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The Power of Community Knowledge

“But I need THAT piece of Lego!”

One Sunday morning, my boys, aged 6 and 10, were sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen table, each with a pile of Lego in front of them. Both were completely immersed in their individual projects. As their respective piles dwindled, and with creations half-constructed, they began to eye the bits and bricks across the table from them. One-off “this one for that one” exchanges ensued, however trading quickly became hostile with both boys arguing that the other had “the piece” that he needed.

In a pre-caffeinated father-of-the-year-worthy moment, I sat down at the table between them and brought both piles of Lego together. As neither of them really had enough to build something on their own, why didn’t they build something really cool together?

Life lessons from dad aside, there are some parallels between my children co-creating something from the building blocks scattered on the kitchen table and the idea of leveraging community knowledge to create social change.

The beauty of Lego lies in it being a dynamic and complex system that is governed by a certain set of rules or assumptions – much like our communities. The bits and bricks in the system are different: some are fat and square; some are long and thin. Some are highly specialized, and others are fit-anywhere generalists.

While there are nearly endless ways that the bits and bricks can be configured, Lego also has a pair of system-defining constraints: the nubs and hollows that are built into each individual bit or brick. While you can fit any two parts together, the way they come together is always the same – with a satisfying click.

In the community knowledge arena, the bits and bricks that make up the system are things like time, talent, data, resources, money, skills, energy and space. As we come together to tackle a particular issue – say youth homelessness or environmental sustainability – each of us brings a certain number of pieces to the table.

We don’t all have the same types or number of pieces, but we all contribute something. The goal is not to create a new system, but rather to find novel ways of working within the existing system to achieve a desired social change.

And that’s the point of the Community Knowledge Exchange (CKX) and the inaugural CKX Summit, taking place in Toronto this November 19 to 21st.

The CKX Summit won’t be just another conference. It’ll be a platform for the exchange of ideas and knowledge about our communities. A space to co-create, explore and identify solutions. A chance to build relationships with other leaders and change-makers from across Canada and internationally as we consider and explore the following questions:

  • How can we use research to make more informed decisions?
  • How can we turn data into knowledge to drive change?
  • How can we use stories to demonstrate our impact?
  • How do we know we’re making a difference, together?

As you can see by the breadth and depth of these themes, there are some exciting possibilities ahead. Here are just a few things that we’re already working on as part of CKX:

  • Bringing together funders to explore how we can move toward better shared measurement practices which will allow us better demonstrate and evaluate the impact of investments and streamline reporting requirements for community and non-profit organizations.
  • Working with partners across the country on the development of an Open Nonprofit Strategy to assist organizations in navigating the challenges of sharing data, information and knowledge. The Ontario Nonprofit Network is already contributing to this effort, leading the development of an open data framework for the nonprofit sector, which is co-hosting a CKX pre-gathering.

Our community knowledge journey has just begun. So get your Lego ready. We’re going to build something really cool. Together.


About the author

Lee Rose is the sherpa for Community Knowledge Exchange (CKX)  – a new, iterative, share-by-default approach to building and sharing community knowledge. @thisleerose


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