Do you see an issue or need in your community that is greater than what your organization can address? Are you working to strengthen your talent pipeline, grow your population, upskill your workforce, add childcare, address food deserts, decrease homelessness, or solve any other social issue?
In the last few years, we’ve seen nonprofit organizations, donors, funders, and community leaders coming together in new and innovative ways to address these challenges in their communities. They want to use a “collective impact” framework to tackle significant issues.
Collective impact brings together diverse partners – business, government, philanthropy, and nonprofits – to work toward a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. The idea of collaboration and partnership is familiar in the social sector. Collective impact is more rigorous and thorough than collaboration among organizations.
There are five conditions that, together, lead to meaningful results from Collective Impact. We first introduced this framework several years ago in this blog, and it is what we use to support the development of coalitions.
Five Conditions of Collective Impact
- Common Agenda: All participants have a shared vision for change including a common understanding of the problem. The participants have developed a joint approach to solving it through agreed-upon actions.
- Shared Measurement: Create a “baseline understanding” of where you are today in regard to the issue and reach an agreement on key indicators. Collect data and measure results consistently across all participants ensuring efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable.
- Mutually Reinforcing Activities: When developing the common agenda, participants will take the lead on different activities – work they are most likely already doing – while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action with all participants. The goal is alignment and cohesion, not isolation.
- Continuous Communication: Consistent and open communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and stay up-to-date on progress. This keeps the coalition connected, motivated, and on track to making progress.
- Backbone Organization: Creating and managing collective impact requires a dedicated resource with staff and a specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies. Someone(s) needs to be responsible to move the work forward, bringing everyone together, gathering the resources, etc.
Let me share an example of how collective impact works. Take, for instance, the compelling challenge of a lack of high-quality child care in a community. This is an issue that we have supported in several communities. (Learn here about coalition building)
An individual early care and education program or school could decide to expand a preschool classroom to increase the supply of child care in their community. This is an example of an isolated intervention of an individual organization. This response might help a few families in the community but may not address the underpinnings of the lack of child care, which could be accessed (the time and location of the child care spots) and/or affordability (the cost of child care) as well as many other issues.
A collective impact approach to addressing a lack of child care would bring together multiple partners who are directly and indirectly affected by the issue:
- Childcare affects a company’s ability to recruit and retain its workforce.
- Government-child care affects their ability to recruit companies into the community, increase tax revenue through wages and help develop productive citizens
- K-12 Education – child care affects students’ ability to be ready for kindergarten and beyond
- Health – child care impacts children’s development and reaching critical healthy milestones
- Child Care Providers – impacts their ability to have a thriving business and stay open.
- Higher Education – child care needs a high-quality workforce to staff their classrooms.
And the list of partners continues to grow…
After you have the partners, then you begin to dig into really understanding the issue and implications in the community. This will then help inform the development of a common agenda that all partners agree to support. The outcome of this work means that not only will there be more high-quality child care available in the community, but that the hours will be expanded to meet local employer needs, scholarships will be provided to help families afford the cost, wraparound supports will be facilitated to connect families and providers with critical resources, and so on. The community coalition has identified agreed-upon measures that they are tracking – number of spots by age group, number of certified teachers, cost of care, uptake rate – and have a communication plan to share information internally with the coalition and externally with the public and other stakeholders. This community is well on its way to seeing tremendous progress in addressing the lack of childcare.
OUR APPROACH TO COLLECTIVE IMPACT
- Get the partners in the room – Once a key community issue has been identified, we first focus on the system and identify the right partners who want to address the issue.
- Help people understand the landscape – After the key stakeholders are at the table, begin building trusting relationships. Next, we gather and study relevant data about the key community issue, including existing work that is underway to improve the situation.
- Co-create solutions – Determine what is already working well and could be scaled up. Identify and prioritize catalytic projects that accomplish outcomes that no single organization could alone.
- Redesign the system – The cross-sector partners then conduct one or multiple projects with clear deliverables and metrics. Establish a shared method of measuring progress and adjusting strategies based on the outcome data.
The collective impact framework provides a roadmap for communities to strategically address significant issues. Our communities are facing tremendous challenges. We see the value in using collective impact with our clients and would love to talk to you if you want to get started!