Systems Week: Aimee Sickels on Collaborative Leadership in Systems Work

My name is Aimee Sickels and I am the Principal Evaluator and owner of Custom Evaluation Services, an independent evaluation consulting business. I am also currently working on a Ph.D. in Social Work at the University of South Carolina. I am studying about systems approaches to solving some of our most complex social problems. What I’ve learned in my studies and in my work as an evaluator is that collaborative leadership is key for systems work. I find however that my clients often struggle with what collaborative leadership is and exactly how it should function when working with multiple systems of service providers. My helpful hints are related to collaborative leadership.

Hot Tip #1: Help leadership define what “they” mean by collaboration for the purposes of their project. These resources have been helpful for me:

Hot Tip #2: Once you get an operational definition of collaboration down for the working group, spend time going “Back to the Basics.” I have found that we as evaluators assume too much when entering these complex systems projects – this is a tremendous detriment.

Hot Tip #3: I have often worked in the field of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and find that, when I have various system representatives at a collaborative leadership table, I have several different definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention. I am sure this is the case across many service sectors. So, before I begin any collaborative work, I insist on shared definitions of the “issue” we are working to reduce or eliminate. It takes less than 15 minutes to put up a piece of chart paper, title it “Common Definition of the Problem,” and have everyone come to consensus on a working definition. Remind everyone that this definition is for that specific working group, it may differ in another group. Write it large for everyone to see and reference as the meetings continue and make sure it is present at EVERY meeting. Keep it Simple!

Once these core pieces are in place the group is ready to work as a system to solve the problems at hand!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Systems in Evaluation Week with our colleagues in the Systems in Evaluation AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Systems TIG members and you may wish to consider subscribing to our weekly headlines and resources list where we’ll be highlighting Systems resources. You can also learn more from the Systems TIG via their many sessions at Evaluation 2010 this November in San Antonio.

3 thoughts on “Systems Week: Aimee Sickels on Collaborative Leadership in Systems Work”

  1. Hi Debbie, glad you enjoyed it. I was meaning going back to the basics of the program or strategy on which the group was collaborating; our good old tried and true program evaluation basics. The key is that everyone has a clear picture of what needs to be done. Regardless of the program area, make sure that everyone at the table has a basic understanding of the core outcomes desired and, for that matter, the basic logic that the group will need to walk through in order to achieve those outcomes. The 3rd tip is a step in that direction in that if everyone is operating from a different definition of the “problem” then we are all in a mess! My call is one for simplicity and clarity, that allows collaboration to function more smoothly. Let me know if you need anything else.

  2. Deborah Grodzicki

    Aimee, thank you for your post! I truly enjoyed reading it:) I just had one question: in your second tip, you recommend “Going back to Basics.” Did you mean going back to the basics of the program? or the collaborative evaluation approach? I would love further elaboration!



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