What Are Strategies?

Both the consulting and the social sectors use an awful lot of jargon. We (the authors of this blog included) often assume that everyone in a room has the same interpretation of the words we use.

This blog is intended to provide a few definitions of “strategies” in the context of collective impact that help a collaborative reach the overall goals of the common agenda. Strategies in collective impact are rarely new programs, but rather activities that create the systems-level alignments and changes that build to population-level outcomes.  

We’ve seen four major types of such strategies in our consulting and research on collective impact:

  1. Strategies that increase coordination: finding ways to re-align / connect existing programs and stakeholders related to the social issue in order to maximize system efficacy (example: connecting existing afterschool program curricula with in-school student learning goals)
  2. Strategies that enhance services: bringing existing services / programs related to social issue in line with best practice and community needs, or scaling an existing best practice across providers throughout the community (example: training all healthcare providers in a  community on best practice clinical guidelines so patients receive similar high quality care)
  3. Strategies that target advocacy and policy change: advocating for policy change at local or state levels to improve major components of the systems that impact social issue (example: advocating for a prescription drug registry to support patients and healthcare providers in substance abuse prevention)
  4. Strategies that set up intentional learning through a pilot: identifying a potential high-impact strategy and an opportunity to start small with willing partners, to learn from the experience, and then to expand / replicate or go in a different direction (example: find one neighborhood corner store willing to work with local marketing students to promote produce sales, learn, and decide how/if to expand to other stores)

The recent paper  “Measuring progress of collaborative action in a community health effort” by Collie-Akers, Fawcett, and Schultz, offers additional elements that differentiate between strategies, including duration (does the strategy take a long time to implement?) and reach (how much of a target population is exposed to or impacted by the strategy?). All these categories of strategy are designed to allow a specific working group or steering body to determine if their portfolio of work covers all salient aspects of the problem and goal as defined in the common agenda.

No matter what type of strategies the collective impact initiative employs, they are only sustainable when built upon the trust that comes from people and organizations working together in new ways over time. Those strategies create impact when people who trust each other decide to adopt the strategies across sectors and geographies to serve the target population across a community.

There is no shortage of good ideas and good strategies and good will in communities. It just takes a bit of commitment to working differently, together, to unleash all that power that exists.

How do you define strategy in collective impact?


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