Collective Impact

Collective impact is a response to the common problem wherever multiple organisations seek to tackle complex social issues: sub-scale, isolated service delivery that ends up being somehow less than the sum of its parts.

‘Isolated impact’, the work of independent organisations funded by independent foundations, might work well in individual cases – helping many children or young people with specific issues or opportunities – but it fails to change the system or help the community as a whole. At its worst, it facilitates the problem by providing anecdotal exceptions to the rule of poverty, dependency and disadvantage.

Collective impact represents the ambition, shared by all agencies active in a community, to work together towards a common goal and change the narrative for local people – to make a step-change in the public response to social problems and tackle their underlying causes.

Collective impact (as defined by US consultants FSG in a series of essays for the Stanford Social Innovation Review) has three preconditions: influential leaders, a sense of urgency for the issue, and adequate resources. It also has five conditions: a common agenda; shared measurement; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communications; and a backbone infrastructure charged with the management of the partnership, the effective use of shared data, and the administration of finance.

The collective impact approach for children and young people is illustrated by a number of programmes in the US including Magnolia Place Community Initiative in Los Angeles, the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati, and the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis.

The Northside Achievement Zone is one of the US government’s Promise Neighbourhoods. The Promise Neighbourhoods are a federally funded collective impact initiative, inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, to develop and implement ‘cradle to career’ solutions for children and young people across a geographical area. Promise Neighbourhoods seek to unite decision makers, communities, leaders and organisations to promise to do ‘whatever it takes’ to produce transformative change for children and their families in the long term. Promise Neighbourhoods are now in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

Evidence suggests the progress of collaborative impact initiatives, such as the Promise Neighbourhoods, is slow in the early phases. The Strive partnership in Cincinnati, for example, did not yield results for 3-4 years. But the focus on data-led continuous improvement around shared outcomes, and the exchange of learning in a collective system, is a stronger approach in principle than that of having isolated efforts led by individual organisations. When resources come together in disadvantaged communities, there is enormous scope for change.

HCZ and Collective Impact together provide the principles that are the inspiration for WLZ’s model: the collaboration of multiple agencies, over the long term, in a specific local area. This ambition and approach are ripe for replication in the UK, where the combination of a rapidly shrinking public sector and an inadequate charity model (isolated projects supported by ad hoc philanthropy) means the provision of support for children and young people is increasingly both insufficient and uncoordinated. We need more, better, and better-connected services – and we need something which goes beyond ‘services’ altogether, namely the natural operations of a healthy community, with all the informal assets and resources of the neighbourhood supporting families to bring up their children well.

Collective impact also underpins the innovative funding model for WLZ which we have named the Collective Impact Bond. This brings together multiple delivery agencies (charities and other social sector partners), multiple commissioners (mostly public sector budget-holders who pay for positive outcomes for children and young people), and multiple investors (individuals, foundations and corporate institutions who want to combine commercial investment with social value, and carry some of the risk on behalf of the charities). Read more about the Collective Impact Bond here.