Author Archives: johnthornburn

About johnthornburn

Masters in Leadership graduate from Royal Roads University. An Engagement specialist engaged in various avenues of organizational and community development. Currently interested in social innovation, planning and engagement.

Social Media: Social Connectedness or Puppy Dog love?

I am enthralled with watching society deal with their addiction to social media. I am as eager to get a “like” on my instagram photo or its tweet to my Facebook RSS like every other guy. But only 1 like? I bet that cute little puppy that my friend posted got 20 likes! Do people like posts that we publish or are they responding to your sense of charm, or perhaps it is their acknowledgement that you are still important to them? Maybe its just a cute puppy dog? Perhaps it is validation that you are being trendy or perhaps even Chic?


What are people really looking for online? Is online social connectedness real? Let’s not kick the gift horse in the mouth – you know it is much easier to stay connected when you don’t have to get out of your chair! Is it the future of our social being to maximize our value with each other by re-tweeting re-posts of virtual videos of how we see the world around us? Are we turning into virtual voyeurs among each other? Is our intent to build connectedness with each other or are we just chasing our {proverbial puppy dog} tails. What do you think?

Why would I want to share leadership? (Community Inc. Final entry 11/19/21)

In this final blog in the series leading up to this Friday’s workshop I aim to present each of you with a challenge: Prove that you can give your leadership away.

A power recap: Blog #1 introduced the four elements of my Friday workshop and extended into the idea that our Community Governors often sit in a corner staring down at their feet with blinders on. Hearing today’s news that Missouri constituents’ call out for civil activists to walk their talk demonstrates the shadow we often feel comfortable sitting in. Reclaiming our voice as trustees and leveraging our strengths is ultimately important for everyone reading this blog. So why do we struggle?

Blog #2 introduced the idea of Non-Traditional Strategic Planning as a method to reclaim citizen engagement, leverage affiliate strengths, and allow community champions to rise all in one big swoop. How? Come to the workshop.

Blog #3 focused on the power of voice. Unfettered, unadulterated, and an unsanctioned voice. The power of creative dissonance, safe spaces, and organic transformative design is being proposed to those who participate in the workshop. Learning insightful new strategies that can help to facilitate powerful community dialogue will be role played by you.


But all three of these only combine to create a powerful social innovation if leadership is shared. Build simple yet powerful models of shared leadership with your partners. Design performance management strategies that demonstrate social returns on investment. Transcend leadership. Is it all rhetoric? Only one way to find out:

Register at:






How to become a Community Facilitator – (Community Inc. field entry 11/16/2014)

I promised four blogs on the Community Inc. Model and why the workshop on November 21st is so valuable. Here’s #3/4. Today, with four days left, we near your last chance to participate in a workshop that will facilitate your ability how to leverage a social enterprise. Of course I am speaking out of turn. It is your next chance to learn the value of leveraging enterprise with those that seek to achieve Vision in Community. So far I have written about the idea of Community Governance: Leveraging the idea of partnerships. I then wrote about Non-Traditional Strategic Planning: Leveraging social assets of a community, Today I talk about Facilitative dialogue, and tomorrow my last in the series: Shared Leadership.

The third in a cycle of participatory action titled Community Inc. uses my Building Better Practice model as a method for community engagement. This cycle of Governance, Planning, Dialogue, and Leadership focuses on engagement. Today I use my story to provide an example of the value of Thursday’s workshop.

I started my career with a small foray into Seniors Services by exploring the idea of volunteering at a Seniors Care Facility. At the time (I was 15) I was not particularly enthusiastic about the idea. This opportunity however left me with the idea that people care for others. Fast forward through a dozen jobs in twice as many years and I found myself using the word Quality of Life. Even though my career took me on a path delivering services to children, youth, and families it was the word Life that has been the thread ever since. As I continue to pull this thread I have found myself immersed in the structure of Life: Community.expo_4In our communities there are thousands of people with different ideas, strengths, experiences, and of course intertwined affiliations. In my workshop Thursday I teach two concepts that will give you the tools you need to connect and leverage the strengths of those thousands of people. Using the methods of Open space, and Transformative Planning I will expose you to the process that leverages the power of the individual, as a collective. Facilitated Dialogue steps outside of the box and will demonstrate your power as a facilitator to engage diverse ideas into a process that leverages change in communities.

Finally, I think the Mayor of Sidney, B.C. Mr. Cross said it best when he acknowledged that people, seniors in his editorial, “bring a wealth of energy and an incredible array of skills ….[that] we could not levy … to pay for their services” (p. 10). I like this quote because it expresses what I hope to give you: a gift to leverage the voices of your community, one that money cannot buy – The skill to facilitate Open and Meaningful Dialogue. See you on Thursday.

Register here:




Cross, L. (2014). Health care and seniors. Zoomer, 30 (8). Zoomer Magazine, Toronto: Canada

Non-Traditional Strategic Planning (Community Inc. Field entry 11/14/14)

I promised four blogs on the Community Inc. Model and why the workshop on November 21st is so valuable. Here’s #2/4

I believe that a collaborative philosophy promotes the values of diversity, inclusion, and shared leadership in non-profit strategic planning. I also believe that most strategic planning processes are fragmented, insular, and reactive processes that occur in isolation due to funding opportunities (or lack thereof). What I believe is that we often miss the potential of developing sustainable practices through engagement of our organizational teams, our community leaders, and ultimately our constituents … those we serve. IMG_5162

My graduate research focused exclusively on the value of Non-Traditional Strategic Planning. What would happen if we sought out partnerships with people we do not normally engage with in order develop a strategic plan? Rather than an environmental scan of the competition, what if we purposefully connected with groups with similar but different mandates? What if a church and an arts group and a business got together? What if a school and the media and a farmer’s market planned an event? What if the Girl Guides sat down with an environmental group? I believe that the use of strategic planning as a forum can be used to engage current members and develop new affiliate partners to create a diverse value based network.

In my workshop next Thursday November 21st (yes that is 6 days from now) I will teach you how to use strategic planning as a tool to create a welcoming and inclusive process that builds strong inter-organizational connections. I will teach you to think outside of the box and leverage the voice of those you serve to create a powerful plan that strengthens your mission. I will also help you to develop a socially innovative way to increase your relationships with like-minded groups within your community. Could you benefit from that?

Email me at if you have any questions. Register here:

Community Governance – Why now? (Community Inc. Field entry 14-11-07)

I promised four blogs on the Community Inc. Model and why the workshop on November 21st is so valuable. Here’s #1/4

The idea of community governance is not new. people have been coming together for years in communities around the world to develop a shared vision of what they want their community to look like. But since the days of John Carver and Marvin Weisbord a whole bunch of stuff has changed in our society: Funding diversity, sustainability, Private Public Partnerships, social innovation, social enterprise, social capital, social entrepreneurship, social, social, social.

leadI remember when we were all called social workers. Why must we reinvent the wheel? Do we still focus on the work with people for the good of all. Why are we so fragmented as an industry? Dan Palotta has written extensively on the history of our sector, and public policy has been overlaid on public policy to react to the shifting needs of community. Social planning councils across the country, foundations, Imagine Canada, and accreditation bodies espouse the value of quality of life. As we continue to focus on the “client” and those we serve I believe we are slowly forgetting the most important variable – us.

Community as Governance is an intrinsic look at what our role is in community. What is our impact? How do we lead? What tools can I use? Who will be on my side? How do I leverage my affiliations?  The Community Inc. workshop on November 21st focuses on helping YOU uncover your leadership style so you can emerge as a champion in the work you do. If you are on a Community Board it will help you ask the difficult questions and shift board policy and have meaningful dialogue on the state of achieving your Vision and Mission. We have become so focused on operations and chasing the almighty dollar to keep programs running that I believe we have slipped in our ability to express our ourselves and more importantly do whatever is necessary to create bridges of support between community groups, non-traditional partners and those who can actually lead action. Not just talk about it.


Will you join me?

13 days left until the November 21st workshop

Register here:

Social Innovation or Program Design? (Community Inc. Field entry 14-10-01)

Bystander: Hey how was that social innovation webinar last week?

Community Inc: It was okay. A lot of great ideas but I wonder if any will actually get off the ground?

Bystander: Why wouldn’t they happen?

Community Inc: I think a lot of people talk about social innovation but really they are talking about program design. People think of innovative programs that will benefit those they serve but they don’t take a step outside of the box and engage their stakeholders in meaningful ways.

Bystander: But when people think of Policy change it ends up being all talk and no walk, no?

fishingCommunity Inc: Well there are people that can do both but it is very hard to be a “Leader in Action”. It’s hard to catch a fish if you don’t have a fishing pole.

Bystander: Why is that?

Community Inc: Well, I find that many groups, organizations, teams, and board still operate from an insular mentality of territoriality. They think they want to collaborate and perhaps they have some partners but it always seems forced by the funder and not driven by those whom the organization serves.

Bystander: Well that seems silly. Why can’t they develop their programs by asking those that they serve?

Community Inc: A-ha! Now we’re talking social innovation. I agree. Unless you are developing a stakeholder engagement philosophy from the grassroots level then really you are only pandering to the whim of your funder.


Bystander: Well how do I make that change in my organization?

Community Inc: Well I believe there are two ways. The first is that you take a Positive Risk and rethink your Board Governance model. The second is attend our workshop on November 20th in Kelowna or November 21st in Vancouver and learn about the Building Better Practice model that focuses on Community Governance.

Bystander: What is this model?

Community Inc: The model is comprised of four unique parts. I’ll tell you what: I will write my next four blogs on each of the four topics that I will be covering in the workshop on November 20th. But in the meantime they are:



LEAD through a Community Governance model


PLAN through a Non-Traditional Strategic Plan


ACT after you engage in Community Dialogue


EVALUATE with your constituents through Shared Leadership.


Bystander: What will this workshop do?

Community Inc: This workshop will give you the tools to take an innovative idea, develop meaningful partnership with your constituents and develop a Social Innovation using inclusive, welcoming, and outreach strategies. Then you will be ready to change your Leadership style.

Bystander: Cool, I want to sign up. How do I?

Community Inc: you can register here: or call me at 604-307-0454

Community Contributions Company – Join Me August 25th

I promise, this is not another rant against Canada’s Anti-spam law..but it will start off sounding like one.  I started this blog on Canada day and my plan was to send it out then to not only celebrate our freedoms as Canadians, but also to frown over the new electronic communication rules. And how this new legislation will create transparency. I admit…to a degree, it will make us ethical citizens…to a degree, and it will promote better opt out procedures…to a degree. The biggest problem with the new legislation is that it forces a set of rules upon us that were not voted on, were not agreed to by citizens and constituents, and ultimately will create more unnecessary bureaucracy for small businesses across Canada.  This is where I jump off this train before it crashes.


To continue to use the metaphor of the train, I will jump on another one. The Society act is another set of rules that govern not-for-profit organization. If an organization chooses to become a “charitable” association, then that is a railway with a variety of tracks that some will say lead to brick walls when it comes to developing a strong social service. The Society Act is for BC organizations and outlines rules, bylaws, and methods of governance. I have wrote about the barriers of this system before and will do so briefly now once more. The Society act in my opinion is a little bit like a process of smoke and mirrors. It is something that an organization needs to call themselves an not for profit organization, but it also gives each an opportunity to create a cryptic set of rules called bylaws. There are some basic bylaws scripted in the Act, but it is generally an organizations leadership that adds texture to it. I have personally been involved in crafting bylaws as well as supporting organizations to change them. In each circumstance following the adoption of these rules I find myself scratching my head wondering why did we do that to ourselves. You see, that while the bylaws (or any policy to that effect) seems like a good way to keep law and order, each one is also a binding “gag” order in it’s own peculiar way. You see, bylaws, policies, and rules complicate our work…it guides it…but it complicates it. Can there not be a better way? Can we not find a better system to create adaptive self-governance that exudes transparent, ethical, and charitable behaviour?


Jumping onto a third train in our train yard, there is this phenomena called “free market”. In this environment, the rules of success apply. Yes there are rules, but the rules adapt and shift under a greater pressure: The momentum of free enterprise. Dan Palotta (2010) speaks about the nefarious set of rules that charitable organizations have to weave through on a daily basis that businesses can easily avoid. He believes however that we have created these puritan rules and ultimately have cornered ourselves, creating our own restrictions and disabling our ability to be adaptive. I surely do not see us throwing out the Society Act but I surely do think it is time that we develop new governance models. Perhaps we need to use the new Community Contributions Company opportunity that allows not-for-profits in a way to own businesses. Perhaps this “social enterprise” is the new way to access the open market while maintaining a board of local governors? Perhaps its a way to have the best of both worlds? I think there is a better way. If you have time, I hope you will come to the next Community Inc. workshop preamble at Tim Hortons (Alderbridge Way in Richmond) on Monday August 25th in Richmond at 6pm. Together let’s find ways to uncover your organization’s talents and build a better practice.


Palotta, D. (2010). Uncharitable. University Press of New England, Hanover, MA.