What is Collective Impact?

What is collective impact?

Collective Impact is a collaborative strategy between multiple stakeholders (like non-profits, public agencies, governments, and businesses) for solving complex social problems. In contrast to traditional approaches where organizations pursue their goals in isolation, collective impact encourages these diverse groups to coordinate their activities around commonly agreed-upon goals.

The term was first proposed by Kania and Kramer (2011), who profiled the impressive success of an Cincinnati educational organization called Strive. There are five conditions characteristic of successful collective impact initiatives, outlined below.

All of the stakeholders discuss and agree on the initiative’s main goals and how they will act to solve them.

There is agreement on how data is measured, what will be measured, and how success is determined in the short, medium, and long term. This builds accountability and promotes learning from successes and failures.

Communication and strengthening inter-organizational relationships helps participants build trust, social capital, coordinate their activities and to learn from one another.

An independent organization and staff provides administrative support to push the agenda forward, facilitate collaboration and communication between actors/agencies, and project/data management as needed.

Stakeholders coordinate and interlink their diverse activities with others to contribute toward achieving the agreed-upon overarching goals.


Ok, but Does it work?

A 2018 study of 25 Collective Impact initiatives completed by ORS Impact (a consultancy) found CI does have measurable impacts, and suggests some valuable considerations for initiatives:

As a result of Collective Impact programs, new programs were developed, existing programs were expanded, or there were state and organizational changes that enabled greater leverage from existing community resources to advance the agenda.

Shared vision, mutually reinforcing activities, and multi-sectoral partnerships were particularly important across the types of issues initiatives were meant to address.

While Collective Impact can impact outcomes directly, in some cases, it supported and helped to drive forward other efforts (such as increased funding, changes to local planning, etc.), rather than causing change directly.

Initiatives that were more successful in measurably changing their issue focused on cultivating backbone support and developing a common agenda. While all of the five components of Collective Impact initiatives were implemented in most successful initiatives, these were the most fully developed.

While equity does not guarantee a positive impact/outcome on the issue in focus, there was a notable trend toward success when initiatives emphasized equity and took active steps to emphasize equity in their practices (specifically, inclusion of context experts, micro-targeting communities, and building capacity).

Better understanding the relationships between the “five conditions” for Collective Impact allows stronger implementation.

With the backbone organization facilitating continuous communication and a common agenda at its core, mutually reinforcing activities and a shared measurement system are more likely to emerge.

A strong emphasis on systemic change by Collective Impact initiatives was more predictive of success at the population level. Specifically, programs focused on:

  • Expanding or starting new services
  • Modifying or aligning organizational practices
  • Enhancing workforce capacities
  • Changing legislative policy
  • Changing organizational policies

Collective Impact efforts take time to implement. The eight initiatives the study examined most closely ranged from 4-24 years in duration while the less successful initiatives ranged from 4-7 years.