Collective Impact. The first time I heard these words used together was in the winter of 2011 when Mary Kosak shared an article of the same title in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Its thesis: Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.

Collective Impact

Research by John Kania and Mark Kramer (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter, 2011) shows that successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together produce true alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.

By way of example, John Kania and Mark Kramer, the authors of the article, used Strive in Cincinnati as a poster child for collective impact. Justifiably so – Strive was working across sectors to make some pretty incredible headway closing their achievement gap. This article, along with a trip to Strive in Cincinnati in the summer of 2011, has informed the work of the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success (IAISS), and the development of its Pathway to Student Success.

Kania and Kramer (2011) define collective impact as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.”  They differentiate collective impact initiatives from other types of collaborations by the presence of five conditions that provide the alignment that paves the way for change. Here are their five conditions and with how the work of the IAISS aligns.

  • Common Agenda – The Pathway to Student Success outlines the common agenda for the initiative.
  • Shared Measurement Systems – A Student Success Indicator committee has formed and anticipates having shared measurement systems in place by the close of 2013.
  • Mutually Reinforcing activities – Activities are being identified based on data collected in 2013.
  • Continuous Communication – Kania and Kramer (2011) state, “Participants need several years of regular meetings to build up enough experience with each other to recognize and appreciate the common motivation behind their different efforts. They need time to see that their own interests will be treated fairly, and that decisions will be made on the basis of objective evidence and the best possible solution to the problem, not to favor the priorities of one organization over another.” The Student Success Core Team has spent the last two plus years building trust, and are ready to communicate about their work to the broader community – a top priority for 2013.
  • Backbone Support Organizations – Backbone support is provided by the Blandin Foundation.

Large-scale, sustainable social change requires a broad sector approach.  In challenges illuminated by the work of the IAISS, it is clear that “no single entity has the resources or the authority to bring about necessary change” (Kania & Kramer, 2011).  The collective impact approach being used by the IAISS focuses on relationships, and is moving leaders toward a shared approach to benefit all the students in the Itasca area.

For more information read Collective Impact, available on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website.