Hubs and Collective Impact

I’ve been working a lot recently on problems; not challenges; problems. Things that need fixing. Take, for example, the fact that there are a great deal of opportunities for young people to make music and realise their musical potential. On the matrix of music (don’t ask me to draw it, please) they range from the super-formal, to the mega-zany and include lots of examples of stuff that is in more than one place on the continuum at the same time (which is why I don’t want to draw it). One very significant problem is that there is next to nothing for musically-inclined young people (yeah, I know they pretty much all are) who have a special educational need and/or are disabled. Sure, there is some stuff. Some organisations do really good stuff. But, on the grand scheme of things, it’s just stuff. If the funding stops, so does the stuff. 

The problem, like the environment which suffers because of it, is complex. It is the product of a wide range of failures by a wide range of organisations and possibly individuals which haven’t been addressed for mainly cultural reasons. All the stuff that is going on is chipping away at the problem but the problem has resilience and keeps renewing itself so the chips need to be made again and again. And those making the chips are constantly justifying why they need to have money to keep chipping away. It’s a tiring process with which Sisyphus might sympathise.

So along come music education hubs with (relatively) guaranteed money and (relatively) large capacities and a (relatively - well, actually, arguably relatively un-) clear mandate to create a fair and indiscriminate music world for young people (look, it’s at least implicit…if that’s what you chose to infer, that is). With this mandate, should you chose to accept it, comes the challenge of avoiding the temptation of being just another chipper-a-wayer, albeit one with the aforementioned (and relative) money and capacity and mandate. The problem is being chipped away at by loads of people who, although they are doing good work, remain on the fringes, as experts and specialists.

What is crazy, though, is that, with the right lenses in your partnership glasses, there will appear before your very eyes a way to convert that constant chipping away into one mighty blow. Sisiphus just got a JCB.

Collective impact is where Hubs come into their own. Who is chipping away at the problem? Schools, voluntary sector organisations, Local Authorities, Funders, Government departments? Yes, all of those. So what you do is you get all of those people and you get them to admit, firstly, that they have a problem; That there is a common agenda. Once you have done this you need to figure out a way that you all measure stuff. A central place to share with each other is useful (if only there was a sort of online network that we could use to talk about music and young people…). You will definitely need to adapt the data collection methods depending on the needs of the groups involved but without a shared set of outcomes you won’t be able to tell when stuff is going well. The plan of action that is drawn up needs to be mutually reinforcing. So the work going on in special schools should be designed to compliment the audience development strategy of the local concert hall – and vice versa. The music leading workforce development strategy (which everyone has, right?) should be designed to equip the workforce with the skills they need to work in settings across the partnership. Everyone stands to gain so it’s senseless to be selfish. And, although people will say it is important, this is something that will probably not be the raison d’etre for all involved. So there needs to be a regular and continuous way of keeping people in the loop. Trust is required in any partnership but with collective impact work, there can be no hierarchy. Every bit of activity is necessary to swing that massive wrecking ball into the side of the building (ok, so Sisiphus’ JCB has now been pimped a little…if you’ll allow me a little poetic licence). A common language takes time to develop but is the most important thing in developing a sense of common purpose. It’s also really important that everyone is putting out the same messages and sharing in the success of others. It’s like the guy who just scored the wonder goal saying that the important thing is the three points. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t look for credit.

The most important bit of this (in terms of the thing you cant even start without) is the entity that holds this together. A backbone around which all is…um…hung? Stitched? Anyway, you get the idea. This organisation must, surely has to, be the Hub lead organisation, right? It’s logical. It’s makes sense.

I don’t know exactly what every Hub is doing but I do know that those that are doing the work that so often gets praised are those who are working in this way. I know it’s not rocket science and I got all this from an article I read and other people know this too etc. (if you are reading this and thinking, ‘well…duh!’ then congratulations) but when is this sort of behaviour going to be expected, nay, demanded, rather than merely encouraged or suggested?

I know I’ve not been fully around the block yet (well, maybe once around it, just) and some, on their nth time around will say ‘yeah yeah, we keep talking about partnership but we keep having the same conversations and nothing changes’ but surely this time there is a unique opportunity to develop a new way of working. It’s the way that good work already takes place but what we need is someone ‘in charge’ saying that it has to be done this way and you get in trouble if you don’t. Business as usual is why we end up on the merry-go-round.  

So let’s take advantage of Hubs. Let's bring experts on the fringes doing all the good work into the core of how we do business. Let's give poor old Sisiphus a break! 

More info on Bristol Plays Music here:

More info on collective impact here:

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Doug Bott's picture

Really enjoyed reading this Siggy. Yes, this time there is a unique opportunity to develop a new way of working. It will happen.

Sound Sense's picture

Important stuff, Siggy, thanks.

I'm a fan of Kania and Kramer's work, because I think it does tell us why we fail so often. Of their five-point requirements for collective impact, the common agenda is I think the most important. The irony is that the all-important inclusivity we strive for with participants can serve us poorly at political and developmental level. "Everyone can play" leads to confusion and Babel: sit in any meeting that's ostensibly about something we have in common - standards, or qualifications, or apprenticeships, say - and you quickly realise that we have anything but a common agenda. The conjugations are clear: I like standards, you like different standards, they think we're talking about standardisation.

Dave Price puts it another way; is there a problem that can only be solved by acting jointly? (And, yes, I like the p-word; it concentrates the mind.) Of course it's vital that there are forums where the broadest spread of voices can all be listened to equally. But as work in both ArtWorks Alliance and Music Education Council shows, you don't just need talking shops, you need doing shops as well. And those shops require the courage to say: here is a problem; here are the range of ways of solving it; these are the people that together can effect that change - that's the common agenda that K & K identified as essential for creating collective impact through collaborative action.

I'm not so sure that a "common" language is so important: an agreed language is vital, however. I can easily live with understanding that your definition of, say, inclusivity is different from mine - just so long as we both know what the differences are and so can be sure when discussing the topic what each other means when we use that word. I have a new rule: the first half of any meeting must start with an understanding of terms, without which the second half of every meeting is pretty much wasted. That's why we started The Power of Equality 2 with a glossary of how we were using particular terms in that particular publication.

Finally, K & K's plea for "backbone support" strikes a chord. We've written about the need for this in two of Youth Music's large scale collective impact initiatives: Youth Music Mentors and Musical Inclusion. I've tried various hands-off/hands/on, tight/loose, facilitative/directive models in a range of collective impact initiatives, and worry with all of them whether I'm getting the balance right between telling and supporting, stealing or feeding. What is clear is that the backbone must have the respect of the collaborators; only do what only they can do; be authoritative, but not authoritarian. And crucially - be absolutely committed to solving the problem, and totally indifferent to which solution is adopted (in other words, they must not have any conflicts of interest).



Siggy Patchitt's picture

Thanks Kathryn,

I agree with you. One thing that seems to be coming up a lot at the moment is how much or how little to push or pull, for want of a better phrase; whether that is how much music leaders play an active part in the music making going on in theis sessions, or how much the DfE should demand evidence of real plans for inclusive practice within MEH lead orgs.

I guess the answer is "it depends." It depends on relationships and authenticity and personality and stuff. That's where emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence comes in. Leading beyond authority is a tricky gig.