Collective Impact – creating outcomes together

If we are serious about impact and outcomes, Collective Impact seems a promising approach.

I recently presented on the topic of “Collective Impact – the possibilities, pitfalls and Aotearoa NZ experience” at a funding hui in Taupo. You can view the presentation below, and a big thanks to Comet Auckland and to the Tow Foundation in the US for sharing your Collective Impact learnings.

In preparing the presentation, one quotation hit me as a perfect cameo of why working collectively matters – and, (as discussed in a previous post The fish-hooks of funding for outcomes”), why asking each individual organisation to prove their social outcomes is an almost impossible exercise. Here’s the quote, which also appears on slide 12 of the presentation below:

“In my own life experience, I was a disconnected youth who struggled with addiction and depression through my teens and lived on the streets after high school. Fortunately, I received a lot of help that helped me get back on track. In-patient treatment, out-patient treatment, therapy, mutual support group, mentors, and friends could all claim me as an outcome. But while each of these played a necessary role in my recovery, none were by themselves sufficient. And anyone measuring my success after three years would have reached a different conclusion than measuring me after five. It was a mix of service and supports and most of all a supportive community over several years that helped me.”

This quote is from Paul Schmitz, now a successful US-based author, speaker and advisor on collective impact and leadership. To some degree, however, the Paul described above is all of us. We might not have lived on the streets, but we all have had our dark times. And what gets us through?  Is it only the help we received from Organisation X? No doubt they contributed – hopefully along with family, friends, employers, other organisations, and of course, our own resilience and determination. In other words, like Paul, we are helped by a mixture of things, and, above all, by a supportive community.

Which means that if we are Organisation X, we are kidding ourselves if we claim Paul’s recovery as our own – we are merely contributors.

And, if we are a funder of Organisation X and claim we have purchased an outcome (ie Paul’s recovery), we are doubly kidding ourselves. We have merely contributed to Organisation x’s pool of funding – which then contributes to Organisation X’s capacity – which in turn makes a contribution to Paul’s recovery.

Collective Impact understands that we are all bit-players in social change.  Its key strength is that it provides a collaborative framework for all of us bit-players to align our contributions, so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Of course we are kidding ourselves again if we think Collective Impact is a silver bullet. It is anything but. We know that any kind of collaborative work is hard and slow. We know that it needs to be in response to a genuine community need and that community must be central to the process. And we have observed that it can be hard to fund, that egos often need to be managed – and always trust must be built.

But in the end we can’t change the world alone. So let’s do it together.


PS – Here’s my presentation on this topic:

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  1. Challenging thinking Kate, most welcomed.
    My question is how and who leads it . The suggestion seems to be independent backbone orgs who focus and facilitate with support from specialist community orgs. Where would the grassroots navigators fit into this.
    When talk about community driven are we are talking geographic communities or would it work with cultural communities or other human communities ?

    In our work we see the lack of collective approach all the time. Lots of social agencies very good at boundaries but people slipping into the large cracks between the boundaries with piecemeal results.
    On the other hand I have seen many ripple out effects eg in our case placing a mentor with a boy leads to other wider supportive relationships, other ways people help each other, other benefits we didn’t expect. We just mainly keep out the way when human caring emerges and let it roll.

  2. Great comments Richard. I love your line “We just mainly keep out the way when human caring emerges and let it roll.” Yes indeed – that is what life is about! Re leadership – I wonder whether “convene” is a better word? It does seem to me that one of the potential challenges is that there can sometimes be too much control and process and even dogma – everything then gets more complex than it needs to…

    And thanks for the heads up re the productivity commission report – I will read with interest.

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