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Field Notes

Driving Population- and Systems-Level Change: 2023 Collective Action Backbone Learning Series

Yifan Kong
April 19, 2023
(Note: This Learning Series was focused on the role of backbone support in collective action work. To learn more about collective action as a general approach to advance population- and systems-level change, please see our Collective Action resources.) Collective action is a community-led process for advancing equity and achieving social change. It’s the movement of a group of people impacted by and impacting a challenge who share power, trust, resources, and effort to achieve a common purpose. Backbone teams provide critical support infrastructure to collective action initiatives. They play a key role in ensuring that the initiative…
  • Maintains alignment towards the common purpose
  • Commits to a culture and process that is equitable, relationship-driven, trustworthy, and transparent
  • Continuously learns, adjusts, and improves their work together
  • Follows the community’s lead
In January and February 2023, Root Cause hosted Principle, Process, Practice: Strengthening a Collective Action Backbone Learning Series. This free, virtual learning series focused on backbone support for collective action (CA) work, with backbone practitioners and those interested in backbone work as the core audience. The series included three interactive 90-minute workshops, with participants engaged in practice and dialogue with backbone teams, Root Cause collective action practitioners, and peers: Session 1: Purpose Collective action as a flexible, localizable approach to advance equity and systemic change.  Session 2: Process  Building backbone capacity, including how teams center the values that drive the practice and evolution of collective action work.  Session 3: Practice Learnings, advice, stories, and tools sourced from those who serve as backbones (or who support the backbones) of collective action work.   200+ collective action backbone practitioners, capacity builders, and funders—including nonprofits, foundations, schools, businesses, healthcare institutions, philanthropists, and government agencies—from across the U.S. and internationally participated in the Learning Series, with 100% positive feedback. In particular, audience members found the collective action values and functional components we shared to be critical grounding for launching this work. They also said the tactical tools and insights we shared—for example: the backbone team assessment, case studies, and peer learning opportunities and activities—yielded immediate takeaways they could use in their work. Over the course of the series, participants highlighted three areas they wanted to learn more about:
  • How to strengthen backbone capacity — Root Cause continues to build out our free and publicly accessible Collective Action Resource Library, which includes tools and resources to strengthen backbone capacity. We are currently developing and will soon release a full version of the collective action backbone assessment tool.
  • How to create more opportunities for backbone peer learning, practice, and resource sharing — To this end, Root Cause is exploring opportunities to facilitate an ongoing community of practice among backbone practitioners (stay tuned!).
  • How funders could be involved in the long-term sustainability of systems- and population-level change work — Questions to explore include: Why is it important to fund long-term systems-change work? What are best practices for funding, or getting ready to fund, collective action? What do collective action practitioners believe is most critical for funders to know? 
View resources from this Learning Series, including recordings and slides, here. If you are interested in partnering with Root Cause on Collective Action initatives, please reach out to us to talk more!
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