Collective Impact-The Devil is in the Data

Collective Impact is gaining traction in Australia. There is a great hunger in communities to work better together – to mobilise existing effort and leverage existing resources in more strategic and coordinated ways.

From our vantage point of intentionally growing the field of Collective Impact in Australia, we are seeing that many Australian communities have the essential prerequisites for this approach – the core cross-sector group of initiators, the champions expounding the case for change (based on either consensus or urgency), and some financial resources to start mobilizing citizens and sectors in a new way.  We also see what is missing – and the biggest missing piece is data.

Collective Impact initiatives are firmly grounded in data.  The coming together of citizens and sectors is often spurred on by data outcomes that the community is deeply unhappy about.  The emergence of common agenda is informed by a clear understanding of what is happening now and what outcomes need to change.  Establishing shared measures is built on known baselines informed by data and thereby setting achievable targets.

The learning environment that supports practice change and a culture of continuous improvement is nurtured by results and data.  The continuous communication with the community about early wins, achievement of key milestones, lessons learnt, and performance of the collaborative effort are all drawn from the tracking of changes in data over time.

Data is key.

The social system and Collective Impact in Australia have two significant technical challenges with data that must be overcome – 1) access and 2) infrastructure.

The most relevant and real time data on community outcomes is held by Government line agencies and many of these are national i.e. health, housing, employment, education etc.  This data is often not readily accessible, useable or granular enough for communities.  Governments do not have established and safe-guarded mechanisms for making this data available to communities.

In instances where communities are able to access data, it rarely comes in a useable form – it is cumbersome and clunky, and requires considerable effort and resources to translate it into data that tells a compelling local story, that can mobilise a community into action.

While waiting for Government 2.0 and ‘open’ data to become a reality, communities are overcoming this access challenge in creative ways.  We see instances of communities complementing the large and periodic data sets such as the ABS census and HILDA with localized data collection.  90 homes for 90 lives in Woolloomooloo is one such example.  We also see community leaders building close relationships of trust with senior Government bureaucrats and gaining legitimate and safe-guarded access to data as exceptions to the rule.

Communities focused on data as a lever for systemic change are expending significant effort on getting the data.  Once gained, they then face the second challenge of infrastructure.  There are very few data platforms in the market that meet the needs of Collective Impact – highly useable, affordable, allowing multiple users to safely share data, collaboration tools, individual/organisation/population level reporting, real-time analytics, visualized reporting, the list goes on.

In an effort to start filling this gap for communities we have been have been searching for providers and products.  The best one we have found to date is Effort to Outcome. But the market for data platforms needs innovation and competition.  If you are a provider or developer of data platforms that can meet the needs of communities using collaboration to solve their most intractable social challenge then we urge you to get in touch.

About the authors: Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham have just undertaken a Collective Impact study tour in the USA on behalf of the Centre for Social Impact. Their vision is to translate Collective Impact into the Australian context.


About Kerry Graham and Dawn O'Neil

Social change consultants


  1. Very much like the blog. Also saw your Tedx session on suicide prevention. Would like to open some communication on our efforts in the United States.

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