting leadership to support collaboration.

Convening conversation is vital to discovering answers to the challenges of violence in our communities. Over the coming months, we will be extending invitations to sessions and circles in communities throughout the province to share more about Collective Impact and to talk with people about leadership, collaboration and change making. Looking forward to learning and talking with you!

Growing a Backbone

Elisabeth Girard
Community Connector

One of the reasons that STOPS sought funding to test out a Collective Impact approach is that it addresses the necessity that an organization must hold collaboration itself as a piece of work. Collective Impact calls that organization a backbone.
Often times Community Based Organizations (CBOs) have been expected to come together, collaborate, and align as a collective without having resources dedicated to those functions. We know that community service providers and agencies are doing a lot of incredible work often times with inadequate resources like core-funding and staff capacity. The community sector is filled with people and organizations that have bold and hopeful visions of healthier safer communities. A lot of work is being done to achieve similar population-level goals. However, they are limited by silos and short-term funding. Asking CBOs to add an additional layer of work -- coordinating and collaborating between each other, with government, and across different sectors is not realistic or sustainable.
Despite these conditions, Saskatchewan has a reputation for being highly collaborative. Why is that? I personally don't have the answer, but it's something I would love to listen to people explore. Saskatchewan is certainly unique for many reasons and its collaborative network of change-makers is definitely one of them. For this reason (and many more), we believe that amazing things could happen if a Collective Impact approach was mobilized in Saskatchewan.
Collective Impact recognizes that a Backbone Organization needs to be accountable, resourced, and have the right capacity to coordinate collaborative practices to achieve population-level goals. That's how STOPS ties into the work of our network. Rather than holding issue-specific work, we hold process. A Backbone holds space and capacity for others to come together, build trusting relationships, and collaborate in a way that guided by a shared vision for change, aligned activities, shared measurement, and continuous communication. Our Collective Impact Approach: Addressing GBV in Saskatchewan project is funded for 5 years, but it will afford us the opportunity to build and strengthen STOPS as a Backbone beyond the scope of the project and hopefully to better support our network.
In building ourselves as a Backbone, we've been developing in areas such as: healing-centered as well as trauma and violence informed practice, Servant Leadership, Holding Space, and Circle Practice. These bodies of work are largely focused on the people and relationship side of working together. Which is also where things get messy... but beautiful things can happen. In acknowledging that, one of our guiding values as an organization is, "We believe in the power of relationships to create change." I believe this speaks to why STOPS is especially well-positioned to be a Backbone. As Liz Weaver, one of the gurus of Collective Impact says, "Authentic community change moves at the speed of trust."If you're interested in learning more about some of the bodies of practice we've been digging into, check out some of these resources:

New Paint, New Perspective

Stephanie Bourassa
Community Education Coordinator

I have to admit we have been a little scatter brained around the office the past couple of weeks. As we prepare for the hustle and bustle that fall often brings we’ve also each taken some time for ourselves, have decided to do some light renovations to our office, and prepare to welcome two students to our team for the upcoming months. I’m looking forward to the many changes that the coming weeks bring for us as we step into our new space, but you should see the chaos we managed to create in here in the meantime! For weeks we agonized over paint colours, desks, how to update the kitchen, where to store things, and ultimately how to create what STOPS feels like to us. Once we settled on what we wanted, then came the doing. Stuff was everywhere, every dirty spot and scuff on the bare carpets and walls were obvious and walking through the front door meant stepping into chaos, and over chairs. It’s a good kind of chaos though; as the remaining changes and cleaning come to a close I can feel the space transforming into something new, fresh, and more like us. It’s the first step in our transition from the liminal space we have been in and into our transformed organization.

I think it’s fitting that we took this first step after finishing our discussions on Heather Plett's work in Holding Space. Tracy, Elisabeth and I discussed the different ways we could bring the idea of holding space into our collective impact work, and a lot of our discussions led to things that we need to do for our own organization in order to show up in the best way for others as we move forward. It’s important to take care of yourself too.

We’re undergoing big changes as we step into new work, more space, and added staff. I look forward to sharing the other transitions that we make with you.For more information about Holding Space from Heather Plett please visit her website here.

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Change Moves and the Speed of Trust

Have you ever sat across a meeting table from someone, eyeballing them and trying to figure out who they are and what their angle is before speaking?  Or sent an email only to have it misinterpreted and things go very sideways?  How about the exhaustion of partnerships where you are constantly questioning the motives and behaviours of the people you are working with? 

We recently attended a Collective Impact Train the Trainer event, hosted by our friends at the Tamarack Institute, to do a deep dive into the Collective Impact approach.  Collective Impact (CI) is a framework that supports community change leaders by bringing together stakeholders to engage in cross-sectoral collaboration. This means that Instead of working in silos or working parallel to one another potentially undermining another person’s work or reproducing the same work, we work together to create innovative systems of change that have the capacity to meaningfully support our communities at a large scale.  The ‘how we do it’ is as important as ‘what we do’ – and trust based relationships are key.  Liz Weaver, Co-CEO of the Tamarack Institute, offers some great thoughts on this in her paper ‘Turf, Trust and Collaboration’.  Take a look at it here.

Trust.  It’s kind of a big deal.  It’s also really tough to define – and can mean different things for everyone.  In the context of collaboration and social change, it is vital to working well together over the long term.  Large social change doesn’t happen if people pack up their toys and go home rather than working out the tough spots.  It also doesn’t happen if we don’t trust each other enough to open to the vulnerability of ‘I don’t know’ and committing to nurturing long term relationships.  We can only go as far and as fast as these relationships will take us.  I remember, years ago, setting my first boundaries for personal relationships in the dating world.  I really only had one – ‘no bs and no surprises’.  I now know that it was the best that my late teen self could to do to communicate the conditions I needed to be able to trust someone.  Consistency.  Communication.  Consideration.  Truth telling. Authenticity. Vulnerability.  My own sense of self worth and confidence.  I’ll also openly admit that I’ve had some big trust issues to work through and was often the first to punt and run when things got challenging.  Trust.  Little word. Big deal.  And a lot of work to give and receive.   

As we move forward into the process of strengthening the STOPS to Violence Network, nurturing and stewarding trust based relationships is top of mind for us.  We will soon be heading out to communities to talk about what this looks like – and are looking forward to a lot of rich learning and discussion about ways that we build stronger trust relationships in our work.  In the meantime, ponder this:  What does trust mean to you?  What are the conditions that you need to trust?  We’ll be asking!

Tracy Knutson
Executive Director

Supporting Ourselves so we can Better Support our Children and Youth

I'm Stephanie Bourassa, Community Education Coordinator with STOPS to Violence. I began working with STOPS through the Kids Matter program just over a year ago and have learned so much about the many ways children and youth interact with, and react to, the adults around them. Over the last 10 years I've worked with children and youth in a few different capacities; including, kids fitness classes, nutrition education for parents and children, delivering sexual health presentations for teens and young adults, coordinating children's programs for other non-profit organizations, and being a mother myself.

Within the Kids Matter presentations we incorporate person centered mindfulness techniques to help keep the students feeling comfortable and regulated as we discuss the tough topics of violence and abuse. This practice is so valuable in helping our team maintain some sense of calm with groups of 40 kids, but it isn't only for the students. While the facilitators are doing the mindfulness techniques and the students are following along, the adults in the room stop and watch, but don't always participate. I get it, being told to 'breath in...and out...' gets tiresome, and most of us would prefer to roll our eyes, and move on with our day; but, I can think of many times when taking that breath could have saved me from an emotional spiral later. So, we've rolled our eyes, we didn't take the breath, we've had an emotional overflow, and....oh shit the kids/class/daycare/hockey team/youth group is giving you 'the look'. Now what?

It can be horrifying to remember that we aren't perfect, but mistakes happen, and that is okay. I received an email from Heather Plett (we are currently working with her program on Holding Space within our work at STOPS) on this topic and she outlines 8 important steps to take in these moments:

  • Don't keep your wounds a secret, let them in on the story so that they have an understanding of what is going on for you (according to what is appropriate for their age and relationship to you)

  • Let them know what you will do to try and sooth yourself in the future when you are feeling triggered

  • Apologize

  • Model emotional literacy - label your emotions, so that they can learn to label theirs

  • Don't put the burden of your grief/anger/trauma on them

  • Teach them about boundaries and consent, and model them yourself

  • Work to create an environment where it is safe for them to challenge you

  • Don't take it personally

To read Heather Plett's full post "The Wounded Parent: Raising kids while doing our own healing" please click here.

I was struck by how applicable these concepts are both for parents and educators. These steps seem basic, but they can be very difficult to practice. When a child challenges our ideas (especially when we are CERTAIN that we are right) it can be easy to take it personally and allow the challenge to be a hit to our ego, rather than a learning experience for them. Unless we are aware of how are emotions affect us, or even when they are, it can be difficult to reassure them that we can sooth ourselves in the future, leaving an apology feeling empty, or model emotional literacy and help educate them about their own emotions and how to handle them.

When we work or interact with children or youth it can be easy to become focused on meeting their needs first and setting our own to the side. It can be incredibly hard to put yourself first, especially when you know just how much those kids need you, so next time you hear 'breath in...and out..." resist the urge to roll your eyes, and take 30 seconds for you.

Wishing you many days of walking on sunshine,
Stephanie Bourassa
Community Education Coordinator

The Power of Collectives

Before I tell what I'm thinking about, I should probably tell you a little bit about who I am. I'm the Community Connector at STOPS to Violence and my name is Elisabeth Girard. I've started my journey with the organization about four months ago. Specifically I was hired on for our 5 year Collective Impact Project addressing Gender-Based Violence in Saskatchewan. Before that, I was a student intern working in green energy. Before that, I was a very exhausted university student at First Nations University of Canada.

The project we're doing is essentially a test-run of using a Collective Impact approach in Saskatchewan, which we hope will best utilize the unique networks of community in our province. Our targeted issue for the next 5 years is GBV, beyond that... who knows where it might take us!

Collective Impact (CI) is a methodology that has five basic ingredients, formally known as the Five Conditions: A Common Agenda, Shared Measurement, Mutually Reinforcing Activities, Continuous Communication, and the support of a Backbone Organization. We can dig deeper into those another time.

The "collective" part of Collective Impact is what I want to think more deeply about today. One of the reasons that I felt particularly drawn to this project and to CI was the recognition of human relationships and our collective capacity to do incredible things.

"Tackling community change requires a mindset that working collaboratively is more productive than trying to address the challenge as a single organization or entity." - Liz Weaver, Tamarack Institute

When we think and act with a collective lens, really wonderful things can happen. Collectivity is necessary for the healing process, whether its within a family, a local community, a province, or a nation. For my people, the Michif and Nehiyaw, a ceremony can only happen when people come together. One person working alone can't chop the wood, make the soup, build the lodge, load the pipes, and gather the people. If any healing is to occur, there must always be at least two or more
who agree on what must get done. If resources are tight, we pool everything we have together and find a way to make it work. The wisdom and willingness of the collective is all that is necessary.

I hope to take that teaching forward with me in this work. It never ceases to amaze me what a small collective of people can achieve.... Have you been inspired (yet) by the power of collectivity?

If you want to learn more about Collective Impact and the Tamarack Institute, please check out their website here!

A sore leg and Gender Based Analysis

Firstly, let me introduce myself - Tracy Knutson, Executive Director of STOPS to Violence. Over the coming months, we will be upping our efforts to get to know you and to offer more insight into the who's who at STOPS.

This week, I have a story I want to share. I was at one of the local hospitals for a 'procedure' - a pretty typical treatment for a long term (non gendered) sports injury kind of thing. When the procedure was done, the very kind and helpful staff came to check on me and handed me my discharge instructions, which I promptly stuffed in my bag. When I got home, I was reading them and one particular part jumped out at me: 'You may do light work such as cooking or washing dishes. Vacuuming is not light work.'. Ummm.... Ok?

This got me thinking. Either they have a different set of instructions they give to female identified and male identified people - and they just happened to assess that I should get the female identified one or they buy in to the idea of the 'man flu' that assumes that males do not have the same tolerance for discomfort as females, and therefore would just lay on the couch and do not need to be instructed to do so post procedure.

Gender stereotypes at work? I think so.

At STOPS, we have been digging into a tool called Gender Based Analysis (GBA+) and learning more about gender, intersectionality and how people experience systems, programs and policies very differently based on who they are. GBA+ helps us recognize and move beyond our assumptions, uncover the realities of people's lives, and find ways to address their needs. But we can only know if a group is affected differently if we explore it using GBA+. Incorrect assumptions can lead to unintended and unequal impacts on particular groups of people. Click here to learn more about this valuable tool.

And haha on the hospital folks - the last things on my list on any given day are cooking, washing dishes or vacuuming. But thanks for the warning!

All the best to you for your week,
Tracy Knutson, Executive Director.