When Collective Impact Has an Impact: A Cross-Site Study of 25 Collective Impact Initiatives
We at Spark Policy Institute and ORS Impact are excited to release the findings of a ground-breaking study in partnership with 25 collective impact sites in the US and Canada as part of the Collective Impact Research Study.
The study sought to shed light on a fundamental question:
To what extent and under what conditions does the collective impact approach contribute to systems and population changes?
The study findings can be a tool—for refining the collective impact approach, strengthening existing initiatives, supporting new initiatives, and evaluating collective impact more meaningfully.
Our study is intended to add to the body of knowledge related to collective impact, building a better understanding of when and where it has an impact. To solve the entrenched social problems that still plague too many people and communities, it is crucial to continue deepening the sector’s understanding of the results collective impact initiatives are achieving, the challenges they face, and the lessons they have learned.
Why this study?
In 2011, John Kania and Mark Kramer published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, laying out “collective impact” as an approach for solving social problems at scale. For some, the introduction of a defined framework for cross-sector collaboration provided a useful way to focus new and existing partnerships toward a common goal and, hopefully, greater impact.
It has not, however, been without controversy. Some critiques from the field include a sense that collective impact is just new packaging for old concepts (without fully crediting the work that preceded it); that it is inherently a top-down approach to community problems; that it is too simplistic for solving the complex social problems it seeks to address; and that it replicates unjust power dynamics. There is also criticism that the approach has not been assessed rigorously enough to warrant the number of resources being directed toward it.
In early 2017, the Collective Impact Forum, an initiative of FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, hired ORS Impact and Spark Policy Institute to conduct a field-wide study of collective impact with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Houston Endowment, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The partnership of ORS Impact and Spark Policy Institute brought, across the two organizations, both knowledge, and experience with collective impact (Spark) and experience with other community change models (both), as well as a healthy skepticism and more arm’s length relationship to the approach (ORS).
We encourage you to share any of your insights about collective impact in the comments section below. Questions or comments about the study may also be sent to Terri Akey at ORS Impact or Lauren Gase at Spark Policy Institute.