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How 3 Communities Achieved Social Change through Collective Impact Initiatives

On paper, the theory of collective impact is one that is easily grasped by social sector professionals. Collective impact initiatives include a common agenda, shared measurements, collaborative action, continuous communication, and backbone support across multiple organizations and sectors. But in practice, beginning such an undertaking can be daunting, especially for those new to the scene. Because collective impact initiatives can be a powerful force for good, we’ve identified a few case examples that we believe will be useful to many of you, in terms of real-life, innovative initiatives that have taken a collective impact approach to address complex social issues in their communities.

The Structure to Do the Work: Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative

In 2015, the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) was established as a multi-sector community collaborative to reduce poverty and promote self-sufficiency of residents in Rochester and Monroe County (New York). Prior to its inception, Rochester ranked second nationally among similarly-sized cities with a poverty rate of 32.9%. The community’s local and state government officials, employers, service providers, funders and residents united to identify and eliminate the systemic root causes of high rates of poverty in their community.

Through research, data analysis, focus groups, and community-wide collaborative conversations, RMAPI gained a better understanding of the scale and complexity of all contributing factors that are causing persistent poverty. This research culminated in the development of three guiding principles that guide the collaborative’s work:

  • Address Structural Racism

  • Build and Support our Community

  • Address Trauma

Adopting a Collective Impact approach, seven RMAPI employees provide the backbone support needed to coordinate, guide, and facilitate the activities of all partner organizations. Additionally, the collaborative has formed three groups to advance its work:

  • Steering Committee—40 community leaders who guide the initiative’s vision and overall strategies. (RMAPI’s Executive Director reports to the co-chairs of the Steering Committee.)

  • Executive Committee—A subset of Steering Committee members.

  • Community Advisory Council—Community residents who inform, support and guide the work.

This collective impact initiative is a great example of long-term initiatives that require a deep dive into changing the policies and underlying causes of societal inequities.

Resident-centered Solutions: Collective Impact Lincoln

In 2020, Collective Impact Lincoln (Nebraska) celebrated its third year of empowering resident-led positive change in six of the city’s historic neighborhoods: Belmont, Clinton, Everett, Hartley, Near South, and University Place. Through canvassing, community events, and conversations, Collective Impact Lincoln helps its residents leverage the community’s inherent strengths to enhance quality of life.

Over the course of the three years, coordinators have worked with residents to map each neighborhood’s assets, challenges, and opportunities, and directly with the city to tackle residents’ concerns about affordable and adequate housing. Some of their activities have included: in-person events, community builder workshops, neighborhood improvement projects, and other neighborhood projects ranging from music festivals designed to forge new community connections to helping businesses collaborate on community and economic development initiatives.

Collective Impact Lincoln demonstrates a core tenant of successful collective impact initiatives: residents must lead the way to community solutions.

Emergency Relief Response: Connect Grant County

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep the nation, Thriving Families, Thriving Grant County, Community Foundation of Grant County and United Way of Grant County (Indiana) partnered to deliver a coordinated, community-wide response. Today, this collective impact initiative, Connect Grant County, is a comprehensive, online directory for residents, so that they can easily access all of the community resources available to them.

Thriving Families, Thriving Grant County is also a stand-alone collective impact initiative that approaches its work through three networks: community development, family well-being, and talent pipeline. Thriving Families currently has 12 working groups that fall under these three networks, developed to support the work needed so that ALL families in Grant County will thrive.

Connect Grant County illustrates a foundational principle of collective impact—that no single organization has the ability to solve the problem.

Common Measures of Success and Continuous Communication

Collective impact initiatives are critical to solving complex community challenges, because the expertise of many organizations is needed to achieve a specific vision for the community. Identifying where organizations’ and communities’ interests intersect and overlap becomes the impetus behind collective impact efforts. To co-create a new reality for residents, participating organizations align resources and use of common measures of success. In addition, consistent communication is needed to build trust and keep stakeholders informed of the progress the initiative is making.

SureImpact provides solutions that help social sector organizations navigate the complexities of realizing positive social change. Our flexible and customizable, cloud-based data collection and reporting solution helps social sector organizations and collective impact initiatives to easily track, measure, and communicate all of the good work you do on behalf of the communities you serve. Contact us today to learn more.


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