How to Prepare for Collective Impact

If you are in the business of social change, you are either currently participating in, or will soon be presented with the opportunity to be involved in a collective impact collaborative.  This approach to solving complex social problems has hit a critical mass in terms of sectors and funders involved.  For future success, this approach cannot be ignored!

Are you ready for a successful experience?

Malcom Gladwell defines a tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”  The concept of “Collective Impact” has experienced this tipping point, and was first introduced in a 2011 article by John Kania and Mark Kramer in The Stanford Social Innovation Review.  Collective impact funding and collaboratives are spreading across the United States at unprecedented rates.  Googling “collective impact” returns more than 10 million results!  The Collective Impact Forum managed by FSG and the Aspen Institute for Community Solutions reports more than 15,000 practitioners sharing ideas and more than 50 philanthropic organizations participating in a funders community of practice.

In the past year, we’ve worked with more than half a dozen collective impact initiatives as the data partner and developer of shared measurement frameworks.  These collaboratives are diverse in scope, ranging from aligning efforts to impact health equity, housing, economic development, poverty, arts education, and minorities in STEM fields.  Funders have ranged from large national funders such as the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, State and Local governments, down to local funders such as United Way chapters and community foundations.

What is Collective Impact?

In general, collective impact is a structured approach used to tackle complex social problems based upon collaboration across government, business, philanthropy, nonprofits and citizen groups. This approach requires partnering these different entities to achieve a common agenda, agree on mutually reinforcing activities, develop shared measurement systems, and commit to continuous communication with feedback.  These activities are supported by a separate backbone organization who is responsible for coordination, project management, and facilitation of the initiative.

Collective Impact Requires a Mindset Shift

Collective impact approaches have the potential to solve the most pressing, complex social programs if implemented consistently.  Successful collaboratives require leaders and communities to think in a fundamentally different way than they have in the past.  Collaborative funding and decision making is a shift for most communities, which is evident by the time it is taking many collaboratives to move from planning (establishing a shared agenda, aligning activities and developing a shared measurement system) to action. It is only then that collaboratives can start collecting data to evaluate and monitor success.

Currently, three years is the average time it takes to get collaboratives organized and ready for action.  This does not have to be the case!  We helped one collaborative move through the planning phases of collective impact (establishing a common agenda, mutually reinforcing activities, and a shared measurement framework) in less than three months!

This collaborative cut down the time to action significantly because their ten partners were already operating from  a place of high-performance in their own organizations(read more on the relationship between high-performance and collective impact). These organizations had prepared for collective impact ahead of time by developing their culture, leadership, clarity around their unique impact, data gathering and reporting systems. When these groups came together, the fundamentals were in place, allowing the members to quickly move towards action. When new organizations were added to the collaborative, the leaders were able to lead by example and provide the new members a model of what was required.  This onboarding process also sped up success.

3 Steps to Prepare for a Quick Time to Action

Achieve social change faster by preparing your organization for the rigorous demands of this process. There are three steps all nonprofit and government organizations should be focused on now.  Regardless if you are currently engaged in a collective impact initiative or not, these steps will ensure that you are ready for this new way of doing business.

  1. Prepare yourself and your team to be a collaborator. Collaboration is difficult for almost everyone as it requires leaders to interact with diverse personalities and ideas.  It requires high-levels of interpersonal skills.  Prepare for this approach by developing communication skills, practicing active listening, and understanding the importance of constructive conflict. Leaders are required to respect others expertise and leave their egos at the door.  For a successful outcome, you must trust the work of each collaborative partner, realizing their importance.  Groups within the collaborative are not in competition for funds, services or for feeding egos.  When all leaders come to the collaborative with these skills understood, developed and in practice, action occurs faster.
  1. Be clear on what your organization brings to the table. Successful collective impact initiatives require each collaborating community partner to bring their best services and programs to the table.  Collective impact initiatives are great settings for organizations to demonstrate their unique contribution to the community while providing opportunities to scale their practices.  However, before that can happen, organizations need to be incredibly clear on what problems they solve for the community and how their work specifically aligns to the collaborative’s common agenda.
  1. Develop internal measurement systems. Collective impact will require you to share your output and outcome data.  (Want to know the difference? Click HERE)  Yet, one of the biggest barriers to success reported by collective impact practitioners is the lack of capacity of social service organizations to gather and collect meaningful outcomes and impact data.  Speed up the process of data collection, sharing, and opportunities for continuous improvement by developing these systems now.  Preparing ahead of time will allow you to find the measures that are most important to monitor and collect, and will guarantee the work you are already doing will seamlessly fit into a collective impact system.

Sheri Wants to Help You Get Ready

Collective impact approaches infused with high-performing organizations and practices are the solution to our most pressing social problems.  Success is possible if social sector leaders are willing to step up to the challenge and prepare for success.  Let us help you get ready!

Contact us for a free strategy session with Sheri

Speak with Sheri and discover what your organization needs to know to be ready for a collective impact initiative.  Whether you are currently involved in an initiative or just curious about the concept, Sheri can teach you what others are doing to drive success.  Move from planning to impactful social change at light speed!

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