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Critical Elements for Collective Impact Success

The definition of collective impact is “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem at scale.” In our view, the 5 conditions of collective impact outlined in the initial 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review article—common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support—still hold.

In addition to these core conditions, the field’s practice of collective impact is advancing to recognize that there are other aspects of the work that are critical to achieving impact using the collective impact approach. While we haven’t amended the initial 5 conditions, we encourage collective impact practitioners to consider these additional elements, which reflect the lessons learned through our work on the ground with many collective impact efforts:

  1. Ensuring that community members (residents, individuals with lived experience) are authentically engaged in the conception, design, governance, and implementation of the collective impact process. A collective impact initiative should not just be a “top down” project driven by senior leaders with formal authority. Members of the community and individuals with lived experience must be meaningfully engaged. There is a need for both “content” and “context” expertise in this work.
  2. Bringing an equity lens to collective impact work—to ensure that inequality along race, class, gender and culture lines is tackled head on through a collective impact initiative. It is important that the collective impact effort itself does not inadvertently reinforce systemic inequality, including areas like governance, data and measurement, and strategy development.
  3. Strengthening system leadership. Collective impact requires a certain leadership approach, which we refer to as system leadership, to succeed. System leaders are not singular heroic figures, but those who facilitate the conditions within which others can make progress towards social change. The core capabilities necessary for system leadership are the ability to see the larger system; fostering reflection and more generative conversations; and shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.
  4. Enabling continuous learning. Much of the power of collective impact comes from ensuring that participants in the collective are using data (for example, quantitative data from shared measurement, and contextual data from members of the community) to learn and improve their work going forward. The use of data for adaptation and improvement is what enables the collective to learn and improve its work, and ultimately to get to large-scale, sustainable change.

What would you add to this list? What else do social change practitioners need to be successful in their efforts?

This post was adapted from content that originally appeared on Generosity, a magazine that provides insight and inspiration for philanthropic funders at all levels. 

 

Fay Hanleybrown

Managing Director

Jennifer Splansky Juster

Executive Director Collective Impact Forum