The ‘Head, Heart and Hands’ framework is one way to facilitate productive conversations on racial equity that can lead to effective action.

Holding a cross-sector collaborative together is often hard work in itself, with trust being a critical lynchipin for all partnership work. So - as you can imagine - when collective impact partnerships turn to the often charged topic of structural racism, their collaborative efforts can easily be derailed by miscommunication and misunderstanding. Luckily, tools and frameworks exist that can help partnerships facilitate productive conversations about racial equity.

Last month, I participated in a session at StriveTogether’s 5th annual Cradle to Career convening that focused on helping cradle to career collective impact partnerships have effective & productive conversations to advance equity.

One of the frames that resonated most with me was the Head, Heart and Hands framework, developed by Jarrod Schwartz at Just Communities and based on a model developed by Anthony Neal, for talking about and taking action on equity. In this framework, the head speaks to thinking, data and theory; the heart speaks to feelings, emotions and personal stories; and the hands speak to action, tools and strategies.

Effective efforts on equity require a balance of using both the head and the heart in order to understand equity issues and effectively guide the hands (the action).

The Head. Applied in a collective impact setting, the head requires collecting, understanding and reporting data, disaggregated by race, to track annual progress and to build the necessary feedback loops that reflect racially differentiated outcomes. Meeting the needs of the head then constitutes engaging people intellectually and rigorously around the data themselves. Through the use of disaggregated data in particular, you can expand or even begin conversations on race by highlighting racial disparities in opportunities and outcomes. And by using data to point towards potential intervention points, you can also empower people to take action.

The Heart. Of course, beyond data are the real life experiences of those who are affected by structural inequity. The heart wants to share these emotionally charged experiences. Acknowledging the personal experience we all have and offering opportunities for people to authentically share their stories (while also having others actively listen) is a starting point for productive conversations about race. It’s also important to recognize how these personal feelings (the heart) inform how you interpret data. In collective impact work, addressing the heart can include creating safe spaces for both community members of color and those who are white (sometimes separately, sometimes together) to share their lived experiences. These experiences add depth to the facts and data about disparities.

The Hands. Only once you’ve grappled with both the facts (head) and lived experiences (heart) that relate to structural racism, in either order, should you move on to take action (hands). Luckily, plenty of racial equity tools and strategies already exist - just see the W. K. Kellog Foundation’s Racial Equity Resource Guide. Collective impact practitioners seeking to address issues of racial equity should seek out these resources and test their application in their work. Another good example is the organizational racial equity self-assessment tool developed by All Hands Raised and the Coalition of Communities of Color. The Portland-based partnership designed this assessment to help member organizations gather insights about the racial equity impact of their own policies and practices so that they may identify and work to collectively address any unintentional consequences. Having these tools ready helps move action on equity forward once you’ve grappled with the related information and personal experiences.

The Head, Heart and Heart work together.

Altogether, the head, heart and hands framework can be a useful way for thinking about how to engage in racial equity conversations before taking action. As my colleague Tynesia Boyea-Robinson has mentioned, the frame helps you know which ‘drawers’ you’re opening and closing during equity conversations. While it’s definitely not only applicable to collective impact work, this framework offers cross-sector partnerships one way to effectively initiate conversations about race to further advance their equity goals.

If you have any questions or want to share your story on your racial equity journey, please email

*Image source: Banner by Flickr user Just Ard via [CC By ND-NC-2.0](( Doodle by Laurence E. Musgrove,