Collective Impact – Shifting from a Program Rich but Systems Poor Environment to a Systems Rich and Social Change Environment
I recently joined a group of Calgary’s thought leaders and social entrepreneurs in a workshop discussion on Collective Impact hosted by the Innovation UnSchool in partnership with the Innovation Exchange (IXYYC).
For years we have been talking about how charities need to collaborate more, and how funders need to fund organizations that work co-operatively towards meaningful social change, so the idea of collective impact shouldn’t be a surprise. But it is... for many. This idea takes collaboration to a whole new level – by bringing together organizations who, independently are striving to make shifts in complex social issues, but when mixed together with policy makers and funders, can actually move the needle forward.
Collective Impact has five key elements:
1. A Common Agenda - "All participants to have a shared vision for change, one that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions... Every participant need not agree with every other participant on all dimensions of the problem. In fact, disagreements continue to divide participants in all of our examples of collective impact. All participants must agree, however, on the primary goals for the collective impact initiative as a whole... Funders can play an important role in getting organizations to act in concert." (SSIR Winter 2011)
2. Shared Measurement Systems - "Agreement on a common agenda is illusory without agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported. Collecting data and measuring results consistently on a short list of indicators at the community level and across all participating organizations not only ensures that all efforts remain aligned, it also enables the participants to hold each other accountable and learn from each other’s successes and failures." (SSIR Winter 2011)
3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities - "... Depend on a diverse group of stakeholders working together, not by requiring that all participants do the same thing, but by encouraging each participant to undertake the specific set of activities at which it excels in a way that supports and is coordinated with the actions of others.
The power of collective action comes not from the sheer number of participants or the uniformity of their efforts, but from the coordination of their differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action. Each stakeholder’s efforts must fit into an overarching plan if their combined efforts are to succeed. The multiple causes of social problems, and the components of their solutions, are interdependent. They cannot be addressed by uncoordinated actions among isolated organizations." (SSIR Winter 2011)
4. Continuous Communication - "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 be treated fairly, and that decisions will be made on the basis of objective evidence and the best possible solution to the problem, not to favor 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... 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 of the meetings were supported by external facilitators and followed a structured agenda." (SSIR Winter 2011)
5. Backbone Support Organization - "... Requires a separate organization and staff with a very specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative. Coordination takes time, and none of the participating organizations has any to spare. The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails.
The backbone organization requires a dedicated staff separate from the participating organizations who can plan, manage, and support the initiative through ongoing facilitation, technology and communications support, data collection and reporting, and handling the myriad logistical and administrative details needed for the initiative to function smoothly.
Collective impact also requires a highly structured process that leads to effective decision making... In the best of circumstances, these backbone organizations embody the principles of adaptive leadership: 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." (SSIR Winter 2011)
Individually, these characteristics don’t lead to meaningful social change, but when brought together they significantly change the larger issue that each agency individually is addressing.
- Community led – Elizabeth River Project
- Charity-Corporate led – Alberta Clean Energy Coalition
- Charity-Government led - Calgary Homeless Foundation
- Technology driven platforms – Philanthropedia.org, Place2Give.com
I am interested in the question of trust and what needs to happen in the environment that will allow people to put their differences and egos aside to build that trust. How do we shift people from going from a one-donor-one-program (Isolated Impact) way of problem solving to multiple donors-multiple agency-one issue way of funding? What needs to happen to have charities work in this type of environment? Will this way of funding mitigate the duplication in the sector?
For me, one of the hardest pieces around Collective Impact is checking my ego at the door. Recognizing that, while I might think my idea is “cool,” there are other ideas out there than can take larger picture to the next level when put in combination with mine. I have said this before, my Big Hairy Audacious Goal, is to change the way that North America’s charitable sector operates by focusing a spotlight on how money flows within the charitable sector and how policies are negatively impacting the sustainable growth of organizations and ultimately the solutions around the complex issues that organizations are mandated to solve. Obviously, with something so complex there can’t just be one person or one business tackling the issues. We, as a community of interested players and stakeholders, have to come up with a process solution and identify those who are best at delivering on the different interventions at different points along the goal’s trajectory.
As different models of Collective Impact are demonstrated we will identify the types of problems that are best suited for this type of solution creation. I look forward to figuring out how this works as part of community of practioners and how this will evolve the philanthropic industry.
Are you involved in a Collective Impact project? What are you doing? Please share your stories. We will tweet out your projects.
Over the coming months I will be writing a series of case studies that highlight some of these concepts from the work that I am doing with my clients. I welcome the opportunity to include what you are working on as part of these case studies.