Collective impact is a multi-sector/multi-agency, collaborative leadership approach 1 to large scale social change in communities 2 that is usually place based 3 (i.e., it is focused on a particular town, neighbourhood or community). In simple terms, collective impact aims to get the community, local organisations and external agencies (e.g., government departments) to work together to address an agreed priority. Proponents of the approach argue that the five conditions of collective impact (discussed in more detail below) elevate it above simple cooperation and collaboration.
According to John Kania and Mark Kramer, 2 who proposed the approach in 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, collective impact involves “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem” (p. 36) and that it is “distinctly different” (p. 36) because it also involves “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” (p. 38).
Collective Impact Australia (quoted in Howard4) described collective impact as
A framework for facilitating and achieving large scale social change. It is a structured and disciplined approach to bringing cross-sector organisations together to focus on a common agenda that results in long-lasting change. (p. 18)
Dawn O’Neil and Kerry Graham 5 suggest that:
The Collective Impact approach is premised on the belief that no single policy, government department, organisation or program can tackle or solve the increasingly complex social problems we face as a society. The approach calls for multiple organisations or entities from different sectors to abandon their own agenda in favour of a common agenda, shared measurement and alignment of effort. Unlike collaboration or partnership, Collective Impact initiatives have centralised infrastructure—known as a backbone organisation—with dedicated staff whose role is to help participating organisations shift from acting alone to acting in concert. (para. 10)
Collective impact is often describes as a data-driven approach 3, 6, 7 because of its focus on shared measurement and the way in which “data plays an essential role in understanding the social issue and in monitoring the outcomes of interventions.” 3, p. 17
For resources on collective impact see the Collective Impact Forum.
Five conditions of collective impact
As alluded to above, Kania and Kramer 2, 8, 9 identify five conditions which they argue set it apart from other approaches:
Common Agenda 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.
Shared Measurement Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants ensures efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable.
Mutually Reinforcing Activities Participant activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
Continuous Communication Consistent and open communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation.
Backbone Support Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization(s) with staff and a specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies. (p. 1)
Drawing on Kania and Kramer 2, 8, 9 and Smart 3 we can also describe the five conditions, in a more graphic format, as follows.
A video introduction community engagement
The following video, by the Collective Impact Forum, provides a brief overview, including the five conditions of collective.
The rise of collective impact and some criticisms
Since first being promoted by Kania and Kramer there has been a significant uptake of the approach, particularly by governments and philanthropic foundations. It is attractive because, as Weaver 10 suggests, it provides “simple rules for complex interventions” (p. 16) and its approach is intuitive. Smart 3 suggests that collective impact resonated in Australia (which, after North America, has the largest uptake of collective impact), leading to a rapid adoption of the approach:
Collaborative networks and alliances recognised themselves and their work in the description and the five conditions outlined by Kania and Kramer (2011), resulting in a proliferation of Australian collective impact initiatives that either began in response to the framework or applied the framework retrospectively to their work (p. 5).
Collective impact was recognisable to many practitioners because it has many similarities to existing approaches. (See for example Lisbeth Schorr11, Tim Moore and Rebecca Fry12, Nashira Baril and her colleagues13 and Results-Based Accountability.) Some of the concerns about collective impact (especially how it was first introduced) are based on the belief that it did not learn enough from existing collaborative approaches to addressing complex social problems. Significant criticisms of collective impact include that it does not place enough emphasis on:
- Equity, particularly structural inequalities. 3, 14, 15
- Policy and system change 3, 15, 16
- Existing research and models of practice 3, 14, 15
- Community engagement 3, 4, 15, 16, 17
- Strengths-based approaches 4, 18
These criticisms can be addressed if initiatives make addressing them a priority. Given the focus of this blog, I will discuss the last two issues in more detail in coming posts:
If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:
- What is collective impact?
- Collective impact and community engagement
- A strengths-based approach to collective impact
- Bottom-up community development
- What are complex problems?
- More posts in the What is…? series (Key concepts related to working with families and communities)
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- Henig, J. R., Riehl, C. J., Houston, D. M., Rebell, M. A., & Wolff, J. R. (2016). Collective impact and the new generation of cross-sector collaborations for education: A nationwide scan. New York: The Wallace Foundation. Available from https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/Documents/Collective-Impact-and-the-New-Generation-of-Cross-Sector-Collaboration-for-Education.pdf
- Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 9, 36-41. Available from https://ssir.org/images/articles/2011_WI_Feature_Kania.pdf
- Smart, J. (2017). Collective impact: Evidence and implications for practice. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Available from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/sites/default/files/publication-documents/45_collective_impact_in_australia.pdf
- Howard, A. (2018). How can collective action be strengths based and community led? Paper presented at the Family and community strengths international symposium, Newcastle, Australia. Available from https://www.newcastle.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/455865/Symposium-Presentation-Booklet-FINAL-003.pdf
- O’Neil, D., & Graham, K. (2013). How collective impact can help place based policies. Probono Australia. Available from: https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2013/11/how-collective-impact-can-help-place-based-policies/
- Kania, J., Hanleybrown, F., & Splansky Juster, J. (2014). Essential mindset shifts for collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 12(4, supplement), 2-5. Available from http://www.collectiveimpactforum.org/sites/default/files/Essential_Mindset_Shifts_for_Collective_Impact.pdf
- Thomas, S. (2013). From information into action: Using data to drive collective impact. FSG. Available from: https://www.fsg.org/blog/information-action-using-data-drive-collective-impact
- Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2013). Embracing emergence: How collective impact addresses complexity. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Available from: https://ssir.org/pdf/Embracing_Emergence_PDF.pdf
- Hanleybrown, F., Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2012). Channeling change: Making collective impact work. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Available from: https://ssir.org/pdf/Channeling_Change_PDF.pdf
- Weaver, L. (2014). The promise and peril of collective impact. The Philanthropist, 26(1), 11-19. Available from https://www.collectiveimpactforum.org/sites/default/files/1-The%20Promise%20and%20Peril%20of%20Collective%20Impact.pdf
- Schorr, L. B. (2008). Taking bold steps for children in Santa Clara County: Keynote address. Paper presented at the Santa Clara County Children’s Summit, Santa Clara. Available from http://storage.ugal.com/3283/lisbethschorrkeynotejan3108final.pdf
- Moore, T., & Fry, R. (2011). Place-based approaches to child and family services: A literature review. Parkville, Victoria: The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child. Available from http://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/ccch/Place_based_services_literature_review.pdf
- Baril, N., Patterson, M., Boen, C., Gowler, R., & Norman, N. (2011). Building a regional health equity movement: The grantmaking model of a local health department. Family & Community Health, 34(Supplement 1), S23-S43.
- Wolff, T. (2016). Ten places where collective impact gets it wrong. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 7(1), 1-13. Available from https://www.gjcpp.org/pdfs/Tom%20Wolff%20Collective%20Impact%20critique-CopyeditFINAL.pdf
- Wolff, T., Minkler, M., Wolfe, S. M., Berkowitz, B., Bowen, L., Butterfoss, F. D., . . . Lee, K. S. (2017). Collaborating for equity and justice: Moving beyond collective impact. Nonprofit Quaterly, 2016(Winter). Available from: https://charterforcompassion.org/images/menus/communities/pdfs/2304_Wolff-Jan-NPQ-with-credits.pdf
- Cabaj, M., & Weaver, L. (2016). Collective impact 3.0: An evolving framework for community change: Tamarack Institute. Available from http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/316071/Events/CCI/2016_CCI_Toronto/CCI_Publications/Collective_Impact_3.0_FINAL_PDF.pdf?t=1472581825369
- Barnes, M., & Schmitz, P. (2016). Community engagement matters (now more than ever). Stanford Social Innovation Review(Spring), 32-39. Available from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/community_engagement_matters_now_more_than_ever
- Duncan, D. (2016). The components of effective collective impact. Rockville, MD: Clear Impact. Available from https://clearimpact.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/The-Components-of-Effective-Collective-Impact.pdf