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How Collective Impact is Evolving to Fundamentally Transform Community Wellbeing

The concept of collective impact was originally introduced in 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). Since that time, there have been many collective impact initiatives on a neighborhood, regional, and national level. Sylvia Cheuy, Consulting Director of the Tamarack Institute’s Collective Impact Idea Area recently released a research paper called “Evolving the Practice of Collective Impact” which highlights how collective impact has progressed since 2011. In her paper, Cheuy discusses the success of specific initiatives, lessons learned from collective impact, and how Collective Impact 3.0 will continue to strengthen and accelerate systems change efforts in the future.

Collective impact is a framework of multi-sector collaboration that brings people together to achieve social change. As stated in SSIR, the framework moves partners beyond simply collaborating to co-creating a coordinated strategy and shared commitment for addressing a complex issue. It requires a systematic approach to driving social impact. One example is the Collective Impact Project in Montreal, Canada.

Montreal’s Collective Impact Project

Like most large urban areas, many neighborhoods in Montreal, Canada face numerous dimensions of poverty, including food, housing, academic success, and employment. In 2015, the Collective Impact Project (CIP) was launched to address these complex social issues and achieve measurable and significant outcomes in seventeen Montreal neighborhoods. CIP is a collaboration of funders, government organizations, nonprofits, other strategic partners, and residents in each neighborhood. CIP takes advantage of a concept called Neighborhood Round Tables that have been in place since the late 1980s. The Neighborhood Round Tables are cross-sector networks that bring together a variety of neighborhood stakeholders to address common social issues. Together, they established the following priorities for the neighborhoods participating in CIP:

  • Provide greater access to more healthy and affordable food;

  • Create access to more adequate housing

  • Ensure that more young people are on the road to success;

  • Increased resident access to collective infrastructure and equipment;

  • Include more vulnerable people in the life of their communities; and,

  • Give neighborhoods the capacity to evaluate their own impacts and use their learning to coordinate actions and partnerships

According to Cheuy, at the project’s half-way point there was evidence to suggest that CIP has been positively impacting poverty and the systemic barriers that affect the participating neighborhoods.

Palm Health Foundation’s Healthier Together Initiative

Another innovative project based on collective impact is the Palm Health Foundation’s “Healthier Together” initiative. In 2012, Palm Health Foundation’s senior leadership team decided they wanted to find a solution that would create a deeper connection to the Palm Beach community and give them the ability to create sustainable change and transform community health. In 2014, the Palm Health Foundation launched their “Healthier Together” initiative in six communities in order to drive systemic change for improving health disparities in diabetes, behavioral health, and family caregiving. The Palm Foundation gave each community $200,000 per year to:

  • Establish networks focused on health equity

  • Develop approaches for navigating complexity

  • Foster outcomes that value social capital, human capital, and developing people’s capacity for collaborative leadership

As the six Palm Beach communities worked together, four key guiding principles emerged:

  1. Be open to a learning process and foster adaptability.

  2. Be willing to be vulnerable, honest, do the work, show up, and listen.

  3. Be comfortable with messy and disruptive because that means you’re doing it right.

  4. Be patient. Trust the process. Trust incremental change.

Throughout the process, the Palm Health Foundation moved from their traditional method of measuring the number of interventions in each of their different programs to measuring health outcomes and how members of each of the six communities were better off long term. This was not a simple process and required patience, vulnerability, and collaboration with individuals living in the community. In their August 2020 report “Lessons learned from the first five years,” the Palm Health Foundation reported that their collective impact initiative led to a fundamental transformation of their culture that embraces equity and the life-long wellbeing of Palm Beach County residents of all backgrounds.

Collective Impact Going Forward – Collective Impact 3.0

The Montreal Collective Impact Program and Palm Foundation’s Healthier Together initiative are just two of many collective impact initiatives that have been implemented across the United States and Canada. As both CIP and Healthier Together continued to develop, their leadership realized that their collective impact journey did not fit neatly into every aspect of the collective impact framework. In 2016, Collective Impact 3.0 was introduced to expand upon the original collective impact framework. Collective Impact 3.0 went beyond the idea of shared management of complex social issues to establishing a diverse network of relationships and engaging others in exploring, contributing, and co-creating solutions to address these issues. Communities who want to truly transform themselves, should establish a shared measurement mindset and use the movement building mindset of Collective Impact 3.0 to establish diverse networks of community stakeholders who are committed to transformational change.

As more and more communities adopt collective impact models to drive social change, we can all learn from their progress and their impact in their communities. SureImpact is a data collection and reporting platform that connects backbone organizations, partners, funders, collaborators, grant managers, and evaluators with real-time impact data. The platform was built for the social sector by people who have been working in the government, nonprofit, and collective impact initiatives for over twenty years and have a deep understanding of the unique needs of social sector organizations and their funders.

To learn more, check out our on-demand webinar “Engaged & Empowered – How to use technology to improve collaboration and efficiency, and drive social impact.”


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