If I told you that the key to building your capacity to apply the principles of collective impact is a pickle, you might think I’m being a little silly. But it’s true! To effectively advance collective impact efforts, you need support on multiple dimensions:
- The process for its effective implementation;
- The content related to the problem you’re trying to solve;
- And the leadership needed to push all these efforts forward.
To help build up your ability to do this complex work, here are a few quick tips on how to get the most out of your PCL (aka pickle!) for collective impact:
You see, process is the how behind collective impact. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the core components of Collective Impact are a cross-sector group of leaders, who agree to a shared result they want to achieve, commit to behavior change, and measure progress along the way. The process in collective impact includes what it takes to set up your partnership, how you use data to continuously improve, and how you define your shared result and contributing indicators. Living Cities’ CEO Ben Hecht recently stated on a webinar exploring quality collective impact, that ‘process is the new program’. That is, the key to getting dramatically better results faster is to apply rigorous processes instead of simply creating new programs. The cultural shift to focus on process has perhaps been the most challenging ones for the social sector, but it is luckily also the place where there are many tools and resources.
So, going back to the components of collective impact, how – for example - do you select a cross sector group of leaders? This research on cross-sector partnerships by Alison Gold gives great tips and tricks on what you’re looking for in this group. It offers a framework for building cross-sector partnerships that includes the traits that make up a strong foundation, factors that influence success and behaviors of high-impact partnership efforts.
Resource Document: What Barriers? Insights from Solving Problems through Cross-Sector PartnershipsDownload More information
And once you get that group of cross sector leaders together, you need to get that group to define a shared result that you’re trying to achieve. One helpful approach for doing this is Results Based Facilitation, which is an approach to designing, participating in, and facilitating meetings to get results. Effective facilitation is critical for bridging the silos that exist across different sectors and keeping the complex work of a collective impact initiative moving forward. The Facilitative Leadership for Social Change framework is one approach for inclusive and effective leadership through facilitation. Another proven approach is Results Based Accountability (RBA). Applying the data-driven, decision-making process of RBA is an effective way to measure progress along the way to your shared result.
Finally, one other core component of collective impact is the use of feedback loops to help you assess what strategies are and aren’t working, and why (so that you can focus your resources on those that actually produce results). The principles in the Lean Startup framework can help you think through how to set up an effective process for incorporating feedback loops and practicing continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is the process of getting better at getting better, which lies at the core of collective impact efforts.
The collective impact field has spent a lot of time on process, but not as much on content, aka the problem that is trying to be solved.
What often happens when you bring a cross-sector group of leaders in the room is to rush to solutions based on their experiences.
“This problem exists because we don’t get quality talent,” says the employer.
“Not so,” says the youth development professional. “It exists because talent is systematically disconnected from opportunities.”
And so on.
And to be honest, oftentimes people do have an understanding of where the problem exists from their view of the world. But what results are siloes where each person pushes what they know within their own influence and control and misses the interconnections and interdependencies in the system. And there are rarely drag and drop one size fits all solutions that can be applied to any given situation. By bringing together employers and youth development organizations, for example, in a cross-sector conversation about the root causes of local youth unemployment, you can produce better and more nuanced programmatic solutions responsive to local context.
For this reason, the front end of collective impact efforts intentionally focuses on process over content so cross-sector leaders can approach long standing problems with a fresh set of eyes.
Yet when it’s time to dig into the content area, it’s clearly important to build on promising practices in this work. While researching what’s been done both nationally and locally to produce outcomes is effective, we’ve found one of the best ways to get at content is to build cohorts and networks. By bringing together practitioners tackling similar problems, you can foster collaborative discussions and speed the adaptation and replication of innovative ideas. In Living Cities’ collective impact portfolio, content areas range from education to health to economic development. To support each site’s learning and advancement within their specific content focus, we’re beginning to create spaces for smaller groups of partnerships to collectively problem solve and create a network effect. One example of this is within our work with the Prepare Learning Circle to accelerate collective impact efforts to prepare low-income people for quality 21st century jobs.
Perhaps the most important element of collective impact work is the set of individual and collective leaders who drive the work. Charismatic and effective leadership is one of the intangibles that make for successful collective impact, since a certain leader is needed to hold the cross-sector partnership together while moving forward progress on the shared result.
Fortunately, a number of leadership resources exist. FSG recently published an article to propose a frame for collective impact work centered on the concept of a ‘systems leader’ who is able to catalyze collective leadership among communities.
Similarly, Adaptive Leadership is a helpful tool to have in your arsenal. By attempting to change the systems in place and produce dramatically better results for low-income people faster, collective impact efforts tackle complexity head on. Adaptive Leadership offers a practical leadership framework to help individuals and institutions adapt and succeed in challenging, complex environment. One resource for learning more about this leadership frame is Acumen’s free online course.
And while the above leadership frameworks and curriculums are helpful, we’ve found once again that the strength of cohorts and networks are the best capacity building available. For example, the Annie E Casey Foundation has a group of fellows that they bring together to improve child and family-serving professionals’ ability to enact systems change efforts that get to results. Similarly, in Living Cities’ The Integration Initiative, one of the biggest benefits is access to the network of Initiative Directors who are leading similar efforts and who become incredible resources for collective problem solving.
To effectively apply the principles of collective impact in your community, you need support across all dimensions of process, content and leadership. As we continue exploring what it takes to support collective impact practitioners, we welcome your feedback on what has and what hasn’t helped. Are there other resources you’ve found useful in your own efforts?