Collective Impact in the UK

Over at the Guardian website, Tim Cooper has an interesting post pointing to STRIVE (one of the examples of collective impact that my colleagues John Kania and Mark Kramer cited in our original Winter 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review article on collective impact) as a potential model for public service reform in the UK. In late April, Sarah Connor at Teach First made a similar point.

As a Brit myself, I'm delighted that this idea is starting to gain traction in my home country, and I couldn't agree more that it has relevance and resonance. In our work we're certainly seeing a lot of potential for the basic idea, coordinated action by many different groups around a common agenda. In the U.S. and Canada, where we've documented the most examples, we see similar approaches being used in dozens of school districts from Memphis to Seattle, and on issues ranging from homelessness in Calgary to juvenile justice in New York state. And examples are by no means only found in North America. We've seen elements being applied everywhere from agricultural development in Mozambique, to tackling human trafficking in Eastern Europe. In the UK, there are strong echoes in the work done in the 80s and 90s around economic revitalisation of inner cities (as Jeremy Nicholl describes in a recent blog post), as well as in more recent ideas: obviously, David Cameron's Big Society (as Thomas Bastaniel pointed out in the SSIR last year), but also the RSA's social productivity idea and some of the work being done by NESTA, to name just a couple.

We don't always see all five of the success factors we identified — a common agenda, differentiated action, shared metrics, continuous communication and a coordinating, "backbone" entity — in evidence. Indeed many efforts struggle and flounder by not pushing far enough on key aspects, for example failing to agree shared metrics, trying to centrally control the agendas of partners too tightly, and underinvesting in the backbone that ensures the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Nevertheless, there is starting to be enough evidence of success from a sufficiently broad range of countries, cultures and issues, that it's at least worthy of deeper thought by the public sector and civil society in the UK.

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