This 2012 follow-up article on the concept of “collective impact” further describes strategies that maximize the impact of both funder and non-profit sector investments in social change. The authors are managing directors at FSG, a social impact consulting firm.
According to the authors, since the publication of their 2011 article introducing the concept, more and more people have come to believe that collective impact is not just a fancy name for collaboration, but represents a fundamentally different, more disciplined, and higher performing approach to achieving large-scale social impact. FSG has helped launch more than one dozen collective impact initiatives, and other organizations focused on social sector capacity building such as the Bridgespan Group, Monitor Institute, and the Tamarack Institute in Canada, have also developed tools to implement collective impact initiatives in diverse settings.
Among the lessons learned about successful collective impact initiatives:
Three conditions must be in place before launching a collective impact initiative: an influential champion, adequate financial resources, and a sense of urgency for change. Collective impact efforts are most effective when they build from what already exists; honoring current efforts and engaging established organizations, rather than creating an entirely new solution from scratch.
Once the preconditions are in place, there are three distinct phases of getting a collective impact effort up and running. Phase I Initiate Action, requires an understanding of the landscape of key players and the existing work underway, baseline data on the social problem to develop the case for change, and an initial governance structure that includes strong and credible champions.
Phase II Organize for Impact, requires that stakeholders work together to establish common goals and shared measures, create a supporting backbone infrastructure, and begin the process of aligning the many organizations involved against the shared goals and measures. Phase III Sustain Action and Impact, requires that stakeholders pursue prioritized areas for action in a coordinated way, systematically collect data, and put in place sustainable processes that enable active learning and course correcting as they track progress toward their common goals. The first two phases alone can take between six months and two years. The scope of the problem to be addressed, the degree of existing collaboration, and the breadth of community engagement all influence the time required. The third phase can last a decade or more.
The authors note that it is important to establish boundaries both about the definition of the problem to be solved or issue to be addressed, as well as geographic boundaries of where the collective impact initiative will be implemented. Successful frameworks include a number of key components: a description of the problem informed by solid research; a clear goal for the desired change; a portfolio of key strategies to drive large scale change; a set of principles that guide the group’s behavior; and an approach to evaluation that lays out how the collective impact initiative will obtain and judge the feedback on its efforts.
Finally, the article provides additional lessons about the role of backbone infrastructure organizations and describes different types of backbone organizations: funder-based, a new non-profit organization, an existing non-profit organization, a government entity, a shared role across multiple organizations, or a steering committee. Backbone organizations serve six essential functions: providing overall strategic direction, facilitating dialogue between partners, managing data collection and analysis, handling communications, coordinating community outreach, and mobilizing funding.