The rigorous form of data-driven cross-sector collaboration known as collective impact has been particularly successful in the cradle-to-career movement led by the national StriveTogether Network. StriveTogether has helped over 100 local communities from across the country adopt a collective impact framework in efforts to support the success of all children from cradle to career.
As the national network continues to grow, new roles have emerged to help accelerate the adoption of collective impact: regional ‘hub and spoke’ and statewide intermediaries. By accelerating the adoption of the framework in more places, these new intermediaries show promise as a new way to help scale collective impact efforts.
A backbone of backbones?
Understanding different strategies to accelerating the growth of collective impact partnerships across metropolitan regions and states will be needed as more places adopt the framework to tackle new issue areas.
Fortunately there are organizations innovating with new approaches within the StriveTogether network. To borrow from the accepted collective impact jargon: these intermediaries essentially function as_ backbones_ for backbone organizations. Traditionally, backbone organizations provide background support to the development of collective impact partnerships – from establishing data infrastructure for tracking outcomes to mobilizing funding to support the partnership’s work. But these new regional and statewide intermediaries have begun to instead provide background support to local backbone organizations themselves, thereby helping new collective impact partnerships get up and running.
Examples of these new approaches include All Kids Alliance in Greater Houston, Promise Partnerships in Greater Salt Lake City, and the State University of New York’s Cradle to Career initiative – a statewide intermediary.
One challenge to implementing a collective impact framework across a large metropolitan region is that the target area may just be too big. How do you bring together the right group of local leaders to transform a system when that system impacts several million individuals (such as in Greater New York City)? How do you identify the right leaders and decision-makers needed at the table if the target area is large enough to have several communities facing very different contexts (such as in the decentralized context of the Bay Area)?
To address this tension, a couple places have been testing a different ‘hub and spokes’ approach to collective impact. While still relatively new, these approaches tend to have a centralized ‘hub’ that provides technical support and assistance to local backbone organization ‘spokes.’ The ‘hubs’ can provide differing degrees of support to the ‘spokes’ – ranging from supporting the capacity of smaller backbones organizations to actually functioning as a backbone organization itself.
All Kids Alliance in Greater Houston is one of the first adopters of the ‘hub and spoke’ approach to support the development of several cradle-to-career collective impact partnerships across the 8-county Houston region. To do this, AKA engages interested communities in understanding the collective impact framework and then provides start-up coaching to get the partnership going. This initial support comes in many forms – from building the leadership table to identifying an anchor entity to setting goals and prioritizing outcomes. But AKA also provides some backbone functions itself, such as data analytic services.
Promise Partnerships in Greater Salt Lake City are another example of a ‘hub and spoke’ collective impact approach. Promise Partnerships differ from AKA in that the local ‘hub’ – the United Way of Greater SLC (UWGSLC) – effectively reverse engineered a regional collective impact approach: the UWGSLC started with collective impact partnerships at the neighborhood and school level first, then consolidated under a regional cross-sector leadership group afterwards.
These examples together offer a new way to support collective impact efforts across a large, diverse metropolitan region. While there are some challenges to the ‘hub and spoke’ approach – such as making sure spokes have enough ownership of the work instead of relying on the hub or deciding at which level to develop a shared vision – there are still several clear advantages: the increased energy that comes with local competition, the potential to form metropolitan-wide learning communities and networks, and the ability to foster and nurture more collective impact partnerships by building on expertise (such as with data management).
Another promising innovation in the collective impact field is the emergence of a state-wide intermediary in SUNY’s Cradle to Career initiative. Contrary to the ‘hub and spokes’ approach, SUNY’s C2C initiative solely provides support to local backbone organizations and does not serve as a backbone itself.
Similar to ‘hubs’, the state intermediary is well positioned to do the early hand-holding that it takes to initiate a collective impact partnership. By creating networks of geographically close collective impact partnerships, these intermediaries also have the potential to facilitate communities of practice under the same local context.
A state intermediary is also uniquely positioned to play new roles in state-level policy and data support. As a state-wide intermediary supporting many partnerships, SUNY C2C is able to see common obstacles facing partnerships across New York State, which can develop into a responsive policy agenda. The intermediary is also positioned to work with statewide data resources to collect and report on state-level data.
Scaling the Reach of Collect Impact
These regional and state intermediaries are promising examples of how to scale collective impact more quickly in more places. Adopting a collective impact framework is very challenging work. Intermediaries like All Kids Alliance, Promise Partnerships and SUNY’s C2C Initiative offer a new approach for supporting communities who decide to come together around a collective impact framework.