For our previous member meeting in October and our upcoming meeting in December, we’ve been using Marshall Ganz’s “Story of Self” framework for developing a public narrative. So what exactly is a public narrative and why are we focusing on them at Thread?

The Story of Self framework fits into a Ganz’s larger theory about community organizing and collective impact movements. In a speech to the Collective Impact Forum’s spring convening in May 2017, Ganz outlined his theory behind why community organizing (read: community empowerment) is so crucial to the work of collective impact.

In short, Ganz argues there are five elements of community organizing needed for collective impact efforts to achieve the change they seek: (1) relationships, (2) public narrative, (3) strategy, (4) structure, and (5) action. Absent any of these elements, Ganz claims, collective impact movements will struggle to achieve they systematic changes they advocate for. So, how do these elements work together to drive change?

We build relationships with shared values, trust, and a commitment to working together to solve wicked problems. We do this with an acknowledgment that we can’t achieve systems change in isolation from one another and that, from time to time, we must call one another into service in support of our various missions and goals.

We call one another into service using our individual public narratives. Sharing our public narratives harnesses our emotional resources to activate courage in others and to inspire them to identify shared values and purpose. Sharing our personal stories of tragedy and triumph helps others relate with our own lived experiences and motivates them to join you in your work.

When we’ve brought our peers and supporters on board, we then develop our strategy. Strategy implicitly (sometimes explicitly) requires a discussion of power and the imbalance of power in the world. We strategize with our supporters and peers to understand our community’s inherent strengths and power in order to understand how to best enhance that power to the community’s benefit. Ganz cites the example of the Montgomery bus boycott. African Americans used the collective power of their feet/walking as a power over the bus company to force them to change their policies. Identifying this shared power, and harnessing that power collectively is integral to systems change.

When we’ve created a strategy to enhance community power we then have to create structure within which that power is harnessed. Histories of lived experience prove that collective impact and systems change efforts cannot be accomplished through the leadership of one person alone – rather, a distributed leadership model that calls on the strengths and talents of many people empowers collective impact to soldier on in the face of intense resistance that every change process inevitably faces.

Finally, the change process requires action. Ganz cautions that while strategizing and building structure are necessary we must act sooner than later. Years of strategizing and coalition building might be necessary, but they should not impede action; therefore, we must act as soon as we are able, and learn as we go. We must learn from our successes, but just as importantly we must learn from our failures. All actions provide opportunities for learning, whether successful or not. Assessing and learning from our actions necessarily leads to better outcomes and ultimately to systems change.

These elements, when combined to serve our collective impact movements, empower our communities to harness their inherent talents to overcome systematic oppression and build equity. Thread has chosen to utilize Ganz’s framework as a way to: (1) build stronger relationships between community partnerships, (2) to write our individual and collective public narratives, (3) and (4) to identify strategies and structures that empower our communities, and (5) to decide on collective action that creates a stronger, more equitable, and just St Louis.