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Collective Impact and Big Change

In Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker article, “Small Change,” Gladwell suggests that true social change comes from a structured effort in which a central body creates strong connections with a network of change agents who are deeply committed to a cause, and not by individual or loose social movements in which people connect through weak ties. Gladwell makes the case that effective social change movements must be backed with a calculated and intentional strategy that creates aligned action among the players. While social networks today have the potential to mobilize people – those with weak ties to a cause who simply tweet their support will never create meaningful and lasting impact.

This perspective on how true social change happens aligns closely with FSG’s idea of Collective Impact. Collective Impact happens when a group of cross-sector actors commit to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem and agree to each be accountable to a single overarching goal.

One good example of collective impact in action is the Strive collaborative in Cincinnati, Ohio – a cross sector “cradle to career” education initiative, involving over 300 organizations who are in constant communication with each other. Strive focused Cincinnati’s educational community around a shared set of goals with a shared measurement system. Unlike other types of collaborations – such as social networks alone - collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communi-cation, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.

Organizations like Strive, Mars, and Shape Up Somerville who are making collective impact happen know that no single organization or individual can create the kind of impact needed to tackle the complex problems that our society faces.

Do you work with or know an organization that exemplifies collective impact? Please share your thoughts and stories with us.

John Kania

Board Member