Collective impact for adaptive problems

Collective impact is an approach to large-scale social problems that has been gaining recognition in the past few years. The strategy is based on large-scale collaboration across a group of partners that agree to scrap their individual agendas for a unified solution. The approach includes the integration of shared measurement into the process to assure that how impact will be demonstrated is unified across partners (Heierbacher, 2013).

Proponents of this approach argue that the recent boom in philanthrocapitalism pushes back on such a strategy, by scaling-up select organizations as the key to creating needed changes. Although some problems using such an isolated impact approach, i.e. funding solutions through single organizations, such a collective impact approach is better suited for adaptive problems with complex solutions involving different sectors. The approach incorporates a backbone organization as a central manager of the collaborative effort, though this organization may be represented by a variety of sectors (NGO, government, funder-based, etc) (Kania and Kramer, 2011).

The table below outlines the five conditions of collective impact (Kania and Kramer, 2011):

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This approach seems well suited to a field of interest of mine, water resource management. One of the tricky aspects of such an approach in a complex field such as water resource management is arriving at the common understanding of the problem, as different sectors may have more in-depth knowledge of particular aspects with technical language of their field. Approaches such as diagraming can be used to simplify more scientific concepts for diverse stakeholder groups and a focus needs to be made on simplifying concepts and priorities that are perhaps not understood outside of a particular discipline, for example engineering. Additionally, though the approach has been documented in many developed countries, there seems to be an absence of success stories from the developing world. One issue in the context of a developing country, for example Nicaragua, is the lack of baseline data from which to make measurements. In such a context, monitoring and surveillance efforts would require complete transformations not only to take shape across sectors but also to become a unified process. In some ways, the absence of proper surveillance leaves room for constructing surveillance efforts more collaboratively from the ground up versus other contexts that would require adaptation of present strategies.

This approach provides straightforward guidance to collaborative intersectoral approaches and could easily be integrated with other tools to enhance dialogue and participation around a unified vision with the right mix of stakeholders.

References

Heierbacher, S. (2013). Collective Impact: A Game Changing Model for the Social Sector. National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Available at: http://ncdd.org/12858

Kania, J. and Kramer, M. (2011). Collective Impact: Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Available at: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact.

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