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First Things First

Groundwork is the result of nearly two decades on-the-ground leading programs, organizations, and networks, as well as supporting boards and networked and collective impact governance groups. These experiences led to an appreciation that good ideas and good work grow because the basics have been well tended. To grow more good, Groundwork takes a first things first approach, and as the work of strengthening society turns on the strength of our individual connections, we always begin with relationships.


We begin with relationship building and roughly align our approach to the Appreciative Inquiry 4-D approach of discovery, dream, design, destiny.

1 // Begin with relationships.

We begin with relationships, because all work is relational and the people who do the work have plenty of wisdom and illuminating wonders. In this phase we aim to "locate, understand, and illuminate what are referred to as the life-giving forces of any human system’s existence; its positive core."

2 // Listen to the data

To phase one human data we add other forms of data, through review and/or creation, to help us appreciate context and complexity while searching for the signal. We do this through review of existing materials, creation of surveys, and hosting of focus groups.

3 // Focus on solutions

With qualitative and quantitative data in hand we move to identify solutions. This can include designing new programs, assembling a strategic plan, creating a beneficiary listening campaign, or engaging in board development. Whatever the shape of the result, we use a generative and interactive process to find creative solutions, with an eye toward feasibility and viability.

4 // Collaborate to get things done.

Finally, with a clear sense for context and a defined purpose, we collaborate to get things done, always remaining respectful of capabilities and capacities.


  1. Your people are your most important resource and their skills and their ability to apply those skills are the only tools you have. Great organizations invest in strengths-based processes and actively promote self-awareness to help teams become more than the sum of their parts.

  2. Clients/beneficiaries/participants/users possess profound, mission-critical insight. Great organizations need systems to reliably hear and lift up the insight of those with the most to gain for lose from its success or failure.

  3. Good governance is inclusive. Great organizations build routines and structures that create clarity and rhythm, and use common language and transparent process. And they understand that governance must be a process of radical inclusion not another process of structural exclusion.

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