service_learning_loop2011The image above was created by an intern from Hong Kong in the summer of 2007, based on the information in this pdf presentation. In 2011 an intern from South Korea updated the first animation, and added a voice-track. See it here.

I’ve used the “figure eight” concept often since the 1990s to show the role of intermediaries in helping people with the ability to help (time, talent, dollars, ideas, etc) connect with places where their help is needed.  In my case I focus on helping non-school, volunteer-based tutoring, mentoring and learning programs grow in big cities like Chicago. Thus the graphic shows the “service – learning” journey of a volunteer as he gets involved, begins to learn from the experience, and begins to share what he is learning with his peers.  Over time this can lead to greater involvement of more people, and deeper involvement of some volunteers.   However, I feel the ideas and process applies to other issues that require the involvement of many people over many years.

The graphic below illustrates this intermediary role in a different format.


Those who can help The graphic at the left emphasizes the wide range of people and organizations included in the “those who can help” category on the above graphic.

I’ve developed these graphics over the past 20 years to illustrate the role the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) was taking to build support for constantly improving, volunteer-based, tutoring, mentoring and learning programs reaching youth in high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago.

In the years since then many other intermediaries have formed, using terms like collective impact, ecosystem, etc.   I attended a meeting yesterday in Chicago of a group building a STEMEcosystem in Chicago.  Among the brainstorming questions was “who else needs to be included?”  Another was “how do we communicate more effectively?”4-pt strategy

I created this concept map, and this presentation to illustrate the four part strategy, which I began to develop in 1993, and that I think others might follow in building their own collective impact efforts.

The “who needs to be included” should be driven by the graphics above, focusing on who can help, and who needs help.  Step 1 of the four part strategy involves building a library of stakeholders, which I actually started doing informally in the mid 1970s, when I first began to lead a volunteer based tutor/mentor program in Chicago.  My library includes a list of over 200 non school youth serving organizations who offer some form of volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring as part of their mix of services.  This list is plotted on maps to show where programs are located, with demographic overlays, showing where they are most needed.  My library also includes more than 2000 links to others in Chicago, and around the world, who have information related to where and why non-school tutor/mentor programs are most needed, and ways they can be better supported by volunteers, donors, business, etc.

Building such a library is a process, and it  must be updated constantly.



Step 2 in the four part strategy focuses on all the ways we can draw attention to the library, and to the organizations on our list of programs and others who support the work programs are doing.  Without advertising dollars this is a huge challenge. I created quarterly events, starting in 1994, that drew programs together, and drew volunteers and donors to programs, to help create this public awareness. I also piloted a use of map-stories following negative news, as a way to draw reader attention to neighborhoods where something bad received high profile attention by the media.  At this link you can see a list of print media stories resulting from this strategy.

Since the mid 2000s I’ve created outreach on many social media sites, where I offer this information on a regular basis, while constantly pointing to my own list of Chicago organizations as places needing on-going flows of talent and dollars.


If you look  at the “figure 8” in this graphic, the white line in the middle is the place where intermediaries operate. It’s also a place where facilitators and consultants operate. As people look for ways and places to get involved with an issue that they may have read about in the newspaper, on on their news feed, their search should bring them to our web libraries and directories, that give them choices of where to get involved, based on where the place is located and where the volunteer/donor lives or works.

Most web site resource libraries point to their own materials or research, and maybe a few others. I keep adding links to other places, including competitors, thus offering a wider range of resources to any site visitor. For instance, I created this concept map to show many places, including my own, where volunteers, parents and donors can find contact information for tutoring, mentoring and learning programs.



Once a volunteer becomes involved, and begins providing service, it’s the responsibility of the place where he/she gets involved to train and support them. However, there’s also an opportunity to offer the articles and conversation space made available by a web library and hosting platform as a resource beyond the single organization.


I was leading a single non-school tutor/mentor program at the same time as I was leading the Tutor/Mentor Connection. Many of my ideas came from my own program experiences.

I created this concept map in 2007 or 2008 to illustrate the goal of building habits of learning that would draw volunteers, students and donors to our web site on a regular basis, not just while they were active with us, but for the rest of their lives.  In business the idea of “learning organizations” has been around for a long time.  I started using mass communications (a duplicating machine) in the 1970s to share information weekly that my 100 volunteers could use to be more effective tutors/mentors.  As the technology has changed, I’ve constantly adopted what was available, and what I could afford, to the effort of motivating volunteers, students and donors to use the information on my web sites to support their own work and growth.  In the past few years, this has been described as a “Personal Learning Network (PLN).”

I recognized that I had limited ability to meet individually with all 100 of my volunteers (300 by 1990) but by providing ideas and recommendations of what to read, I could motivate more to be learners. Thus, I was trying to create a “learning organization”.

To those who are building community collaborations, collective impact efforts, ecosystems, etc. finding ways to draw participants more regularly into on-line learning and interaction is a strategy that can lead to successfully accomplishing your mission.

However, it’s not an easy solution to achieve.  I keep meeting with people who say “I don’t use the Internet that way.”  Or, “CEOs won’t visit web sites. They won’t read those articles.”

I heard an organizer say in a recent meeting “None of us has the time to dig into that web site, but it’s pretty informative” as that person was describing what similar networks were doing in different cities.

It may be difficult, but if we don’t encourage this personal investigation and learning we’ll never build and sustain the movements we seek to build.  We’ll never shift the full burden of building and sustaining effective service organizations from the Executive Director and Board, to all those who benefit if the organization succeeds in its mission.

This requires new ideas, new thinking and involvement of more people.

Library Sections

My web library is divided into four sections. You can see this concept map here.  This pink box in the upper right, is a sections with articles focused on collaboration, network building, innovation, knowledge management, visualization, etc., which to me are the ideas backbone organizations, intermediaries organization leaders and those building and sustaining ecosystems, need to be looking at regularly, with a goal of applying ideas to their own efforts.

These area also building block ideas young people could apply to building their own futures.

I added a new link to the library this week, to an article titled “How on-line communities are faring in 2016“.   It offers five insights, drawn from a huge survey of on-line communities. One talks about “member empowerment”.  Another talked about “positioning subject matter experts as leaders”

I keep attending events (on-line and in person) where too little effort is being made to engage participants in meaningful ways, or in on-going relationship building conversations.  Or to encourage members to connect with each other by writing and commenting on blogs, or by commenting or following on Twitter, which are two of the key lessons being emphasized by the organizers of the Collaborative Curiosity MOOC.

service_learning_loop2011Let’s go back to this graphic. There’s much we can do to help volunteers, resource providers and others find places to become involved, and to support them with ideas each week as they do their service.

However, there’s also much on-line forums can do to “debrief” people following their weekly or monthly service.  What this graphic recognizes is that people naturally share their experiences with co-workers, friends, family, etc.  Some times they talk about something good that happened. Or something funny.  Other times, they may share a bad experience, even a negative recommendation for the organization supporting the volunteer or donor’s involvement.

What this graphic suggests is that there’s much that intermediaries might do to help volunteers share their experiences in more consistent ways, and invite others to offer their own time, talent and dollars to help organizations constantly improve.


In this graphic I’m showing the need to engage volunteers and donors from every industry in volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs throughout the city. If you look at the arrows, they point in both directions.  If you think of each of these as a “figure eight” from the above graphics, then we’re  illustrating many on-line communities where people with common backgrounds share their own on-going experiences as a volunteer, donor, board member, client, etc.

If someone is facilitating this process, it can begin to build a library of  “what works, what does not work, what works in some places and could work in other places.” These are ideas which could lead to “what can our family, workplace, college, city government, etc. do to make it work better?”

Or, “what can we do to make what works well in some places available in more places where this type of service is needed?”

You can see this graphic in this Total Quality Mentoring Presentation.  While intermediary and backbone organizations can be structured in different ways, I think that one of the greatest opportunities is to structure such support groups within companies or industries. Thus, if an industry wants to encourage more youth to pursue careers in Science, Math or Technology, they should have teams that encourage involvement of employee volunteers and donors, but also support that on-going involvement.


Here’s a map showing homicides in Chicago.  What if this were a  map showing places where volunteers from a big company served on boards of youth serving organizations? Or served as tutors/mentors? Or were donors?  Similar maps could show alumni from a college and where they are involved? Or could show where Catholics, or Methodists are involved.

The intermediary and/or facilitation team could be helping people who are involved, connect with each other in ways that make their on-going involvement more effective, and in ways that build stronger benefits to the company and industry that supports them.


Over time maps should show a greater distribution of involvement from each sector. However, network maps created by organizations in different neighborhoods should also begin to show a wide range of support from different sectors, as a result of what intermediaries do to encourage such involvement. (This graphic shows participation in 2008-9 Tutor/Mentor Conferences.)

While I’ve been building this model for 20 years, each year I’ve had to find talent and resources to help me manage the library, update the technology, attract visitors to the web sites, etc.  I’ve never had much support, or consistent multi-year support. Many new efforts have entered Chicago and started their own efforts, without first reaching out to say “can we help you, or what can we learn from you”.  This concept map shows the four-part strategy, and the type of help needed in each section.

I think this strategy applies to more than just building non-school tutor/mentor programs and that many types of organizations can take on intermediary roles. The focus can be on areas as small as a local high school’s service area and feeder school network, or as large as an entire city.

I also think that anyone doing this work could look at the challenges I’ve shared, and borrow some of the thinking for their own efforts.  I’d like to help with that, but am satisfied if what I’ve shared helps create a better future for all.