By Sylvia Cheuy, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement
Since the debut of the first article about Collective Impact in the winter 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review,Collective impact has gained tremendous momentum as “a disciplined, cross-sector approach to solving social and environmental problems on a large scale.” Today, the work of Collective Impact is alive across America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and South Korea and it has also started to influence funding and public policy. For example, the concept has been written into grants from the Centers for Disease Control and the Social Innovation Fund, a White House initiative, as well as various provincial ministry initiatives in Canada.
Collective Impact is still an emerging field of practice. Our shared understanding of it as a framework and approach continues to be refined and deepened by insights generated by practitioners as they share their own experiences with implementation. Collective Insights on Collective Impact - a new resource profiled in the latest issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review – synthesizes the latest reflections about Collective Impact from 22 practitioners, funders, community organizers, and thought-leaders. Sponsored and curated by the Collective Impact Forum, the nine articles within Collective Insights on Collective Impact are a must-read for anyone curious about or working with Collective Impact.
The article Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact, co-authored by John Kania, Fay Hanleybrown and Jennifer Splansky Juster of FSG, is particularly thought-provoking. Reflecting on several diverse Collective Impact efforts, the authors acknowledge that the five conditions of Collective Impact are not always sufficient to achieve large-scale change. The work of collective impact is very often counter-cultural. This is fundamental to its effectiveness but consequently requires those engaged in the work of Collective Impact to embrace a fundamentally new paradigm when thinking about how action unfolds. Beyond tending to the three pre-conditions and five conditions of Collective Impact, to be successful practitioners, funders and supporters of Collective Impact initiatives must embrace some important shifts in mindset regarding “who is engaged, how they work together, and how progress happens.” These mindsets are “fundamentally at odds with traditional approaches to social change” and include:
MINDSET SHIFT ONE: WHO IS INVOLVED
The nature of complex problems which are the focus of Collective Impact cannot be solved by any single organization or sector alone. To be effective, these efforts must meaningfully involve critical partners in government, the non-profit, the corporate and philanthropic sectors as well as people with lived experience of the issue. As this diverse group learns about one another’s perspectives, their collective understanding of the problem – and their shared sense of mutual accountability – are created. Authentic engagement with people who are experiencing the problem first-hand is critical to ensuring that strategies are effective.
MINDSET SHIFT TWO: HOW PEOPLE WORK TOGETHER
The relational is as important as the rational
Why do some powerful and well-documented innovations that help cure social ills spread quickly, whereas others do not? This question has been an important point of reflection for systems theorist Atul Gawande. His insight: “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation.”
Gawande’s finding illustrates why relationship and trust-building are as important to the work of Collective Impact as reaching consensus on a common agenda or shared measures. As Stephen M. R. Covey noted, “…change happens at ‘the speed of trust’” and therefore those advancing a Collective Impact initiative must be willing and able to invest time to build strong interpersonal relationships and trust across multiple partners. This is essential to enable the work of collective visioning and learning which are core to Collective Impact. To sustain relationships of trust, those involved in Collective Impact initiatives must also be particularly mindful to how credit is shared with one another and avoid temptations to claim sole credit for collective successes.
MINDSET SHIFT THREE: HOW PROGRESS HAPPENS
Collective Impact initiatives are designed to help solve complex social and environmental problems. The nature of this work is unpredictable and constantly changing, and no single person or organization can control them. Because the focus of this work is often not known at the outset, participants must be willing to continuously learn and adapt their strategy using continuous feedback loops, and the coordinated responses of their participants.
In reality this means that those who are supporting and implementing Collective Impact initiatives must challenge each other to surrender their search for “a silver bullet solution” in favour of creating “silver buckshot solutions.” This is done by viewing their work as part of a larger system and considering how their efforts contribute to supporting positive change within that system.
Funders and policymakers support Collective Impact initiatives when they demonstrate a willingness to shift from investing solely in individual, single-point interventions to include investments in longer-term processes and relationship-building efforts that enable multiple organizations to work, and learn, together.
The widespread momentum around Collective Impact is exciting. It demonstrates a vital shift away from addressing complex social issues with individual, isolated programs towards considering how to best work in ways that is sensitive to the context of a broader system and how to move together towards large-scale change. These shifts have significant implications for how practitioners design and implement their work, how funders incentivize and engage with grantees, and how policymakers bring solutions to a large scale. Without these vital mindset shifts, collective impact initiatives are unlikely to make the progress they set out to accomplish.
- Read Collective Insights on Collective Impact published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review
- Register now to attend the Collective Impact Summit, October 6-10th, 2014 in Toronto
- View Introducing Melody Barnes – Keynote Speaker at the Collective Impact Summit
- Learn more about and join FSG’s Collective Impact Forum
- Join Tamarack’s Canadian Collective Impact Practitioners Community of Practice
Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.