The collective impact approach brings academic theory and working practises to achieve large scale social change. It has been systematically reviewed by Stanford University.
The approach is a fundamentally different, more disciplined, and higher performing approach towards social progress which uses nonprofit, business, and government organizations working together to address social problems. It works through many gradual improvements over time as stakeholders learn for themselves how to become more aligned and effective.
The model has been applied successfully to a wide variety of issues including (but not limited to):
Placed 6000 residents in new jobs
Reduced violent crime and created more than 14,000 jobs
Housed over 3,300 men woman and children
Reduced poverty in several Canadian Cities
Reduced nutritional deficiencies among 530 million people globally
Background for successful collective impact
The most effective Collective impact approaches honours current efforts, building upon what already exists rather than creating an entirely new solution from scratch.
Trust is the overarching driver to the success of collective impact efforts and it's built along the way through the process of creating a shared vision and goals and launching aligned strategies across multiple stakeholders.
The approach explicitly focuses on transforming the power and competitive dynamics and works to address imbalances of the various players including access to resources and the contribution of efforts.
Collective impact approaches take intentional steps toward helping the actors shift from competition to coordination.
It understands that connection to one another, where personal purpose comes together with shared purpose, is that most important sustaining factor for change. These “soft,” intangible elements prove essential for social change efforts and for building trust and breaking into a generous, collaborative mode of action.
Essentially, we will not see social change without transformation at the individual, team and institutional level
It provides a more nuanced approach as to how funders should understand interconnected systems.
- Funders select individual grantees that offer the most promising solutions
- Funders and implementers understand that social problems, and their solutions arise from the interaction of many organisations within a larger system
- Nonprofits work separately and compete to produce the greatest independent impact
- Progress depends on working towards the same goal and measuring the same things
- Evaluation attempts to isolate a particulars organisations impact
- Large scale impact depends on increasing cross-sector alignment and learning among many organisations
- Large scale change is assumed to depend on scaling a single organisation
- Corporate and government sectors are essential partners
- Corporate and government sectors are often disconnected from the efforts of the foundations and non-profits
- Organisations actively coordinate their action and share lessons learned
5 Conditions of Collective Impact
All participants have a shared vision for change including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions
Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants ensures efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable
Mutually Re-enforcing Activities
Participant activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through mutually re-enforcing plan of action
Consistent and open communication is needed across many player to build trust, assure mutual objectives and create common motivation
Requires a separate organisation(s) with staff and specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and co-ordinate participating organisations and agencies.
It is essential that all participants have a shared vision for change.
- It provides a single page adaptive framework which includes a common understanding of the problem informed by solid research encompassing all the stakeholders
- It includes clear goals for the desired change and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions
- The framework allows for flexibility and an organic learning process
- It includes easy but substantive short-term wins to sustain early momentum, as well as more ambitious, long-term systemic strategies that may not show impact for several years
- It recognises the importance of the social drivers for change and the element of trust and hence includes a set of principles that guides the groups behaviour
- It articulates how the initiative will judge its efforts through a well informed approach to evaluation
A clear definition and collection framework of shared measurements that aligns with the common agenda. Collaborative efforts remain superficial without it
- It allows for accountability amongst stakeholders and the development of a performance framework and evaluation criteria to learn from each other’s successes and failures which feed into an organization-wide learning agenda
- It provides greater alignment of goals across organizations
- It supports the creation of development of a collaborative problem-solving platform for an ongoing learning community
- Shared indicators and outcomes lead to clarity regarding mutually reinforcing activities across many different organizations
- Confidentiality and transparency are crucial
- It requires good leadership, substantial funding and staffing support from the backbone organization to provide facilitation, training and for the review of the accuracy of data
- Many initiatives use standardized continuous improvement processes, such as General Electric’s Six Sigma process or the Model for Improvement
Mutually Reinforcing Activities
The multiple causes of social problems, and the components of their solutions, are interdependent. Hence these social issues cannot be addressed by uncoordinated actions among isolated organizational participants but coordinated and differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action
- The framework encourages each participant to undertake the specific set of activities and capabilities at which it excels in a way that supports and is coordinated with the actions of others
- The coordination of their differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action is more potent than the sheer number of participants or the uniformity of their efforts
- Each stakeholder’s efforts must fit into an overarching plan if their combined efforts are to succeed
- Consistent and open communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives and create common motivation
- Developing trust among nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies is a monumental challenge.
- Participants need several years of regular meetings to build up enough experience with each other to recognize and appreciate the common motivation behind their different efforts
- They need time to see that their own interests will betreated fairly andthat decisions will be made on the basis of objective evidence and the best possible solution to the problem, not to favour the priorities of one organization over another
- Even the process of creating a common vocabulary takes time, and it is an essential prerequisite to developing shared measurement systems.Initiatives held monthly or even biweekly in-person meetings among the organizations’ CEO-level leaders
- Skipping meetings or sending lower-level delegates was not acceptable.
- Most meetings were supported by external facilitators and followed a structured agenda
- They use Web-based tools, such as Google Groups, to keep communication flowing among and within the networks
- Many of the leaders showed up because they hoped that their participation would bring their organizations additional funding, but they soon learn that was not the meetings’ purpose
- The rewards of learning and solving problems together with others who shared their same deep knowledge and passion about the issue inspires innovation and collaboration
- Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organisation with dedicated staff and a specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and co-ordinate participating organisations and agencies
- It provides overall strategic direction, plans, manages, facilitates dialogue between partners, managing data collection, analysis and reporting handling communications, coordinating community outreach, and mobilizing funding.
- The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails
- Must be led by an executive possessing strong adaptive leadership skills; the ability to mobilize and keep people together without imposing a predetermined agenda or taking credit for success
- the ability to focus people’s attention and create a sense of urgency
- the skill to apply pressure to stakeholders without overwhelming them
- the competence to frame issues in a way that presents opportunities as well as difficulties, and the strength to mediate conflict among stakeholders
- Establishment of an oversight group (executive committee), which consists of cross-sector CEO level individuals from key organizations (ideally also individuals touched by the issue)
- This steering committee:
- Creates the common agenda that defines the boundaries of the effort and sets a strategic action framework…meets regularly to oversee the progress of the entire initiative
- The backbone organization provides periodic, systematic, synthesized assessments of progress attained Gather regularly to share results, learn from each other, and refine their individual and collective work/plan of action based on their learning
- Many initiatives use standardized continuous improvement processes, such as General Electric’s 6 Sigma process or the Model for Improvement to form decision making
- Working Groups
- The real work takes place here in continuous process developing their own plans for action organized around “moving the needle” on specific shared measures grounded in constant evidence-based feedback about what is or is not working - formed around each of its primary leverage points or strategies (adjusted accordingly)
- Strategies pursued clearly link back to the common agenda and shared measures, as well as link to each other
- Responsible for communicate and coordinating on a regular basis to share data and stories about progress being made, and for communicating their activities more broadly with other organizations and individuals affected by the issue so that the circle of alignment can grow.
- As the common agenda’s centre of gravity becomes more apparent to all those working on the issue, even people and organizations who have not been directly engaged as a formal part of the initiative start doing things in ways more aligned to the effort.