This discussion paper from PolicyLink integrates the concepts of collective impact and equity, making the case that without equity, any collective impact does not achieve its full potential. The collective impact framework, of course, recognizes that transformative work in communities requires the participation and alignment of many people, organizations, and sectors— the very name of the framework gives primacy to collective action. But unless rich, sustained community engagement is an expressed priority, it does not happen.  Achieving results requires dismantling systems in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms reinforce and perpetuate racial inequity.

This paper re-examines the collective impact model by drawing on lessons learned from collaborative, community-based efforts such as the Healthy Start program in Oakland, California; the national Promise Neighborhoods program; the Healthy Food Financing Initiative; and the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color. These initiatives share critical characteristics that must be integrated, intentionally and explicitly, into collective impact theory and practice, including the following.

  • Analysis of the racial barriers that limit opportunity and undermine health, and a commitment to address and remove those barriers.
  • Respect for and integration of the wisdom, voice, experience, and leadership of community residents.
  • Use of disaggregated data to identify and target resources for the people and places in greatest need, to maximize impact.
  • A mix of families, community residents, and leaders owning contributions to the programmatic, systemic, and policy solutions needed to address complex problems at their roots.
  • Ambition and commitment to achieve impact at a scale commensurate with the problem.
  • Willingness to be accountable to the people whose lives are directly impacted by the interventions, practices, programs, and policies developed.

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