The Collective Impact team at Living Cities is serious about learning in public. We set aside time intentionally every month–sometimes multiple times a month–to reflect on what’s happening in our collective impact portfolio and figure out how we can do our work better. We are starting a new series to share with you the insights, connections, and feedback that surface in these sessions. Please share your reflections in the comments so we can strengthen each other’s work!
We’ve been getting a lot of feedback lately from our site partners. Like, a lot. Particularly, we met with the directors of The Integration Initiative (TII) in January and they encouraged us to re-think our convenings and make them more inspirational, and be more responsive as thought partners. These comments come at a time when several of our TII partners are moving from planning to implementation of their strategies, and the feedback reflects how we need to better understand the local actors in each TII city to help our partners move outcomes for low-income people.
Some other feedback we received came by way of our Prepare Learning Circle cohort. This group of collective impact partnerships are focused on improving employment outcomes in their communities. Similar to TII, they are working to implement and strengthen their strategies, and they asked for three areas of additional support: 1) more research on hard and soft skills; 2) more intentional peer-to-peer learning opportunities with cohort members; and 3) additional support on continuous improvement methods.
With all this feedback in mind (as well as all the other happenings from the last few months), our team came up with a few major reflections to help us do our work better. These reflections aren’t meant to be a comprehensive response to the recent feedback we’ve received. Instead, think of them as our first step forward in strengthening the work we do based on what we’ve learned.
Securing Capital Requires Building Relationships: Deploying capital in innovative ways for collective impact requires building new relationships and strengthening existing ones. Often, collective impact leaders have only dealt in grants to fund their work, and don’t have sufficient connections to capital providers.
To help make connections between capital providers, such as community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and different collective impact leaders, we’ve been convening funder groups in different TII cities. We’ve seen that these meetings are helpful to get capital providers and other leaders get on the same page and align resources around shared goals.
But we have also seen that there are two different ways to approach these convenings: bringing together funders focused on a particular issue (such as workforce development) in a place, and convening funders in a place to support large scale systems changes, no matter the issue area. Generally speaking, from the latter type of convening we’ve seen that local funders need to be more outcomes driven and less project driven to actually achieve large scale change. For example, our TII partners in San Francisco were able to start working on a Pay for Success deal once they honed in on their outcome related to opportunity youth. We will continue to reflect on how to best convene funders to leverage innovative capital support for collective impact, and we are going to pay particular attention to the role of local philanthropy.
Funder Convenings Can Fill Gaps in Understanding: Speaking of convening funders, we’ve also seen how bringing funders together to focus on a specific topic can help fill gaps in understanding in the field and among the funder group.
For example, we’ve been working with a set of funders on our Collective Impact Committee to better understand how small businesses engage with collective impact initiatives. Our community engagement work last year helped translate community engagement strategies between our financial institution members and foundation members. Because we are a funding collaborative, we’ll continue to think about how to push our members in constructive ways to fill additional gaps in the field.
Help Others Understand Collective Impact: The Working Cities Challenge recently expanded into Rhode Island. Through our involvement with the expansion we’ve seen the need for additional support to meet the newly formed team where they are and help them understand the purpose of collective impact.
We will work with our partners at the Boston Fed to ensure that members of the Rhode Island team take ownership of the design and think about what Rhode Island needs and what results they want to see. With that foundation established, we will then help them apply the lessons learned from other collective impact work. We want to be sure the Rhode Island Working Cities Challenge does not lose out on the opportunity to combine the existing framework around collective impact with fresh thinking related to their local context.