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How to Use Collective Impact to Fight Poverty

To effectively alleviate poverty, many communities are launching initiatives on a community-wide scale. While these efforts engage diverse sectors in working collaboratively over the longer periods of time, this concentrated approach is needed to tackle the wide range of interrelated issues that make up the root causes of poverty. Through policy change and the design and delivery of programs tailored to the unique needs of populations experiencing poverty, ideally all multi-lateral interventions work in concert with each other.

In 2002, 13 cities across Canada launched Vibrant Communities Canada (VCC), a collaborative dedicated to reducing poverty for the nation’s low-income residents. The participating groups worked to developed dynamic processes for bringing together community leaders from the business, government, and non-profit sectors. But they approached this work by directly engaging with the low-income residents to design, develop, and deliver community impact strategies to reduce poverty, increase inclusion, and enhance the quality of life for this population.

All 13 metropolitan areas adopted the following five principles to guide their work:

  • Poverty Reduction

  • Multi-sector Collaboration

  • Comprehensive Thinking and Action

  • Community Asset Building

  • Community Learning and Change

By 2012, these 13 cities had made significant progress, and more recently in Canada, Cities Reducing Poverty has formed to continue this work. Cities Reducing Poverty is a network of more than 330 municipalities represented by 80 regional partners working collaboratively to end poverty in their communities and is one of three learning networks supported by Vibrant Communities Canada today.

Leveraging the Collective Impact Approach to Combat Poverty

Although the network as a whole has focused on these five principles, the development and the application of the solutions were unique and specific to the needs of each of the communities. Two examples of these five principles in action, specifically as they relate to data, include Dufferin County’s Equity Collaborative and Saskatoon’s Poverty Reduction Partnership.

Dufferin County’s Equity Collaborative

This initiative brought together the Dufferin County Poverty Reduction Task Force and the Central West Local Health Integration Network poverty sub-group. The organizations established three priority areas and conducted research to determine quick wins and longer-term desired outcomes. They then quickly identified the organizations holding the data they needed, determined who could share that data with them, and where the gaps existed, and made plans to capture that data. In addition to timely reporting, these combined data sources were synthesized to communicate the outcomes achieved across all three priority areas. Each partner organization takes on activities that are in their respective wheelhouses, and remain in constant communication with each other through regular meetings. They also communicate to the public by means of an impact report, and contribute meaningfully in terms of their commitment to both financial and human resources.

Saskatoon’s Poverty Reduction Partnership

The foundational values of the collaborative are rooted in transparency, innovation, conducting their work in multi-partisan manner, and having respect for diverse perspectives and knowledge. The collaborative has adopted a framework that encompasses government strategies, community-based organization capacities, and community members’ perceptions and ideas, all of which are used in measuring impact, and tie back to the group’s “12 bold ideas to eliminate poverty in Saskatoon.” Special emphasis is placed on dismantling the power imbalances, colonial constructs, and systemic barriers. Additionally, each meeting opens with a statement that underscores that it is a safe space for collaborative practice. The group’s strategic approach centers on four areas, including:

  • Catalyzing capacity related to social enterprise, social determinants of health, justice, and reducing crime through environmental design, etc.;

  • Convening existing teams and individuals with lived experience, and awareness and advocacy, food security, and evaluation and data expertise;

  • Coordinating leadership teams, management teams, funders and opportunities for conversations, etc.; and

  • Collaborating on policy and practice, internally through the collective impact initiative, and sharing outwardly with other collective impact groups.

Challenges and Opportunities Inherent in Collective Impact Initiatives

For many collective impact groups, the process of identifying all of the data sets from various sources is a challenge, as is synthesizing that data in a way that is manageable and relevant to the work of the collaborative. Identifying gaps in knowledge also requires careful consideration in terms of its application to address a layered issue like poverty. Why hasn’t this data been collected previously? How can you collect it without slowing down the work of the initiative, while still making data-driven decisions? Can the participating organizations legally and responsibly share the data that they collect, without compromising the privacy of your residents?

While these considerations are worth the up-front time investment, the opportunities of collective impact far outweigh these challenges. By overlaying geographic and demographic information with other important attributes, such as health and employment opportunities, collective impact initiatives can gain greater insights into the underpinnings of poverty, specific to each segment of the target population. This helps collaboratives reduce their cost per success, prioritize those in dire need first, and customize culturally-relevant solutions based on the demographics of each segment of the target population.

How SureImpact Makes Change Count

SureImpact works with collective impact initiatives that have an abundance of data sources for the purpose of addressing complex social issues such as poverty. SureImpact provides a flexible and customizable, cloud-based solution that takes into account all of the various measures each collective impact initiative wants and needs to track. We help you easily track, measure, and communicate all of the good work you do on behalf of the communities you serve.

Contact us to learn more about how SureImpact can help your collective impact initiative unlock the power of a shared technology infrastructure.


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