Collective Impact: A New Approach to Collaboration

guest blog post by Ed Long, Principal, Cross-Sector Innovations

Nonprofits across Oklahoma do a great job of reaching out to stakeholders in government and the private sector to collaborate on common goals. We know that we can do more by joining forces. Cross-sector collaboration, however, is not without challenges that can affect the likelihood of producing successful outcomes.

We are doing a better job of connecting to broad coalitions and engaging diverse stakeholders; yet, we don’t always have everyone we need at the table. Compared to previous years, we are much better at engaging consumers; but, there is still room for improvement. When we do have everyone at the table, it can be challenging to agree on how to measure success. And, despite the best of intentions, we may leave a productive meeting with partners energized with ideas and concrete action steps just to return to our office and be consumed with the day-to-day operations of our organizations.

Given the complex nature of social issues, we can’t afford to abandon cross-sector collaboration as a means for improving outcomes. But, we must find ways of improving the process and maximizing efficiency. Collective impact is a structured, intensive form of cross-sector collaboration that offers a solution to the challenges outlined above. In the Winter 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, John Kania and Mark Kramer defined collective impact as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem” (34).

The first reaction many have is that they already do this. However, the collective impact model is much more intensive than most of the efforts we would associate with this definition. It goes beyond engaging the usual suspects and often includes hundreds of stakeholders. It requires a coordinated, unified effort with each partner having a complementary role.

While not a cure-all for every issue, this model is an effective way for driving systemic change associated with complex issues. There are five core components of collective impact: 1) a common agenda; 2) shared measurement systems; 3) mutually reinforcing activities; 4) continuous communication; and, 5) a backbone support organization that provides coordination and support for the initiative.

Success stories are emerging from around the country, and Oklahoma is no exception. There are a number of initiatives in the state using this model. One example is the Central Oklahoma Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (COCPTP) who recognizes the necessity of having all of the critical players at the table working on multiple facets of the problem simultaneously. Collective impact is an attractive model because of its focus on joint accountability among all parties involved, its focus on bringing together disparate partners and the use of a backbone organization to drive progress and provide support. Since 2013, Oklahoma County has experienced a 27 percent reduction in the teen birth rate, and the number of births to teen moms fell below 1,000 for first time in more than a decade. COCPTP credits collective impact as a key variable in achieving this success.

This is just one example where progress is being made in an area where other approaches have not been successful, and a handful of organizations or a single sector are not enough to move the needle. Collective impact holds a good deal of promise for maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of existing resources. To learn more about this model, we invite you to sign up for our webinar to be broadcast March 9, 2017 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Click here to register: https://www.oklahomacenterfornonprofits.org/event/webinar-collective-impact/.

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