Giving Compass’ Take:
• In this Stanford Social Innovation Review post, StriveTogether discusses the mechanisms of collective impact, including the flaws in the system, and explains why improving outcomes at scale requires a paradigm shift in how we work.
• Are we using the right metrics when it comes to assessing impact? How can we improve on our efforts in the field and learn from StriveTogether’s example?
It’s easy to see why collective impact — the commitment of a group of important cross-sector actors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem — caught fire in 2010. During an economic downturn, when few new resources were available, a voice said there was a way to do more with what we already had. The concept offered hope for achieving results at the scale we desired, even though we were feeling constrained. And thank goodness. Collective impact both validated work that had been underway for years and prompted innovative efforts to address complex social challenges. It gave a name to work that goes beyond traditional collaboration to understand the impact of working together in measurable ways, generating a host of new insights that would not have emerged otherwise.
But for all these benefits, as numerous articles have rightly noted, collective impact is not without significant flaws. The best example is the idea of a backbone organization — the organization and staff that coordinates collective impact efforts. Most people believed backbones could achieve collective impact on their own, not realizing that their role was supporting community leaders and members to use data of all kinds together to change everyday behavior.
Fortunately, through a partnership with Living Cities and KnowledgeWorks, a collaborative of foundations and financial institutions, we were able to build on a basic framework we started in 2009 to understand how to move from theory to action …
The list of challenges that partners must address when working to achieve measurable results include:
- Managing resource allocation across multiple authorities
- Empowering partners to access and use data for improvement
- Structuring productive discussions and actions related to race, class, and culture
- Influencing leaders and practitioners across hierarchies and sectors concurrently
- Authentically engaging community voice to interpret and act on data
- Navigating power dynamics and conflict
- Limiting time spent planning, and encouraging frequent testing and learning
These are just a few lessons we hope can help inform others working on collective impact approaches. No single training approach or new insight will be the panacea. But we can expedite the timeline of impact by capturing these and other emerging lessons, and applying and improving on what we have learned in real time.
Read the full article about achieving results at scale by Jeff Edmondson & Parvathi Santhosh-Kumar at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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