The collective impact model addresses complex social problems that involve bringing together different organizations from different sectors to work towards a common goal. The key features of the collective impact model include a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and a backbone support organization to coordinate the efforts of the participating organizations.
We'll also identify some of the challenges involved in taking this approach and share a critical cloud-based platform that impact organizations of all sizes and sectors can use to help make their collective impact models successful.
What is a Collective Impact Model?
Programs often align by regional impact or the area of focus. Common goals should follow five core principles of collective impact: a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support.
Source: Stanford Social Innovation Review
The Stanford Social Innovation Review has a great series of articles exploring the nuances of collective impact partnerships. This blog will give an overview of the collective impact model to help determine whether such structured collaboration may be helpful for your organization in achieving the impact outcomes you seek.
Read More: 4 Reasons Your Social Enterprise Needs Social Impact Consulting
Why Use A Collective Impact Evaluation?
The benefits of the collective impact model include the ability to address complex social problems that require the efforts of multiple organizations and bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise to achieve lasting change through coordinated and sustained efforts. These initiatives have the potential to create a more significant impact than individual organizations working in isolation and can lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness by avoiding duplication of efforts and leveraging the strengths of each participating organization. In addition, participating in a collective impact initiative can provide social proof and increase credibility for your organization, as well as provide leverage for government grants and lobbying for beneficiary legislation. Collective impact initiatives can also help organizations better demonstrate the impact of their mission and vision. Of course, it benefits businesses or other players to partner with nonprofits, not just for potential tax incentives. Nonprofits often have the best insight into the on-the-ground needs and context of the beneficiaries, as well as a long history working with them (this can help define better baseline data for a new program, for example).
Read More: How to set up the groundwork for effective social impact measurement?
Collective Impact Critiques and Challenges
Several challenges can arise when implementing the collective impact model:
- Agreement on a common agenda: It can be challenging to get multiple organizations from different sectors to agree on a common goal and the strategies needed to achieve it. This requires a high level of trust and commitment from all parties involved.
- Coordination and communication: Coordinating the efforts of multiple organizations can be complex and requires effective communication and decision-making processes.
- Resource constraints: Collective impact initiatives can be resource-intensive, and securing the necessary funding and resources to sustain the efforts over the long term can be challenging.
- Measuring progress: It can be challenging to develop and agree upon a set of shared measurement systems to track progress towards the common goal.
- Maintaining momentum: It can be challenging to sustain the efforts of the collective impact initiative over the long term, especially if there are changes in leadership or resources.
- Resistance to change: Collective impact initiatives often involve changing established systems and practices, which can be met with resistance from some stakeholders.
- While outcomes can be improved through such an approach, collective impact initiatives often face many challenges. This include:
Aligning a collective impact theory of change
Nonprofits participating in collective impact programs often need a better understanding of program objectives, beneficiaries served, and intended outcome(s). Hence, it is usually best to start with programs with collective impact areas—for example, education in a specific community or region.
Read More: Accelerating Change for Social Enterprises: The Miller Center
Even after aligning organizations participating in the same programs, nonprofits often need to have similar program metrics.
For example, a cooperative education program can focus on preschool, after-school, college readiness, children with special needs, etc. The general best practice is to create sub-programs and assign standard-based metrics. Standard metrics provide a better measurement context with commonly known data collection processes.
Read More: The Art Of Actionable Impact Storytelling
I am simplifying the results of data collection and reducing the operative burden.
While nonprofits may be willing to participate in the results collection process, the biggest challenge is incentivizing each to provide results that uniquely identify key indicators close to their mission and vision. Providing an extensive survey familiar to each sub-program participant is counterproductive.
Read More: CDFI Program Impact Measurement Case Study 2022
Communication of results.
It's essential to communicate the results across the different players. Hence, each of them is motivated to continue Social Impact Assessment to share their results, and they can also understand their shortcomings and plan for improvement. In addition, it can be helpful to report collective impact through different tools to get more support from partners, communities, and funders. When there is evidence that an initiative is moving the needle socially and economically, people are more prone to trust and support the cause.
A Collective Impact Platform for Your Next Initiative
Given the need for collective impact collaborations and the challenges noted above to come together and implement such an initiative, it is essential to have the correct data management (and sharing) tools. Such a tool or platform should have the following capabilities:
Provide data-driven insights to all your programs, grants, and investments with built-in, flexible scenarios with real-time updates when new results arrive.
Flexible, comprehensive, and easy to use.
Provide an end-to-end life cycle from the theory of change, integrated with standardized and custom metrics selection process, ease of data collection & analytics, and integrated reporting.
Results collection should be manageable. Only collect results that matter most.
Impact reporting should smartly deliver a qualitative and quantitative results composition with a smart impact learning summary.
Read More: Case study: Transforming Families with Affordable Housing.
As a collective impact platform, SoPact Impact Cloud can simplify the process of setting up the collective impact programs' Theory of Change, indicators, results collection process, results in analysis, and results in communication through impact reports.
Alan is a social sector consultant and one of the founding directors of Quantica Education, a school of social entrepreneurship in Colombia.