Weary and wary of collaboration? Enter ‘Collective Impact’

We recently had this article published in Generosity magazine and thought you might be interested…..

The upcoming ‘Collective Impact 2014’ conference brings more than a buzzword to the social change sector, and philanthropists should take note.

What is collective impact?

In 2011, US social impact consultants John Kania and Mark Kramer coined the term ‘collective impact’ in an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and it quickly became a buzzword of the social impact space.

At its core, the Collective Impact approach recognises that to solve the grand challenges – the seemingly insurmountable issues that face today’s societies – a ‘systems view’ is essential; the acceptance that no single policy, government department, organisation or program can solve these puzzles.

Instead, Collective Impact insists that the unique perspectives and skills of multiple interest groups must come together in such a way that new solutions can emerge.

But it isn’t collaboration.

“Unlike most collaborations,” Kania and Kramer wrote, “collective impact initiatives involve a centralised infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.”

The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts, they said, but few were successful enough to effect complex solutions and sustainable change.

“The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails,” they wrote.

For Australians Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham– social change professionals with more than 40 years’ advocacy, nonprofit, legal, and leadership experience between them – Kania and Kramer’s argument struck a chord.

“We found leading national nonprofit organisations to be somewhat of a blunt instrument,” they say. “For all the effort, resources, and passion, there just didn’t seem to be enough change.

“We both had clients who were looking to scale their impact through collaborating with others, and taking such briefs was challenging. Many leaders and organisations were weary and wary of collaboration – it sucked up a lot of time with very few tangible benefits. Plus, clients were unsure about how to collaborate at scale.”

The applicability of Collective Impact in Australia

Kania and Kramer’s Collective Impact Framework – a ‘road-map’ for making collaboration more effective and sustainable – was the impetus behind a 2012 study tour of the USA for O’Neil and Graham, funded by the Centre for Social Impact.

The pair visited organisations and networks that were using the framework so as to explore the viability of its application in Australia. The outcomes and case studies from their interactions are shared on their blog, Collective Impact Australia.

A year later, and the Collective Impact discussion in Australia is growing teeth. Organisations dipping more than their toes in the Framework include the Ten20 FoundationSocial Ventures Australia, the Tomorrow Today Foundation, and Together SA.

Philanthropy as igniter and convenor

O’Neil and Graham say they have been “knocked sideways” by the interest in the framework from community and government sectors, but stress that beyond these known early adopters, business leaders and philanthropists are essential voices to build into the early Collective Impact discussion.

“When we were in the US in 2012,” they say, “we saw first-hand the roles that philanthropists and business leaders play in Collective Impact initiatives.

“Philanthropists were often the ‘igniters’ – enabling initiatives to start by funding the work of the core collaborators and the required infrastructure, particularly data. Philanthropists and/or business leaders also played a convening role – often chairing collaborative initiatives and helping set a culture of focusing on results and making data-based decisions.”

O’Neil and Graham encourage philanthropists, business leaders, and social changemakers to learn more at the upcoming ‘Collective Impact 2014’ event in Sydney: “With the active involvement of philanthropy and business leaders, the Collective Impact approach is more likely fulfill its promise and help Australian communities tackle the social problems that we have previously been unable to solve.”

COLLECTIVE IMPACT 2014: February 25 – 26

The Centre for Social Impacthas joined forces with Social Leadership Australia to present Collective Impact 2014, a two-day interactive learning program which will provide an understanding of both theory and practical know-how for implementing the Collective Impact Framework in Australia. For a list of speakers and more information, click HERE.



About Kerry Graham and Dawn O'Neil

Social change consultants

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