How Can We Measure Up? Sharing Key Learning in the Evaluation of Wicked Problems

I am fresh out of a three day workshop on Collective Impact and Evaluating Community Change – thank you Tamarack ( It is rare that I go to a workshop and my minimum expectations are met, never mind one were I felt I got more than I expected and felt the workshop was more about me, than about the presenter or the product(s) they may be pitching. The combination of topic, presenters and processes of the 3 days and my commitment as a learner made for a really good time and a good bang for my buck.

Like I said it isn’t often that I get so jazzed about a workshop that I am not running ūüôā and so I wanted to write this to share some of the highlights, insights and resources.

I think the world of social services/human services and addressing really complex issues is often really daunting to those who are in it. The past three days at this workshop, we immersed ourselves in what some of the world calls “wicked problems”. Simply stated these are the complex problems of our society – things like poverty, environmental sustainability, homelessness, modern day scoop etc. Big deal issues with big and long lasting impacts.

So here is the first key learning for me:

  • Complex problems are not necessarily complicated – often we make them so.

Big complex problems do not necessarily need complicated solutions – they need coordinated and collective approaches that increase the likelihood we will make an impact at the population level and actually see change. Sweet – there is hope. But hope is not a plan…
This leads to the second key learning for me.

  • Hope is not enough. We need to do something.

While we need to spend time planning, we can’t spend too much time planning. Ever been in involved in initiatives where stakeholders just keep talking and trying to get more information? We will never have the perfect answer, we actually don’t have that kind of control and that kind of certainty doesn’t exist in the world.

We need to be able to Act, React and Adapt. We need to try things out after we gather some good information about what the issue is and have some agreement on what will improve it, then move forward together trying things. We don’t need a rigid plan but need to be intentional in our work.

Our current risk averse and risk management context here in Manitoba facilitates the ongoing use of prescribed approaches to doing things. Further exacerbated by the market driven economy, we end up with folks competing for dollars, for claims of developing and owning the best approach, best training best program and my favie “best practice”.

I am sure folks have some great ideas, but competing rather than integrating pulls us further off course from collaborating, innovating, adapting, acting and collective impact – making societal changes, population level changes.

The third key learning:

  • “best practice” by definition is anti-innovation – not my quote but I love it. Nuff said.

Key learning number four:

  • There are so many awesome free resources out there to help with evaluations of these complex collective strategies (or any strategy – collective or not). Check these out:

A goldmine of helpful tools if you are in the business of evaluating, funding, managing, overseeing or are simply interested.

Tamarack was generous with resources – they do the heavy lifting in finding them and then make a point to get to their crew – awesome.

Where was I?

Oh yes, Key Learning number 5:

  • We can’t change population level outcomes if you don’t change systems; policy changes don’t necessarily change systems, behaviour changes in isolation don’t necessarily change systems but systems can be significantly disrupted (oh, my friend hope has returned).

    If you change enough of the behaviours of enough folks in key positions within and external to the system, significant changes can happen. Simple.
    Not quite.
    But … some solid and strategic ways to go about getting major shifts in systems in order to alleviate inequity and the pain, suffering and costs (in all forms of the word) it produces. Who doesn’t want that?

    Number 6:

  • We won’t get population outcomes if we keep working in silos, one program at a time.
    We need to work collectively.

    For collective impact approaches to be effective the following conditions have to be met: a common agenda, shared measurement (looking at the same indicators in the same way), doing mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and you need some backbone support (some folks whose job it is to help coordinate and facilitate). I know lots of situations where many of these conditions exist but we are not working together – time to change that!

    I could probably go on and on (don’t worry I won’t) – just so many nuggets of information in the last 3 days for me as a “changemaker”, an evaluator, a strategic planner, a trainer, activist and advocate for equitable policies, processes and practices.

    Collective impact and community change are concepts I am completely invested in. They are concepts that align with my values and the values of my business. I am super jazzed to continue to learn more and to practice them and support the process of “moving the needle” towards equitable and socially just outcomes.

    I invite you to share this blog if you enjoyed it or think someone else might benefit from it. If you want to know more about Dragonfly CCR check out

  • Looking for office mates!

    We are looking for some office mates! If you or anyone you know are looking for some shared office space for your practice near downtown but without all the parking and traffic headaches of downtown, message me. We have 3 offices and looking for 2 additional counsellors, massage therapists, holistic practitioners or any discipline to share space- no management hassles we will take care of that.
    Please share this to help us spread the word.
    Email inquiries to
    DCCR team


    Our Services at Dragonfly Consultation, Counselling & Research

    All of our service and support delivery is based upon social justice, relational and anti-oppression frameworks.  Our desire is to work collaboratively with others to build capacity and co-create approaches that are unique to the individuals and groups we are working with.



    • Individual counselling/therapy
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    For Organizations:

    • Comprehensive Organizational Development Services¬†

            Organizational culture & climate
            Organizational design
            Organizational learning
            Organizational change
            Staff training & development
           Shared/Emergent leadership models
           Administrative leadership development 
           Protocol/policy development & alignment
           Strategic planning
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    • Group Learning & Development Forums
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    • Curriculum Development
    • Group Facilitation
    • Human and Organizational Capacity Building Systems (i.e.¬†Professional & Organizational Learning & Development Systems,¬†professional learning communities, individual & team development strategies).
    • System Realignment and Re-orientation (education, justice, health, child welfare sectors)
    • Program Planning, Development & Implementation
    • Evaluation Services (program monitoring, process, implementation and outcome evaluation, asset/needs assessments)
    • Research
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    For Communities:

    • Community Assets¬†Assessments
    • Community Development & Mobilization
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    Social What?

    At Dragonfly Consultation, Counselling & Research, we refer to ourselves as a social enterprise or a social business.

    So we thought we should define this.

    We aren’t a not for profit and we aren’t a charity. We are also not a corporate minded company whose main interest is profit or increasing our own personal wealth.

    So here are some points on what being a social enterprise or social business means to us.

    Social impact and social change are our focus not personal or professional profit.

    We try to reinvest all profits back into our work or into other projects that promote and work for equity and socially just change.

    Our goal is to be a non-loss…well, minimal loss company…financially self-sustainable without reinforcing inequity (I.e padding our own pockets off social problems). We aren’t interested in entrepreneurialism for money.

    As a social business/enterprise we aren’t dependent on donations or on private or public grants to survive and to operate, so we can do some different things that others may not be able to: including advocacy, activism, progressive and critical work.

    We do welcome donations and in-kind contributions of time, thoughts, ideas, supplies, energy, anything that supports others, supports us to support others, builds community and works towards positive social change.

    Contact us if you want to know more!