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Filling the Gaps in Collective Impact

Make collective-impact approaches more nuanced and rigorous

If you’ve been following trends in the social sector for the past 10 years, you’ve likely heard of collective impact, a model for changing systems and improving community outcomes guided by five conditions: a common vision, a shared agenda, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and “backbone” support. A 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review article, which profiled the nonprofit StrivePartnership’s work in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, amplified the notion that cross-sector partnerships are essential to advancing systems change, and improving outcomes for children and youth. Today, many communities have embraced collective impact as a model for improving community outcomes at scale. Yet, despite the prominence of collective impact, a lingering question persists: Does it work?

Communities have varied greatly in how they’ve operationalized, prioritized, sequenced and sustained the five conditions of collective impact. In 2013, StriveTogether, an intermediary that emerged from StrivePartnership and supports nearly 70 US partnerships in implementing collective impact, launched a theory of action to: a) more rigorously codify a way of working, and b) outline a sequenced set of activities to guide communities through a systems-change process. Recognizing the need to evaluate its own approaches, StriveTogether engaged consultants from Equal Measure in 2015 to fill two knowledge voids in the field and inform future practice:

  1. Does collective impact make things better for the people it intends to serve?
  2. If so, is there an implementation sequence that can help communities more quickly advance these outcomes?

Since then, StriveTogether has fielded countless questions about how to implement collective impact consistently and at scale—indeed, whether it’s even possible. Based on evidence from the evaluation—including surveys of more than 4,000 StriveTogether network members and local partners (2015-2017), data collected in 10 communities, and interviews with network members and community stakeholders to qualify the findings—the answer to both questions is yes.

Please select this link to read the complete article from Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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