The world is brimming with increasingly complex social issues, many of which are very challenging for a single entity to solve alone. There’s undeniable truth in the adage ‘teamwork makes the dream work’, and the collective impact model is built around this premise.
When different organizations work together to achieve a single goal, they can create lasting solutions to the toughest social problems.
- But what is collective impact and how does it work?
- How is it different from a simple partnership or collaboration?
- Who coined the concept, and who are the major thought leaders behind it?
Here’s everything you need to know about the collective impact model.
Table of Contents
Collective impact model definition
What is the collective impact model of social change? The collective impact model believes that no single government entity policy or organization can deal with deeply entrenched social problems alone.
The concept moves beyond the traditional ‘partnership’ or ‘collaboration’ in that it calls for longstanding commitment between various organizations all working towards a common goal. There are five conditions of collective impact that elevate it above the traditional ‘collaboration’ or ‘cooperation’ (more about this below).
The concept is often placed in contrast with “isolated impact”, where organizations work individually to solve social problems. In other words, proponents of collective impact deeply believe that working together and sharing information is more effective in solving complex problems, as opposed to a single nonprofit dealing with problems on its own.
The collective impact model draws on early concepts of collaborative leadership, in that it focuses on strategic partnerships, collective goals, shared accountability, collective and independent action aligned with goals, and a backbone “institutional worrier”.
The collective impact model is often defined as a data-driven approach, as it focuses on shared measurement and the essential role of data in understanding social and environmental issues and monitoring outcomes of interventions.
Who are behind the collective impact model?
The collective impact model was first mentioned in 2011 at a Stanford Social Innovation Review article entitled Collective Impact. The article was written by FSG co-founders Mark Kramer and John Kania. FSG, a mission-driven consulting firm that helps its clients create social impact, serves as advisors to foundation, corporation, and non-profit/NGO leaders.
According to Mark Kramer and John Kania, the collective impact model requires “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem”.
The model, according to Kramer and Kania, is distinctly different as it includes “a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.”
Why is the collective impact model so popular?
Since the concept was introduced by Kramer and Kania, the collective impact model has been utilized many times, especially by philanthropic foundations and governments. Liz Weaver, Vice President of Tamarack, found the approach attractive as it offered ‘simple rules for complex interventions’, and it offered an intuitive approach.
The collective impact model was very recognizable to a lot of practitioners, as it had many similarities to several existing approaches (you can read about Tim Moore and Rebecca Fry’s Place-Based Approaches to Child and Family Services, Lisbeth Schorr’s Keynote Address, and Results-Based Accountability).
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How does the collective impact model framework work?
According to the article Collective Impact by Mark Kramer and John Kania, the collective impact model requires five key elements: common agenda, common progress measures, mutually reinforcing activities, communications, and backbone organization.
Here’s how each of these elements works.
1. There must be an agreement upon a common agenda
For the collective impact model to work, multiple organizations must abandon their individual agendas to serve one common agenda. All participants must have a common understanding of the problem, and they must mutually agree on how to solve it.
2. There must be a shared measurement system.
A common set of performance measures must be used to collect data. This ensures that all organizations are aligned and accountable to one another. This also allows all entities to learn from each other’s failures and successes.
3. Participants must engage in mutually reinforcing activities.
By mutually reinforcing activities, each organization’s expertise is leveraged as part of the overall. Using the power of collective action, various member activities are coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
With collective impact initiatives, participants are encouraged to advance activities in coordination with other participant’s activities within the initiative.
4. Participants must maintain open and continuous communication.
In order for group members to remain committed to their goals, open and continuous communication is essential. Keeping communication lines open also builds trust between participants and ascertains each organization’s commitment to their mutual objectives.
5. A backbone organization must be formed.
One of the most important defining features of the collective impact model is the existence of a centralized infrastructure known as the ‘backbone organization’. The backbone can be a single person, organization, or steering committee that aims to represent all participants.
Apart from coordinating the efforts of all participating entities, the backbone must also build a culture that encourages communication and information sharing, while resolving conflicts to allow trusted relationships to emerge among participants.
The backbone’s role is varied.
From coordinating data collection and convening meetings to connecting participants with one another, facilitating activities and relationships, and attracting financial resources to the initiative, the backbone is integral in making sure that participants get past barriers when working together and are more efficient and productive.
Critiques about the collective impact model
Most of the critiques about the collective impact model are based on the understanding that the approach did not learn enough from already existing collaborative approaches to providing solutions for complex problems.
Most critics of collective impact stress that it does not put enough emphasis on strengths-based approaches, policy and system change, equity, community engagement, and existing research and models of practice.
Examples of the collective impact model
1. Logan Together
Logan Together, a 10-year community movement that aims to change the lives of kids and families in Logan City, Australia, is a great example of the collective impact model in action. The long-term movement utilizes a whole community of effort in order to create the best life opportunities for every child in the city.
Using the collective impact approach, the movement drives cooperation and coordination between education, health, and social service providers along with the community stakeholders. With the Logan Together Roadmap, the movement was able to establish a framework that helps connect people and support full community engagement.
The Logan Together movement has a collective impact group of over 100 community partner organizations and over 1,000 active people, with a backbone team from the Griffith University that helps coordinate the work of the movement.
A great example of collective impact in education, some of the movement’s projects include Enrol for Prep, which aims to increase the number of Preppies making a smooth and timely transition to school, and Going to Kindy, which aims to resolve and reduce the barriers that prevent parents from sending their children to a good quality kindy.
Rather than working on their own, Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati leaders came together around a set of mutual goals and shared data to find solutions for complicated community challenges that hampered opportunity for young people.
Using the collective impact model via the Cradle to Career Network, StriveTogether can support a network of communities that want the best for children. The movement’s approach to collective impact is guided by their framework, the StriveTogether Theory of Action, to shape the systems that impact opportunity.
One of the movement’s initiatives is the Road Map Project, which assists community partners to collaborate on a shared vision of success for every child in the community. With a commitment to racial equity, the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network uses data to make various decisions that ultimately improved outcomes for children.
This includes closing the gap between students of color and white students in South King County, re-engaging youth in work and school, and lifting learner and family voices on topics including family engagement, college access, and career exploration opportunities.
3. Vibrant Communities Canada
Vibrant Communities Canada is a movement that aims to support local leaders and cities in developing and implementing large-scale change initiatives. It does this through three learning networks.
Communities Ending Poverty consists of 330 municipalities that are represented by 80+ regional members. All participants work collaboratively to put an end to poverty in their communities.
Communities Building Youth Futures is a network of 13 communities with a five-year strategy. The initiative’s aim is to develop system-wide solutions for young people as they act and build upon plans for their future.
Cities Deepening Community consists of 25 cities that aim to develop community plans to grow civil leadership, citizen engagement, and a sense of belonging, and 67 cities with goals of strengthening neighborhoods.
Community Climate Transitions is in the process of building communities that aim to solve climate change through a multi-solving approach that simultaneously advances environmental, social, and economic goals.
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BurnieWorks is a place-based collective impact initiative in Tasmania, Australia that aims to make long-term positive change in the areas of family, education, and employment. Burnie has a culture of long-term inter-generational unemployment and a contrasting high job vacancy.
This spurred communities within the small port city to work collaboratively and target the issue from multiple areas, including health, unemployment, social disadvantage, and education.
The movement’s common agenda, known as Making Burnie 2030, was created with the contributions of over 500 community members.
It has five main working groups: the Employment Partnership Group, education, and industry collaborative BIG, the Local Drug Action Team, Grade 5 work exposure program Dream Big, and the intensive education program Every Day Counts.
The Australian federal government has committed nearly 2 million dollars to support the initiative with hopes of aiding its data collection and evaluation.
5. Memphis Fast Forward
Memphis City collaborated with the Shelby County Mayors to spearhead the Memphis Fast Forward initiative, a strategic plan to improve the quality of life of the Memphis Region and accelerate economic growth.
The movement is a collection of various initiatives that provide solutions to complex issues in five areas: education, public safety, health, jobs, and government efficiency. Each initiative in the movement has a cross-sector steering committee and a backbone organization tasked with engaging diverse organizations and groups of people in planning and implementation.
The Memphis Fast Forward collective impact model is comprised of five initiatives. PeopleFirst aims to build a competitive workforce by strengthening education from childhood through college. Growth Alliance grows jobs and fosters the expansion of key industry clusters. Operation Safe Community is tasked with reducing crime through data-driven strategies for intervention and law enforcement.
Government Efficiency aims to promote good stewardship of tax revenues, strategic investments, efficient operations, and sound financial management. Healthy Shelby aims to improve community health and patient experience while reducing health care costs.
6. Opportunity Chicago
Opportunity Chicago was a collective impact effort formed in 2006. The movement was composed of nonprofit organizations, government agencies, foundations, and employers who have successfully assisted 5,000 public housing residents to find and prepare for quality jobs. This was done by connecting low-income, low-skilled job seekers to workforce development resources.
The movement was focused on easing the lives of Chicago’s public housing residents, who were found to have low literacy, few work skills, families with criminal histories, and physical and mental health problems.
In January 2006, the CHA, along with the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (MOWD), and the Partnership for New Communities (PNC) began organizing their efforts to improve the employment prospects of public housing residents under the umbrella of Opportunity Chicago.
The movement had a specific goal – to place 5,000 residents in unsubsidized employment between 2006 and 2019. Four years since its inception, Opportunity Chicago was already able to exceed its goal by 14%, placing 5,696 public housing residents in jobs.
Opportunity Chicago was also able to achieve success in several other metrics. Apart from placing public housing residents in jobs, 77% of participants worked after program exit, over 50% of placements were retained for two or more years, and over 50% of all participants saw an increase in their earnings.