Collective impact is one of the most effective ways to create systemic change, and that’s why It’s Time Network is building a collective impact infrastructure at the city level through our Network City Program. For those who aren’t as familiar with it, we want to explain what collective impact is and why it’s so effective.
Right now, there are many individuals, organizations, and agencies working toward similar goals such as achieving gender equality, eradicating homelessness, and reducing energy waste all over the world. Often, they work in silos with their own separate funding, distinct strategies, and action plans for achieving progress and social change. This means that they also have to compete for that funding, as well as for other resources like staff and volunteers, and that they are hindered by a lack of their own organization’s resources in some circumstances.
Instead, if these groups were able to work together for a shared agenda and combine their resources, knowledge, and skills, then progress could be achieved faster and the odds of success would be much greater. That is what the concept of collective impact is: a cross-sector group of actors who are committed to a common agenda for solving specific, complex social problems, using a structured form of collaboration. It is an innovative approach to support collaboration across sectors to achieve significant, measurable and lasting social change.
This concept can be applied to any issue and on any scale. Here’s one great example of its efficacy in action: when urban schools in Cincinnati, Ohio and Northern Kentucky were facing similar issues around their curriculae and educational success, they decided to act together. Strive Together developed the StrivePartnership to bring together over 300 leaders from across sectors to improve schools in three different districts. Instead of working in silos to address their common issues, they agreed on a common agenda and developed 53 success indicators that they would measure over time. They then aligned their resources, and evaluated their progress over time, sharing data and using continuous quality improvement to direct resources most effectively. In the end, the partnership improved 34 of the 53 indicators in the first four years, and the work continues today.
While the efficacy of collective impact has been clearly and repeatedly demonstrated, we lack the infrastructure to support it on a sustained basis for achieving gender equality. That’s why It’s Time Network is building that infrastructure with it’s Network City Program, which brings together individuals and organizations for collective impact projects, starting at the local level. According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, there are five conditions that, when implemented together, lead to effective collaboration and better results. Here’s what they are, and how we’ve used them to shape the Network City Program:
A Common Agenda
While different groups are working toward a similar goal, they may define the problems that they’re working to address slightly differently, or have different priorities for tackling those problems. With a collective impact approach, it is important to agree upon a shared mission, definition of the problem, and commit to a set of strategies or action steps.
In the Network City Program, each city will form a Local Advisory Council (LAC) comprised of an inclusive and reflective group of community leaders. The LAC will develop a baseline report that evaluates the status of women and girls in that city. Using that report and their own knowledge of the city’s landscape, the LAC then identifies the city’s most pressing needs, sets a common agenda, and designs collective impact projects around it. This will ensure that the agenda is specific to the needs of that community and relevant to the various participating local organizations and agencies.
Shared Measurement Systems
In order to track progress and measure success, it is essential to utilize a shared measurement system. This helps to align the organizations and individuals who are working collectively and it also increases accountability for each group. In the gender equality sector, a number of leading organizations have independently developed a set of metrics for evaluating the status of women and girls, yet a comprehensive and shared set of standards has not yet been established. Without a shared measurement, it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons from city to city or other geographic locations and it’s hard to make comparisons across demographics of race, class, gender, and other classifications.
The Women’s Foundation of California has established a template for a Women’s Well-Being Index that provides an initial analysis around a beginning set of key issue areas that they have identified. Further development of a national Women’s Well-Being Index will allow for tracking of progress and success over time across Network City Chapter as the program scales..
Mutually Reinforcing Activities
Throughout the collective impact process, the diverse set of expertise, networks, skills, and services provided by the individuals and organizations involved must be utilized strategically and in tandem with each other. In this way, collective action allows organizations to work together to achieve goals at a much faster rate, which benefits each partner as well as the group as a whole.
The LAC will look to existing organizations and engaged individuals who are working toward gender equality to contribute to the work of the common agenda set by the LAC, developing a plan based on the skills, services, and expertise that they can contribute.
Cross-agency and cross-sector collaboration requires constant communication and trust. Trust will be earned and maintained by sticking to agreed upon communication and decision-making processes that are consistent, transparent, data-based, and in the best interest of the collective goal.
The findings of the women’s well-being index and the resulting focus areas will be documented and shared with all participants in the Network City Program in each city. With guidance from It’s Time Network, each Local Advisory Council will develop its own set of expectations and requirements around continuous communication, to ensure that they are meeting and working in ways that best fit the needs of their group and action plan.
Backbone Support Organizations
In collective impact work, it is critical to have a backbone organization that provides dedicated staff resources to support the development of the collective efforts, assists with facilitation, offers support around technology, data collection, and reporting, and provides additional resources when possible. This creates an infrastructure that allows the participating agencies to focus their time and efforts on implementing their programming and services, while ensuring that the necessary administrative work gets done at the same time.
As the backbone support organization for all Network City Programs, It’s Time Network will facilitate network meetings, oversee data collection and reporting, support the development of a web presence for each city’s network, and support additional initiatives and campaigns as needed.
To date, we’ve launched a Network City Program pilot inSan Francisco, and will launch in Denver next year, with more cities to follow. We need your help to support the collective impact projects that the Local Advisory Councils in these cities will be starting in 2017!
For a minimum of $12 -- just $1 per month -- you’ll join a growing network of individuals and organizations who are working together to to advance the rights of women and girls. When you join, you’ll be invited to participate in calls and surveys that keep you updated and engaged in the work that’s happening through the Network City Program. If you’re interested, you can join the network here.
We’ll continue to expand to different cities in the United States thereafter, and your city could be next! If you want to start a program in your city, please contact us here.