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The Power of Collective Impact

By Jay Colbert, GIS Project Manager

(This is a re-post of a post that originally appeared in Polis Center’s blog, posted April 18, 2012)Jay Colbert

While the idea of “collective impact” has been around for a long time, it has in recent years gathered new recognition as a movement all its own.  The term seems to have been coined in 2010 by John Kania and Mark Kramer of FSG, a nonprofit consulting firm.  Learn more about their take on collective impact in their article.

Collective impact is the idea that large social problems require broad cross-sector coordination rather than a fragmented approach of many organizations with many separate programs all striving towards a common goal.  Governments and private funders seem to be growing more reluctant to fund “yet another program” and are looking for alternatives that can lead to more observable, meaningful, and measurable outcomes.  Collective impact may well be that alternative.

No single organization is responsible for, nor can fix, any major social issue; yet, funders have for years followed a common model of funding that leads competing organizations to propose short-term, isolated programs.  Collective impact requires a longer-term vision and commitment to affect large-scale social change.

This isn’t to say that there is no room for isolated programs.  Some isolated programs have had great success in improving a particular issue— Kania & Kramer give the examples of funding college scholarships or building a hospital—but those tend to be issues with primarily technical hurdles.

Collective impact goes beyond standard collaborations between a few organizations.  It requires a large-scale, systemic approach that focuses on relationships among organizations that share common objectives.  Kania & Kramer give five conditions of collective success.

  1. Common agenda
  2. Shared measurement system
  3. Mutually reinforcing activities
  4. Continuous communication
  5. Backbone support organizations

A good local example of collective impact is IUPUI’sTalent Alliance, which brings together dozens of local agencies with the common goal of producing a highly educated and competitive workforce by maximizing the impact of many different organizations and programs.

The Talent Alliance was partly inspired by the STRIVE partnership in Cincinnati, Ohio led by Jeff Edmondson.

Remember that there are hurdles to overcome to successfully implement collective impact.  Collective impact doesn’t mean free, it’s still something that needs to be funded, and managing it requires a dedicated staff separate from the participating organizations.  Also, individual agencies need to let go of some of their individual agendas.  But if these and other hurdles can be overcome, what an impact it could make!

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