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The 5 Keys of Collective Impact

Jan 10, 2017

Most organizations lack the ability to solve major social problems by themselves, which is why something like collective impact is so intriguing. Collective impact is the approach in which cross-sector collaboration aims to achieve positive effects on major social issues. It was first introduced in 2011 by John Kania and Mark Kramer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

The sheer number of challenges facing our world adds complexity to our hopes for change and even though many innovative approaches have been attempted, very few are working. That’s where Kania and Kramer stepped in. When organizations work together, great things are possible. The collective impact approach uses five conditions to achieve remarkable social impact. Even more, these can be accomplished by your organization on even a local scale.

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Here’s what you need to begin your collective impact journey:

1. Common Agenda

Implementing a collective impact process takes great communication and for all participants to be on the same page. There needs to be a shared vision for change and a common understanding of the problem being faced. While the individual approaches to solve the issue may vary, all should be aligned on each other’s contribution.

Do this: Define the vision and create common grounds. The vision of collective impact efforts tend to be grandiose (think: reducing suicide or improving water conditions in foreign countries), which is exactly why all sectors involved must understand the overall vision.

Ask each stakeholder: What are the key goals that want to be accomplished for this community over the next five years to be able to achieve this vision?

2. Shared Measurement

The agenda development will help unveil areas to measure the actual impact of your efforts. Measuring success is pivotal in efforts like these. For one, it’s great to see the overall impression of you work, but it also helps guide the direction and effectiveness of future projects. Shared measurement can improve data quality, track progress, enable collaboration and catalyze action.

Begin by agreeing on what success means to the collective team. Develop a list of common indicators shown and used between everyone involved, allowing for learning and improvement. Remember to report on your measured social impact afterward, so all involved understand their contribution and how it can be adjusted or continued.

There are many IT platforms that allow multiple organizations to enter/share data. Find one that works best for stakeholders and employees, and start tracking and measuring the data!

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3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities

Because a diverse set of participants are involved in collective impact, activities need to be coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action. This will identify ways to work together better and capitalize on individual talents.

Do this: Develop a plan of action and agree on a few key goals. Once data has been analyzed, small goals with significant effects can be set over time. Invest time in understanding the different ways each sector contributes to the issue.

Creating a detailed work plan shows the various pathways needed to achieve the overarching goal. Base your work plan off of the simple “What? How? Who? And When?”

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4. Continuous Communication

Communication between all sectors must be frequent and structured to build trust. Assuring that all objectives are mutual creates that common motivator between all players.

Do this: Implement continuous communication internally with online platforms, face-to-face meetings and teleconferences. When communicating externally, listen to the community and public. External communication allows the initiative to succeed by identifying the areas that need targeted as well as building public support.

Create a communication plan for weekly, monthly and quarterly communications, even if it’s informal. Look for a platform that offers easy ways to email, post updates and receive feedback on your social impact efforts.

5. Backbone Support

The backbone organization is a group of people that maintain ongoing support for the initiative’s vision and strategy, activities and shared measurement practices. The “backbone staff” can play different roles within multiple organizations.

Backbone organizations take a few different forms and require funding. Effective leadership plays an important role, and the first step in developing the backbone support is to use data to discover how many people are needed.

Form your backbone the same way you would build a winning team. Ensure you have a driver, a communications expert, someone with consistency and a closer to recruit more to your cause.

Our world will always face tough challenges and these social impact issues are only growing in number and complexity. To make a scalable difference, we need to come together. Alone we can achieve, but implementing a collective impact initiative might move mountains.

While successful collective impact initiatives need these 5 conditions, they are not sufficient to achieve collective impact at a population level. In part two of the collective impact series, we give you the principles necessary for successful collective impact. Stay tuned!

Read more about Collective Impact in this article by John Kania and Mark Kramer.


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