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: