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Burning Questions from the “Getting Started with Collective Impact” Webinar Series

The Collective Impact Forum and FSG recently co-hosted a 3-part webinar series, “Getting Started with Collective Impact.” This series prompted some engaging dialogue among webinar speakers and attendees about challenges and opportunities when initiating collective impact. Several notable themes and thought-provoking questions emerged during each webinar:

Part 1: Is Collective Impact the Right Approach For You?

Led by Fay Hanleybrown and Admas Kanyagia of FSG and Sujatha Jesudason of CoreAlign, this webinar gave an overview of collective impact, reviewed a feasibility framework for determining if collective impact is the right approach, and offered reflections from one collaboration that ultimately decided not to move forward using the collective impact framework. This webinar underscored the importance of trust and transparent communication among key stakeholders when assessing whether a community is ready to pursue collective impact. Other important pre-conditions highlighted on the webinar include level of urgency, credible champions, and resources for collective impact. Fay, Admas, and Sujatha addressed a range of questions during the webinar, such as defining the geographic scope of collective impact, recruiting champions, and building urgency.

Watch Is Collective Impact the Right Approach for You? >

One webinar participant’s question that we did not have time to address in detail was “How do you bring all organizations together that historically have collaborated but may be afraid of giving up turf or funding issues to have a true collective impact?”

Building buy-in from community partners about why the collective impact approach makes sense can certainly be one way to address turf and funding issues. For collective impact to be successful, all stakeholders have to believe that achieving population-level impact will be more likely by working together than working in isolation. This mindset shift can help community leaders buy into the purpose and goals of collective impact while also recognizing that the status quo will change. If organizations are achieving results through collective impact, they likely will not lose funding and their work will be a valuable part of the collaborative, and others may even learn from their work. Participating in a collective impact initiative might also require partners to work differently and deal with some of the turf issues head on in order to make greater progress.

One important way to address turf and funding concerns is to invest in building trust and deepening relationships among partners. Peer influence can play an important role in bringing along those who might be skeptical of engaging in a collective impact effort. Trusted leaders who have the respect of others in the community can invite diverse stakeholders to the table, and if the collective impact planning process is well run, everyone will see the reason to stay involved. The process used to bring a group to consensus on the common agenda (covered in part 3 of the webinar series) can go a long way in creating genuine buy-in on what the problem is and what success will look like in the future.

Part 2: Setting the Scene for Collective Impact

Led by John Kania and Erin White of FSG and Cheryl McCarver of The Health and Wellness Alliance for Children, this webinar examined the role of the steering committee and community engagement in collective impact. The webinar highlighted why a steering committee is important and how to engage a diverse set of perspectives on the steering committee. Webinar speakers noted that community engagement in collective impact should extend well beyond occasional focus groups or town hall meetings, and should play a substantive role in developing strategies, sustaining change, and gaining foundational understanding of the challenges.

John, Erin, and Cheryl addressed a range of questions during the webinar, such as making decisions among a large and diverse steering committee, differentiating between the steering committee and backbone functions, and acknowledging the power differential between community members and those in formal leadership positions.

Watch Setting the Scene for Collective Impact >

One webinar participant’s question that we did not have time to address in detail on this webinar was “How do you move past not having great data to show the issues in the community that you know are there?”

Having a balance of both qualitative data and quantitative data can help in understanding the problem and making the case for collective impact. Quantitative data is not always available at the right level of granularity or timeliness to make the case for collective impact on its own. For example, public health data in a particular county might be several years old, or data may too limited in scope to disaggregate by socioeconomic status or race. That is why it is important to also have data directly from community members—compelling stories, narratives, and themes from community conversations—that can supplement what the hard data alone will not be able to communicate and can often help leaders see what the hard data reflects about the reality of the community.

Part 3: Collaborating to Create a Common Agenda

Led by John Kania and Abi Stevenson of FSG and Adrienne Abbate of Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness, this webinar examined the main components of creating a common agenda. The common agenda should answer 5 key questions: how you are going to work together (guiding principles), what is in and what is out (boundaries / problem definition), how to define success (goal), how you are going to split up the work and prioritize (framework for change), and how you will track progress and learn (plan for learning). Webinar participants voted real-time that determining boundaries and problem definition is the most challenging aspect of creating a common agenda.

John, Abi, and Adrienne addressed a range of questions during the webinar, such as determining the size and composition of a planning group that creates a common agenda, understanding the difference between common agenda and mutually reinforcing activities, and balancing the need for collective learning while defining the problem.

Watch Collaborating to Create a Common Agenda >

One webinar participant’s question that we did not have time to address in detail on this webinar was “How and when to develop a common agenda and steering committee when the goal or problem has not yet been defined?”

Determining the steering committee’s ideal composition and sequencing the common agenda development are common challenges. The initial champions for a collective impact initiative might have a preliminary sense of what they want to work on. This might be an initial hypothesis around the boundaries and problem definition. For example, public health leaders from a county health department or from a place-based foundation may decide to initiate a collective impact initiative in their city or county around maternal and child health more broadly, with a particular emphasis on improving outcomes from ages birth to 5 years. These leaders may start with a short-list of challenges to confront (e.g., healthy births, childhood asthma, childhood obesity), and then begin to prioritize that list of challenges over time as they gather information on where to focus.

As initial champions incorporate other voices on a steering committee, this broader group should test their hypotheses about the common agenda by authentically engaging community voices and analyzing qualitative and quantitative information to understand the nature of the problem and what has or has not worked in prior collaborations. The steering committee will play a central role in developing the common agenda, but as the common agenda gets more specific the composition of the steering committee may need to evolve to bring in new voices while others may transition out.

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments, and view the webinars >  

Robert Albright

Director of Programs Collective Impact Forum