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Is This the Decade of Collaborative Philanthropy?

In his Spring 2012 Stanford Social Innovation Review column on “A Decade of Outcome-Oriented Philanthropy,” Paul Brest, the outgoing president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, describes how foundations have played increasingly active problem-solving roles over the past ten years by building fields, brokering collaborative arrangements, and supporting systems change and advocacy.

By becoming more strategic and focused on outcomes, these foundations often discover that complex social problems require adaptive solutions that must be developed in partnership with multiple stakeholders. Carol Thompson Cole, president of Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) , reiterated this important point about the interconnectedness of outcomes and collaboration in her recent Presidents’ Perspective column.

Cole envisions the next ten years of philanthropy where outcomes and collaboration work hand-in-hand:

"I believe, ten years from now, we will see a similar article entitled "A Decade of Collaborative Philanthropy." These past ten years focused on learning and assessment will give way to a decade focused on collaboration and shared experiences. The organizations that Paul profiles in his article have begun to realize the need for collaborative action—especially during times of scarcity—and many have already started this work with full force."

As Cole argues in her column – and as we have seen in our client work and field-building research at FSG – an important component of collective impact is shared measurement. My FSG colleague Nathalie Jones also emphasized this point about shared measurement in her recent blog post. Nathalie notes that “shared measures are an important part of getting participants in collective impact initiatives on the same page and aligning in their thinking about what they aim to collectively accomplish systems.”

There are some interesting parallels between the Community Center for Education Results’ (CCER) cradle-to-college initiative in Seattle that Nathalie described in her blog post, and how that compares to VPP’s youthCONNECT in the National Capital Region that Cole described in her column. Both CCER and youthCONNECT are focused on developing shared measures across the education continuum.

CCER’s Road Map for Education Results is a civic initiative aimed at driving major improvements in education results in the low-income communities of South Seattle and South King County. The community partners in CCER’s Road Map project have identified a range of shared measures including in school and out of school metrics, academic and social-emotional measures, and student-level and system-level data.

Similarly, VPP’s youthCONNECT aligns youth-serving nonprofits to address a continuum of need of low-income youth, including middle and high school education; college preparation; wrap-around support for the most disconnected youth; and a “reconnection” to employment and post-secondary education. The youthCONNECT network plans to generate benchmark data within a single, shared framework to create accountability for achieving outcomes. By measuring outcomes across the network, youthCONNECT will be positioned to identify areas of strength and weakness, clarify common issues, and develop shared solutions.

CCER and youthCONNECT are among a growing number of cross-sector, multi-year collaborative efforts where shared measurement plays a critical role. What are other examples that come to mind where outcomes and collaboration work hand in hand? When you look back ten years from now, do you think this will have been the “decade of collaborative philanthropy,” where more funders embrace the importance of collective impact and shared measurement?

Robert Albright

Director of Programs Collective Impact Forum