The Collective Impact Approach

We can be so much more effective working together rather than working toward the same goals alone in issue silos or in different sectors. That’s why we’re building a Network City Program to facilitate collective impact.


What is Collective Impact?

Collective impact happens when a cross-sector group of actors come together and use a common agenda  to solve specific, complex social problems.. It is an innovative approach to support collaboration across issues and sectors to achieve significant, measurable and lasting social change.  


Why is Collective Impact so Effective?

Right now, there are many individuals, organizations, and agencies working toward similar goals such as achieving gender equity, eradicating homelessness, and reducing energy waste globally. Often, they work in silos with their own separate funding, distinct strategies, and action plans for achieving progress and social change. They also have to compete with one another for resources, and typically follow separate plans for similar goals, without even knowing about one another’s efforts.

Instead, if these groups are able to work together for a shared agenda, and combine their resources, knowledge, and skills, progress can be achieved much more effectively, and the odds of success are much greater. Collective impact provides support through the development of a common agenda and backbone support to do that, and do it in a way that is measurable and sustainable.

Here are a few of the many great examples of the efficacy of collective impact in action:

Strive: This Cincinnati nonprofit brought together local leaders to address the student achievement crisis in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. This collective impact initiative was launched 4 years ago, and since then, Strive has been successful in helping students achieve in dozens of key areas. They are also able to track and measure that progress from year to year.

Shape Up Somerville: Shape Up Somerville is a city-wide collective impact campaign to reduce obesity and promote health in the city of Somerville, Massachusetts. In an initial study, the average weight of children involved in the initiative lost on average a statistically significant amount of weight.

Elizabeth River Project: This cross-sector impact project has brought together citizens, businesses, schools and government working together to restore the Elizabeth River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.



How is It’s Time Network Facilitating Collective Impact?

There are 5 key elements of collective impact that we use in our Network City Program to facilitates collective impact at the local level. These elements were designed and defined by FSG, who originally introduced the term “collective impact”. Below, we’ve described what the elements are, and how they relate to the Network City Program:

A Common Agenda

While different groups are working toward a similar goal, they may define the challenges they are working to address slightly differently, or have different priorities for tackling those challenges. With a collective impact approach, it is important to  agree upon a shared mission, definition of the challenge, and commit to a set of strategies or action steps.

In the Network City Program, each city Chapter forms a Local Advisory Council (LAC) comprised of an inclusive and diverse group of community leaders. The LAC will develop a baseline report that assesses 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 to achieve their goals around gender equity. This will ensure that the agenda is specific to the needs of that community and is relevant to the various participating local organizations and agencies.

Shared Measurement Systems

In order to track progress and measure success, it is essential that all parties involved utilize a shared measurement system. This helps to align the organizations and individuals who are working collectively, and increases accountability for each group. In the gender equity sector, a number of leading organizations have independently developed a set of metrics for evaluating the status of women and girls, but a comprehensive and shared set of standards has not yet been established. Without shared measurement, it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons from city to city, across demographics of race, class, gender, and other classifications, or over time.  

Last year, we launched our pilot Network City chapter in San Francisco. We are in the process of developing a baseline report to establish the current status of women and girls in San Francisco across a broad range of issues. Currently, the chapter is focused on growing the network and building the capacity for collective action.   

Mutually Reinforcing Activities

Throughout the collective impact process, diverse individuals and organizations provide their unique sets of expertise, networks, skills, and services that are then aligned strategically and in tandem with one another. In this way, collective action allows organizations to work together to achieve common goals at a much faster rate, which benefits each partner as well as the group as a whole.

In the Network City Program, each chapter’s LAC will engage existing organizations and individuals who are already working on gender equity issues and who can effectively contribute to achieving the common agenda. After evaluating the skills and resources of these individuals and organizations, the LAC will design a collective impact initiative based on the services and expertise that they can contribute.

Continuous Communication

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. This communication will ensure that each individual and organization is on track as new developments arise and progress is made. 

In each Network City chapter, the LAC will share the findings of their city’s baseline report on gender equity.  Additionally, they will communicate to all individuals and organizations in the Network City chapter, the areas they’ve decided to focus on as a result of the baseline report. Each LAC 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 supports 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 organizations to focus their time and efforts on implementing their programming and services. Learn more about the importance of the role of the backbone organization here.

As the backbone support organization for all Network City chapters, It’s Time Network will facilitate network meetings, facilitate data collection and reporting, support the development of a web presence for each city’s network, and support additional initiatives and campaigns as needed.