In reflecting on many conversations about Collective Impact in this past year, it’s clear that the social services sector in Australia is open to new ideas and keen to learn, improve and innovate. There is no question that Mark Kramer and John Kania's article on Collective Impact has inspired much dialogue and action to collaborate for lasting change and impact. We’ve seen a groundswell of interest across sectors from people who are receptive to exploring the application of the Collective Impact Framework as a potential guide for their work. While there are always a few skeptics in the room – and critical dialogue is essential for questioning new thinking and testing assumptions – overall, social sector leaders have demonstrated curiosity, openness and a willingness to learn. From those with whom we have engaged, there is agreement around the counter-productive nature of non-collaborative approaches: if we keep working in the same way over the next 10 to 15 years, homelessness and disadvantage may actually increase. Many people acknowledge the need to change our approach for tackling entrenched disadvantage to one that works with complexity and applies a systems view over the long term. Working collaboratively across systems and sectors, while using disciplined processes and data measurement, must be factored into the way we approach this work going forward.
In looking back on the last year, here are three key lessons for moving forward to develop the Collective Impact conversation in :
1) Collective Impact requires a shift in mindset
These are just some of the mindset changes needed to achieve lasting impact – and why this is such challenging work requiring creative, flexible, forward thinking leadership.
* From believing that isolated impact alone can solve ‘wicked’ problems to accepting that we must work collectively to achieve impact.
* From expecting a ‘quick fix’ or that a new ‘program or project’ is all that is needed when it is clearly understood by those who work in this area that this is long term work – and no 3-year program, no matter how good it may be, can affect significant lasting change.
* From needing to ‘own’, and control attribution to oneself or an organisation to being willing to give up autonomy and share attribution.
* From risk intolerance, to taking smart risks and managing risks more effectively.
* From having difficulty grappling with the complexity of entrenched disadvantage to accepting the uncertainty and the complexity and learning new ‘emergent’ ways to work with it.
2) Collective Impact requires funders to shift their perspective
This framework requires a fundamental change in how funders see their role - from funding an organisation’s activity to leading a long-term process of social change, while allowing communities to steer the work and doing so with patience for sustained effort, perhaps over years. It also recognises that social change emerges from incremental improvements of an entire system over time, not just from a single breakthrough by an individual organization. It is no longer enough to fund an innovative solution created by a single non-profit or to build one organisation’s capacity alone. Instead, funders must help create and sustain the common agenda, support quality measurement and reporting systems, and offer the ‘backbone’ leadership that facilitates cross-sector collaborations to enable change.
One such example of an innovative funder in Australia is a Venture Philanthropy Foundation called Ten20 Foundation. Over the next 10 years, Ten20 Foundation seeks to support collective impact in 20 communities of greatest need throughout Australia for the benefit of children. They seek to mobilise and aggregate the financial investment, people and other resources to ensure those communities succeed. This is a long-term commitment by a funder and not without its risks, but one that holds out hope for significant and lasting change. We need more funders that are willing to take these approaches and support long term work. The greatest challenge in Australia is, of course, for our governments to understand how they can come to the collaboration table in a way that supports local decision making, systems thinking and innovation.
3) Collective Impact demands better locally available data
Gaining access to good data collection at a local level is an element in serious need of investment in Australia. In spite of the enormous amounts of data collected (mostly by various governments) in Australia, very few communities have ready access to local, detailed data on issues around social disadvantage. Far too often, data is extrapolated from population data – and is very rarely granular enough to allow services to target postcodes or sub-population groups. We must increase our capacity around data collection and then make this data accessible through data visualization and other ways to powerfully communicate the story for change told through data. Data is one of the most powerful levers for change in communities and we must have access to it in simpler forms than we have available today.
After a year of excitement and high-level engagement with the Collective Impact framework, it’s important to acknowledge the shadow side – it risks becoming the buzz term of 2013, and beyond. And like many buzz terms before it, Collective Impact risks losing its meaning and impact. To increase the effectiveness and further adoption of Collective Impact as a distinct approach to collaboration, a new forum is being developed by FSG and the Aspen Institute to ensure that the true meaning and value of “Collective Impact” isn’t diluted by time or popularity. And for the Australian context, The Centre for Social Impact, who recently launched their new vision, will develop a collaboration knowledge forum next year to connect the Australian social sector to the best possible resources, tools and information to support and inform people committed to applying the collaborative approaches like the Collective Impact framwork. We will continue to link with FSG and others such as the Tamarack Institute and Promise Neighbourhood Institute to continue the knowledge exchange and we look forward to the evolving conversation and collective learning journey in at Collective Impact : Convene Immerse Learn on February 25-26 and beyond.