What is Collective Impact?

So You Want To Help a Neighborhood?


So you say you want to help a neighborhood in need.

You start with crime, because that’s what the evening news talks about most. As you study crime, you find out that 70% of crimes are committed by high school dropouts. So clearly education must be the solution. You focus on reforming the schools. You realize that the neighborhood schools have incredible obstacles, one of which is a 100% turnover in third grade classrooms. You go to address this in the student’s homes and find out its from a lack of financial stability based on employment. You try providing training and skills to get folks better jobs, but the gap is so large, you end up back at square one.

This is the nature of complex social problems in communities that are in need. It’s the reason that the right solution cannot be delivered by a single program or a single organization. The fact is that, today, what is required are broad, cross-sector collaborations from the nonprofit, government and business sectors, These sectors must come alongside each other to work in unique partnerships that go beyond your typical collaboration. This advanced framework for collaboration is something that is now known as collective impact.

Collective Impact

Collective Impact is an innovative and structured approach to making collaboration work across government, business and nonprofit organizations. It is a based on a centralized infrastructure and five common conditions.

Isolated Impact

Cincinnati was one of the first cities to use collective impact. Under the leadership of StriveTogether, cross-sector organizations from Cincinnati used collective impact to improve area education. The goal was to provide a “cradle to career” pipeline for public school students. At first, the plan was received with reservation by private and public funders.

The idea of cross-sector cooperation was rare in the grant process. Traditionally, funders awarded grants based on the single organization that provided the best solution to the problem at hand. Organizations competed to be chosen by emphasizing how their individual activities produced the greatest result.

This traditional model, with its focus on individual entities, is called isolated impact. Modern day charitable systems were built around this model. There is little evidence of isolated impact’s ability to solve the complicated and adaptive problems our society is encountering now.

The Five Conditions of Collective Impact

The complex problems society faces require private, government and nonprofit groups to unite under the common framework of collective impact. Collective impact, and all its successes, are based on five conditions.

1. A Common Agenda

A common agenda is the road map for a collective impact initiative. It establishes three items.

  • A shared vision for change.

  • A common understanding of a problem.

  • A unified approach to solving the problem through agreed upon actions.

Traditionally, nonprofits recognize different definitions of what a community’s problems and goals are. Collective impact demands that these organizations abandon their individual perspectives and forge a common understanding of the problem and goals together.

In Cincinnati, StriveTogether brought 300 local leaders together to develop a list of 53 success indicators. These guided their actions and shaped their vision. Every activity was placed under the single mission of improving those indicators.

2. Shared Measurement

Shared measurement is the force behind making a common agenda happen. Shared measurement develops universal reporting practices and common measurements for all organizations to share. This results in three outcomes.

  • Alignment of group efforts

  • Universal accountability

  • Shared language and goals.

3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities

Collective impact requires private, government and nonprofit organizations to work together by doing separate activities. These activities must support and be coordinated with the actions of others. These efforts are called mutually reinforcing activities.

The power of collective impact is held in mutually reinforcing activities. By allowing organizations to work toward a common goal independently, multiple perspectives are kept in mind while addressing the central issue at hand.

StriveTogether used this masterfully as they improved education for students at different stages of life. By empowering organizations to work to the benefit of each other, the students were provided with consistent and connected education. Each year found the students and organizations reaching common goals while doing different activities.

4. Continuous Communication

Collective impact requires an enormous amount of trust between the organizations working together. In traditional collaboration settings, the most powerful group controls the conversation. Collective impact opens the door for all organizations to have their voice heard. Continuous communication is the main tool used in involving all parties in meaningful discussion, opening the doors of trust and allowing organizations to learn from each other.

5. Backbone Organization

Collective impact initiatives are incapable of operating without a separate organization and staff to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative. In Cincinnati, StriveTogether served as the backbone organization. Backbone organizations are vital to the success of collective impact because of the five activities they provide.

  • Meeting Facilitation

  • Communications Support

  • Data Collection

  • Data Reporting

  • Logistical Planning and Execution

Collective Impact in Orlando

StriveTogether was a sweeping success. Thirty-four of their fifty-three success indicators showed positive trends and their model has been brought to communities across the world. They have been heralded as a shining example of collective impact.

Here in Orlando, our focus is on bringing this framework into action in the Communities of West Lakes. The focus is concentrated and the work is just starting. To get a full look into the goals we have ahead, visit our website. For more in-depth information on collective impact read “Collective Impact” by John Kania and Mark Kramer.

The future is bright for the communities of West Lakes. The problems, while massive, are being solved with cross-sector efforts. Keep up to date with the changes happening in Orlando by signing up for our newsletter.