Community of Practice flocks together

by admin December 3, 2019

By Mark VanderKlipp, Learning Steward for the Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center Public Will Campaign
Originally published at

As a part of our Systems Change Accelerator Grant, the TBCAC and our Public Will Campaign have been given the opportunity to learn alongside other grant recipients in a series of quarterly meetings convened by Rotary Charities and designed to increase the connections, shared learning and impact of each of the funded initiatives.

According to Rotary Charities, this is intended to be “a facilitated space where grantees connect, build trust, share and learn from one another about systems change and the impact of specific initiatives.”

The other participants in the Community of Practice (CoP) include:

Each team has been asked to assign a “Learning Steward” who is tasked with identifying and sharing stories, both within our CoP and the larger systems we’re working to influence. So as we have evidence of systems change or shared learnings to report, we collect them from our initiative partners and present them at each quarterly meeting. As topics have arisen for further study, we also self-select into learning pods and meet together to discuss, then share our findings with the larger group.

For the Public Will Campaign, we see this as an opportunity to :

Learn from/with each other

  • Bring back strategies on systems change work

  • Provide our team access to other systems

  • Learning from each other, and from other initiatives

  • Bring new perspectives on “problems” with new perspective on solutions

  • Develop collective approaches to support systems change

  • Learn from different systems and how collaboration between orgs/work/look like

Create new or better connections/partnerships 

  • Potential partnerships in the community

  • Greater connection to community networks around other initiatives 

  • To engage the “meta-system”

  • Links to related parts of the system

  • Greater engagement from existing network partners

  • Find out how we fit in the Community of Practice

Educate others about our initiative/issue area

  • Issue awareness/elevation

  • Bring a voice to the community about youth homelessness

Communicate more effectively 

  • How to more broadly communicate our work

  • Effective communications/processes/methods/

Access new resources/knowledge of different approaches

  • Bring information people learned from elsewhere/diverse backgrounds

  • How to create adaptive structures as change occurs

  • New levels/disciplines of engagement

  • Learn how to effectively evaluate our work

  • Access to resources that were previously unknown

  • Learn how to evaluate systems change

  • Sharing stories



This set the stage for our collective participation. Together, we developed foundational aspirations and ground rules about how we will “be” together as individuals and teams. Common themes that emerged from the discussion include the following, listed in order of priority:

  • Change management, navigating discomfort, anticipating and planning for challenges

  • Find & use a common language about systems change, build excitement

  • Learn how to evaluate our initiatives, identify early signs of change

  • Better understand systems by finding connections between seemingly dissimilar work, toward maximized impact

  • Connect to each other to learn, especially about the process of systems change work

  • Lifting up the voices of those who aren’t at the table, especially those most directly affected

  • Inspiration: imagining a world that is different

  • Build mutually beneficial partnerships

  • Advance awareness of each initiative

  • Personal growth, self-awareness

  • Creating a safe space – ongoing, vulnerable conversations

Six Conditions.png

We also reviewed and discussed several approaches to addressing systems change, such as this one titled “The Six Conditions of Systems Change.” We use this often in our discussions about which types of change we’re working to address: structural to transformative.



This started with an in-depth discussion of Mindsets and how they impact systems work. From there, we moved into a Core Narrative exercise that sets the baseline for the words, phrases and concepts that each initiative is meant to impact. Using this, each initiative can build a variety of stories that explain and expand on various parts of the narrative. The group from the TBCAC Public Will Campaign developed the Core Narrative that you can review here.

For the Core Narrative, we asked each team to provide an overview of their initiative and answer the following questions:

What core belief inspires your initiative? Why must things change?

What complex problem are you working to solve? What is the status of the problem?

What parts of the system are you working to change? Think of system structures like policies, practices, mindsets, power, relationships, etc.

What are you doing to change parts of the system?

What do you hypothesize will result? What is your vision for the future?

By developing and presenting these narratives to each other, we gained clarity as members of our own initiative teams and also were able to better understand our colleagues’ initiatives so that we can continue to work together on each other’s challenges.


This gave each of us the opportunity to share in-depth information with the other participants using the following questions. We answered them below for our Campaign:

What problem is this initiative addressing?
Getting to the underlying societal/behavioral conditions that allow child sexual abuse (CSA) to happen, community by community

How are we addressing it?
Have begun to communicate various aspects of CSA via a Public Will campaign website, designed to be a hub for logic, initiative reporting, storytelling, etc. Looking to populate the site as the initiative moves forward.

What are we working on now?
A pilot survey through MSU that has been designed and vetted by the Office for Survey Research (OSR). Launch planned for Manistee county; once done, it will go state-wide.

What are we most excited about?
Survey launch, listening to communities and testing messaging/initiatives that give people strength and permission to be better bystanders

Working group discussing a Community of Practice challenge relative to their initiative.

Working group discussing a Community of Practice challenge relative to their initiative.

What is a connection you have between initiatives?
Our initiatives are inextricably linked to others in the CoP, e.g. the Homeless Youth Initiative - we want to “pull the strings tighter” because homelessness is a “tip of the iceberg” issue for CSA.

Having heard from each initiative, our guest speaker Meg Hargreaves had an opportunity to comment and answer questions posed by Rotary Charities’ Tori Craig. Some pearls of wisdom from the conversation:

  • After so many years of systems change it is now being accepted by largest foundations, and government, local and federal; lots of blending, braiding to fill the gaps.

  • We’re naturals at this (the work of systems change) as long as we stay away from fancy words.

  • Don’t worry about attribution, think about contribution. That is the core of collaborative change - aligned work is moving the needle, you may not even know why precisely.

  • Part of the Theory of Change is having a collective understanding of what the problem is, and asking what groups/individuals are doing toward the shared goal - they talk about it individually and collectively.

  • Panarchy - a moment of destruction before more order emerges, example of a County in midwest shifting from “child protection” to “child wellbeing” paradigm - in state of panarchy now, everything is changing; helping them see what has to be let go of to let new things come, not make it a forced march, focus on early adopters, pilot programs to help others see it is not so bad to make the shift, people have to experience positive change.

  • Systems leaders must remain calm and help others to stay calm while they try new things

  • If we create the ecosystem supports that help people through a traumatic change process, people will get to a new normal.



Yet another opportunity to learn from and with each other, this meeting was facilitated by Mimi Appel, who has been mentoring our Rotary Charities partners on managing and sustaining a Community of Practice.

Our first exercise focused on building community with another initiative, answering the following questions:

  1. What problem is your initiative addressing? How are you addressing it?

  2. What is a recent success you have had? What made it successful? 

  3. What role did you play in the success?

  4. How can you apply what you learned in the future?

We then reported out what we’d learned. We teamed with the Great Lakes Naturalist Initiative and drew the following parallels:

  • We are each engaged in defending, preserving and improving a precious resource.

  • We’re each working to encourage people to engage in something that matters, whether Citizen Scientists or better bystanders

  • We’re developing research with a purpose: empowering people who will DO SOMETHING with it.

Our second exercise focused inward, and we each examined our mindsets with respect to our initiatives and the behaviors we exhibit as we’re working in them.


We then asked each other to look for Signs of Change (see the Six Conditions graphics above) with respect to our initiatives. For the Public Will Campaign, we see that the process of building the Public Will survey has shown us that we need to focus our energy on the long game, knowing that we are building a foundation of research that will support and lend insights and credibility to the work we’re doing. This has impacted our mindsets for sure, but also the relationships with our colleagues at MSU and the appropriate research practices they’ve brought to our work.

Finally, we paired into groups of three and talked through some current Challenges of Practice in a coaching and mentoring format. Each participant had time to present, ask clarifying questions, then coach.

We ended the session with a check-in on the year, sharing ideas for bringing on new Community of Practice recipients in 2020 and how we might improve our work in the new year. We’re tremendously grateful to Rotary Charities for giving us the opportunity to learn, grow and appreciatively challenge each other in this work.

Mark VanderKlipp

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