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Collective Impact

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, March 24, 2011
'Collective Impact' Addresses Big Social Issues With Partnerships, Networks and Commitment

Strive Together is a four-year-old partnership of government, business and civic organizations devoted to helping young people in Cincinnati and two neighboring cities in Kentucky achieve success from "cradle to career." Already, successes are being  documented in kindergarten readiness, fourth grade reading and math scores, and improved high school graduation rates.

David Bornstein describes the initiative in a New York Times story "Coming Together to Give Schools a Boost." It's part of "collective impact" which Bornstein describes as a new strategy for addressing large scale social problems. Collaboration isn't new. What distinguishes this approach, Bornstein says, is a disciplined effort to create a network of dozens or even hundreds of organizations from different sectors of society and help them commit to a clearly defined goal, such as  improving education, fighting childhood obesity or building a sustainable seafood industry.

Bornstein points to an essay in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that identifies specific conditions for collective success. In addition to a common goal, the partners have to agree on shared ways to measure successful steps toward the goal. They need to communicate on a regular basis, and there needs to be a "backbone" organization with a full time focus on managing the partnership. 

Strive has focused on collecting data and using it for progress rather than punishment. By closely monitoring such issue as academic performance, absenteeism, tardiness, and behavioral issues, teachers could use their networks to connect needy students with mentoring and tutoring, and they could track which programs helped and some evidence of why. Shared information gave people in the networks the benefit of continuous learning based on documented evidence.

In "The Power of Partnerships," another Times piece, Bornstein describes other successful example of collective impact. Shape Up Somerville is a community-wide effort with demonstrated success in reducing weight gain among school children in Somerville, MA. The Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions connects 16 conservations organizations in the US and Canada working to make the seafood industry sustainable. Researchers have warned that without change, many large ocean fish face extinction. Bornstein writes that one partner, the Ocean Conservancy, found a fishery in the Gulf of Mexico where the stocks of red snappers had actually increased.  Other partners. The Environmental Defense Fund and Shedd  Aquarium,  helped create a supply chain to make the fish available for sale in the Midwest, thereby helping the fishery continue its sustainable practices.

Bornstein says all these efforts took work and energy to come together. One problem, he writes, is that most foundations and governments focus on individual programs and organizations. "They are used to thinking about impact through scale and replication, not integration of effort," he writes. "Very few funders invest in the connective tissue that is necessary to foster meaningful collaborations."


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