To be effective, collective impact partners need to focus on results and accountability to create systems change.

This is the third blog in my series on the four components of effective collective impact.

The four components are:

The Four Elements of Effective Collective Impact all work together

The third component of effective collective impact is Results and Accountability. In my experience as a funder and community development practitioner, I’ve found that the participants in a collective impact effort must be willing to be held accountable for improving the lives and the communities they serve. To accomplish this, it is critical to have two things in place: A) processes to collect and share the information necessary to track outcomes and results; and B) a culture to learn and adapt in a complex world.

A Learning Orientation

Collective impact efforts – whether they be a project, initiative or organization - must embrace a learning orientation. They must be willing to collect information relative to their effectiveness. They must be willing to continuously improve, sharing and learning based on what is working and, more importantly, what is not working. For many nonprofit organizations, the fear of losing funding has precluded a robust discussion about what is not working. More than once I have heard the comment “If we admit our strategy may not be working to our funder, they may pull our funding.” Therefore, for effective collective impact, it is critical that funders create a safe place to discuss what is working as well as what is not. Public agencies must be willing to enter that space and learn.

In the for-profit world, many of our most advanced scientific advancements and products are the result of mistakes and the willingness to innovate and take risks without the fear of failure. Posted Notes, the microwave oven, and Penicillin are examples of learning from our mistakes. We need to embrace innovation and risk-taking in the nonprofit sector as well.

The Complex World of Collective Impact

In their book, Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed, the authors Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton highlight that there are three types of problems: simple, complex and complicated. Simple problems are like baking a cake. A few steps and ingredients are all it takes to get a delicious cake. Complicated problems are like flying a rocket to the moon. Getting to the moon requires a longer recipe with more steps and ingredients. With complicated problems, all of the ingredients always respond the same so if you follow the recipe you will always get to the moon. Complex problems are like raising children. As parents you try and raise your children exactly the same and they all turn-out totally different.

Collective impact operates in a complex world. Because we are dealing with human beings the variables are always changing. What works for one person will not work for another, and what worked yesterday will not work today. Therefore, logic models designed to address complicated problems will not work for complex programs. Instead, we need data and information so we can make the necessary mid-course corrections. Without outcomes data we do not have the information we need to make the changes necessary to achieve our outcomes and results.

Results-Based Accountability

Over my nonprofit career as a United Way professional, I have found Results-Based Accountability™ is an effective framework for collecting and sharing the data needed to learn and improve.

The Results-Based Accountability (RBA) structure, as developed by Mark Friedman, author and director of the Fiscal Policy Studies Institute, can help identify a common community agenda (the subject of my final blog in this series) and, at the same time, build a culture of measurement and shared accountability.

RBA identifies quality-of-life conditions (population results) and the corresponding measures or indicators required to track their achievement, as well as the performance measures necessary to track and improve the performance of individual programs and strategies.

Turning the Curve

RBA introduces the concept of “turning the curve” to drive long-term action by focusing on improving a quality-of-life indicator over time.

Turn The Curve, a strategy from Results Based Accountability

It takes a variety of strategies to ‘turn the curve’.

More importantly, a focus on overarching community results and “turning the curve” recognizes that creating measurable community level change requires a variety of strategies beyond the delivery of services. Strategies must include community engagement and co-production, public policy changes, media engagement, as well as service enhancement to create sustainable long-term change. The concept of “turning the curve” makes it very clear that for a collective impact effort to be successful, we have to engage many partners and implement a number of strategies. No one institution or program can “turn the curve” alone.

Performance Measures

The RBA framework provides a collective impact effort the ability to develop effective community-based strategies and enhance service-delivery activities through the adoption of performance measures. The performance measures answer these three questions:

  • How much did we do?
  • How well did we do it?
  • Is anyone better off?

The answers to these three questions provide the collective impact leadership and the individual service providers the information they need to identify how productive they are (number of people served and units of service delivered), the quality of their service delivery (e.g. retention rates – do the clients stay in the program long enough to receive the benefits?), and most importantly, are they doing the right things to truly make a difference in their community and for the people they serve?

RBA provides a simple, understandable framework to develop and communicate a common agenda and the shared measurement system necessary to drive collective action.

In my next post, I’ll conclude this series with a discussion of developing a clear, common purpose.