The Future of Collaboration: The Power of Collective Impact

What is collective impact, and how does it work in practice? According to Abigail Ridgway of nonprofit research organization FSG, it’s a unique solution for systems change agenda and a promising approach to social change. It can be used to address complex problems—such as health care—that require approaches that can shift with changing circumstances or evidence. As its name implies, collective impact recognizes that no single organization can solve complex problems working alone. “We’re not talking about individual behavior change,” said Cheryl Moder of the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative. “We’re talking about big changes in social structure.”
Collective impact is composed of five key elements: 1) a common agenda, 2) continuous communication, 3) mutually reinforcing activities, 4) shared measurement, and 5) backbone support. Of course, these elements aren’t always easy to achieve. For example, a common agenda can be hard to reach, particularly when dealing with the federal government. The answer? Monique Miles of the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions said that lies at the local and regional level: “Start with the coalition of the willing,” she said. “That can lead to federal support.”
Collective impact is also about improving, about continuous improvement methodology. How do we constantly get better at what we’re doing to reach the outcomes we want? 
Of course, measuring and communicating are critical for both funding and keeping the work going. Enterprises seeking collective impact can help their partners learn to speak the same language, which has an added benefit of creating new business opportunities for them. Jennifer Perkins of StriveTogether also recommends community scorecards as a highly effective communications tool for showing progress toward shared community vision.