Tag Archive | engagement

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):


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.


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.


Engaging stakeholders

The articles reviewed this week explored the definitions, and started to outline the field of KT. As Hanlon et al. (2011) illustrate the problems faced by researchers is how “can we find a way to think and act effectively in potentially overwhelming circumstances” (336). The environment is a prime example, faced by a vast problem affecting every facet of human life; there are so many ways to look at this problem. The questions can be asked and researched from every discipline. Not to mention that academic research is not the only stakeholder in this issue. We have the scientific evidence that shows the ‘knowledge’ about global warming exist but have yet to facilitate adequate action. This gap from scientific evidence to real action is exactly what the science of KT is trying to explore. 

A reasonable starting point might be to acknowledge that “[i]mplicit in what is meant by knowledge is primarily scientific research” (Graham et al., 14). The assumption that knowledge is brought about by scientific research is not only debatable, but brings into question many critiques of scientific research, the bias and elitism that is also accompanied with this type of ‘knowledge creation’. Who is the creator and the consumer, and is this unilateral interaction or is it more effective as a consensual exchange.

Labour unions are always interested in ways to protect and create jobs; it is also in the best interest of the environment, the public, and workers to address the need for emerging green economy.  Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is “is a global, multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of both land and people, and the repression of workers’ rights and protections” (Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, Para 1). At the table are labour and environmental academics and union leaders.

This is an example of academics and community leaders addressing a topic together, in a sense community based knowledge translation . Together the message that environmental reform may be not only in the best interest of our planet but is also a way in which unions can re-emerge as leaders and play an active role in our transfer to a new green based economy. The initiative also provides an opportunity for stakeholders to share their current successes and struggles in mobilizing green efforts on the ground.

The success of an idea is not always based on its merit – the political, economic, social environments influence the adaption of many changes. In the case of the environment, research is showing that our planet is in crisis, yet the skeptics are currently winning the debate. As stated Atul Gawande’s recent article in the New Yorker (Gwande, 2013) – the adjustment of a social norm is not only difficult but sometimes things that one would expect to change quickly are in fact much more difficult that we could ever predict. Labour unions have the unique opportunity to provide a gateway to engage large employers in the discussion, as alleged by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – we are all “stewards” of this earth, and it is time for us all to take responsibility for our role. The environmental crisis can be address by any number of disciplines, however finding the right agent to disseminate and take action on the information we have seems to offer the greatest challenge.

Works cited:

CUPE. (2013). Working harmoniously on the earth: CUPE’s National Environmental Policy. Retrieved from: http://cupe.ca/updir/Working_harmoniously_on_the_Earth_-_FINAL.pdf

Graham, ID et al. (2011). Lost in knowledge translation: time for a map?. The Journal of Continuing ducation in the Health Profession, 26(1), 13-24.

Gwande, Atul. Slow ideas: why innvations don’t always catch on. New Yorker, July 29, 2013.

Hanlon, P., et al. (2011). Learning our way into the future public health: a proposition. Journal of Public Health, 33 (3), 335-342.

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. (2013). About the Initiative. Retrieved from: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/about-initiative/