Redefining Collective Impact

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The year 2021 marks 10 years since the publication of the article “Collective Impact” in Stanford Social Innovation Review, authored by my FSG colleagues John Kania and Mark Kramer. In 2013 2014, I had the honor to work with a team from FSG and our partners at the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions to launch the Collective Impact Forum, with a goal of supporting collective impact efforts across the field.

I often think of 2011 as a milestone within the “life” of the collective impact framework. 2011 certainly was not the beginning of large-scale community collaboration—this work builds on more than decades of work around coalition-building and community organizing. But, building on the decades of work, 2011 was a moment that introduced a framework to operationalize an approach for how partners can work collectively for a common goal, and it’s been very humbling to see how many collective impact efforts have started or progressed over these years to create change in their communities.

We are also nearing two years since the COVID-19 pandemic started. In many ways, 2011 feels like a lifetime ago … not just 10 years. In this moment of reflection, I think about how much has changed since 2011 (and how much hasn’t.) And during these last 20 months, the many people we have lost—disproportionately representing communities of color. Too many. And I think about the systems that continue to produce health inequities, widen the wealth gap, continue to keep racist policies, practices, and attitudes in place. These systems and more continue to cause harm and oppression in our communities.

And I think about the continued need for folks to come together, to work in partnership and in community, to face these challenges, to support each other, and to make things better for everyone.

Upon realizing that a decade had passed since this original Collective Impact publication, and recognizing the context that we are in, we spoke with our partners and colleagues about if and how we should highlight this moment in time. We decided to mark this 10 year point in two ways.

First, the Collective Impact Forum team and our advisors Junious Williams and Paul Schmitz partnered with John Kania and Mark Kramer—authors of the original article Collective Impact and several follow-on publications—to share reflections on how collective impact efforts can more proactively put equity at the center of the work. This piece—Centering Equity In Collective Impact—is part of the Winter 2022 Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Emphasizing the importance of equity is not a new topic for the Collective Impact Forum, and we have learned a tremendous amount from practitioners doing this work, and from leaders including Angela Glover Blackwell, Michael McAfee, Vu Le, and our own advisors Paul Schmitz and Junious Williams. To build on our work done to date, we share an updated definition of collective impact that includes equity as a core element of the work. We also discuss how the original 5 conditions should be grounded in, and implemented with, a distinct focus on equity so the approach itself and the accompanying practices reflect an intentional commitment to advancing equity.

The revised definition of collective impact reads:
Collective impact is a network of community members, organizations, and institutions who advance equity by learning together, aligning, and integrating their actions to achieve population and systems-level change.

This definition identifies equity as the North Star for why how and collective impact work takes place, specifically names community members as key actors along with other stakeholders, and emphasizes the importance of systems change in this work.

And we elevate 5 concrete strategies to advance equity and share examples of how each is being pursued in community work:

  • Ground the work in data and context, and target solutions
  • Focus on systems change, in addition to programs and services
  • Shift power within the collaborative
  • Listen to and act with community
  • Build equity leadership and accountability

When paired with the original “5 conditions” of collective impact, these equity strategies contribute to an approach that when implemented with focus holds great promise for improving outcomes for those who are most marginalized and oppressed in our communities. These communities are and should be the center of our work.

In addition to publishing Centering Equity in Collective Impact, over the coming months the Collective Impact Forum will be highlighting the perspectives of practitioners and other partners who have been evolving and advancing the practice of collective impact over the last 10 years.  We will be sharing pieces through an online supplement housed on that will be free to access, on our own blog, and through our podcasts.  These pieces will start in late November. We hope you will join us in this continually evolving dialogue and practice. We are grateful to be learning and working in community with you.

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