By Jewlya Lynn, Founder and Chief Learning Officer, Spark Policy Institute; and Sarah Stachowiak, CEO, ORS Impact
Back in May, 2017 ORS Impact and Spark Policy Institute embarked on an ambitious and important study to explore how collective impact contributes to changes in systems and populations through its unique approach to addressing social issues. We are pleased to update the field on our study progress as we near the end of our data collection.
Study Selection Process
To seek out a representative group of sites that would allow us to dig into how collective impact leads to systems and population changes, we invited the field to nominate sites that were good examples of how the collective impact model is contributing to changes in systems and outcomes.
We screened over 150 sites to find examples of mature initiatives (at least three years old), in the US and Canada, with evidence of strongly implementing all of the five conditions of collective impact, changing a number of systems, and moving the needle on outcomes. Of the 39 sites that met our initial screening criteria, 25 initiatives across a wide range of topics and geographies consented to participate in our inquiry. Our research steering team helped us vet the final set of sites and identify any potential challenges.
To develop a broad understanding of how collective impact works across many different settings, we interviewed two key people in each of the 25 sites who had a deep knowledge of the initiative– often backbone leaders or steering team members. In addition, we reviewed many documents that described activities, goals, and progress. Through the interviews and documents, we sought to understand how collective impact shows up in different initiatives and how the collective impact conditions might be linked to important changes in systems and outcomes.
Drilling Down to Equity and Impact
Next, we selected two sets of sites to dive deeper into our primary research question of “what is the contribution of collective impact to population and systems changes?” and to explore more explicitly how equity intersects with the CI model– a priority identified by our steering team as an opportunity to raise up a significant principle that is important to the field.
To address our primary research question about the contribution of CI, we selected eight “contribution” sites from our original pool of 25. Our goal in selection was NOT to identify the “best” CI sites, but rather to identify a set of initiatives that allowed the best chance of examining causal linkages among how collective impact is implemented and the changes that occur in people, organizations, systems, and ultimate impact. Therefore, we selected eight sites that had the strongest evidence that all five collective impact conditions were present and that multiple social and systems changes could clearly be linked to population changes achieved.
Within our contribution sites, we collected additional data using structured group dialogues to help us understand how collective impact is implemented and what challenges the initiatives faced in implementation. In addition, we facilitated group process tracing sessions where a group of stakeholders pressure tested theories of change that the systems changes and population changes they were experiencing could be attributed to their collective impact efforts and not to external events or context.
To address growing interest and urgency around infusing equity into collective impact work, we also identified three sites to allow us to understand more deeply the issues related to meaningful and authentic inclusion of beneficiary communities in CI planning, implementation and leadership; what types of equity focused strategies are being implemented; what factors are related to “readiness” to engage in equity work; and how initiatives are achieving equity-focused systems changes and outcomes. ARISE– an initiative focused on the needs of indigenous students in Anchorage, Promesa Boyle Heights– a community-driven initiative in Los Angeles, and RGV Focus– a regional initiative focused on low-income Hispanic children and families in the Rio Grande valley– all provide unique opportunities to learn how CI can actively engage the families and communities they intend to benefit and how having an equity focus interacts with the CI model.
Coming up in future posts, we’ll share our collective impact and equity rubrics that we are using to understand how the model is being implemented, and blogs on systems changes and process tracing as a methodology. As we wrap up our analysis and distill findings, we’ll also provide a glimpse into our initial results and share lessons with the field from what we are learning.