The Essential Intangibles of Collective Impact

In January, my colleagues and I published Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work to help expand the understanding of collective impact and provide greater guidance for people and organizations seeking to initiate and implement collective impact initiatives. The response has been encouraging, and we continue to learn more about colleagues in the field who are using the five key conditions to catalyze and sustain social change in a variety of areas, from improving health outcomes for the most vulnerable to reducing underage substance abuse.

We’ve received dozens of tactical implementation questions in response to the article, and we have a great lineup of practitioners who will share their specific experiences in this blog over the next several months – so stay tuned.

If questions posted on the SSIR website are any indication, people seem most hungry to learn more about the “essential intangibles” of collective impact; the soft skills and competencies that collective impact practitioners and leaders must hone and demonstrate in order to be effective.

Two themes arose from the online discussions: the need for adaptive leadership and the importance of trust between players working on a common social issue.

We noted in the article that collective impact “requires a very special type of leader… one who is passionately focused on solving a problem but willing to let the participants figure out the answers for themselves, rather than promoting his or her particular point of view.” My colleagues John Kania and Mark Kramer, in partnership with Ronald A. Heifetz, wrote about the importance of dynamic, adaptive leadership in a 2004 article. I’d like to highlight several specific competencies that commenters noted were particularly important for collective impact work:

  • Daniel Domagala highlights the importance of humility and collaboration, noting that “low ego needs and the ability to bridge diverging viewpoints among stakeholders”, or what he terms “bridging leadership,” have proven crucial in his own work at Synergos.

  • Curtis Ogden, from the Interaction Institute for Social Change notes the importance of personal and professional alignment, finding it imperative for leaders to “cultivate the capacity to strategically and ‘spiritually’ align their process (how they do the work) with their aspirations in terms of results.”

Infusing this discussion is the fundamental role trust plays in the process. My FSG colleague Jeff Kutash stresses that “true behavior change in the way that organizations interact and work together won’t happen in the absence of trust – and that trust is built along the way through the process of developing a vision, identifying shared goals, and developing and launching aligned strategies.”

As we work with and research collective impact efforts around the globe, the importance of getting the “soft stuff” right – including building trusting relationships, practicing adaptive leadership, and creating a culture of learning – to the success of these efforts is abundantly clear.

We’ll be exploring these and other issues in our upcoming webinar on March 20th. SSIR editor Eric Nee and my colleague and co-author John Kania will be joined by the leaders of two organizations profiled in the article: Kat Allen (co-chair, Communities that Care Coalition of Franklin County and the North Quabbin); and Marc Van Ameringen (CEO, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)). Please join us and add your questions and comments to the discussion!

And, as always, we are interested in hearing from you here in this space: what skills and competencies have proven crucial to your successful collective impact efforts?



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