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Strengthening Partnerships for Education Through Collaborative Community Action and Collective Impact

Current systems are not working to meet different community’s needs across the Denver Metro area, especially when it comes to our educational systems, such as the early identification of young learners’ needs to the persistence of equity gaps in educational attainment and completion.

In Colorado less than half of Colorado children receive developmental screenings to identify potential social, emotional or behavioral challenges or developmental delays; which if unidentified can result in serious challenges that affect all areas of their lives. College enrollment and completion rates in Colorado demonstrate that equity gaps remain, with degree attainment for Hispanic and African American adults in Denver remaining significantly lower than those of white adults: 29% and 39%, compared to 64%[1]. These issues, among so many others, lead us to the question: what would it take to change the stats and create a more equitable education system in Colorado?

During our  October Social Innovators Breakfast we had the opportunity to meet and learn from three great organizations, who shared their experiences and learnings in achieving their goals through collaborative community action (CCA) and collective impact (CI). The panelist included:

  • Diana Higuera, Executive Director and Founder of the Rocky Mountain Welcome Center (RMWC), whose mission is to foster intercultural learning, understanding and integration among immigrants, refugees and Colorado residents through different programs and partnerships.
  • Eileen Auer Bennet, Executive Director of Assuring Better Child and Health Development (ABCD), a statewide nonprofit focused on improving the lives of Colorado children through early identification of developmental needs.
  • Therese Ivancovich, Executive Director of The Denver Education Attainment Network (DEAN), a collective impact initiative focused on increasing educational attainment and closing the attainment gap for students in Denver.

The panelists shared what brought them to the CCA/CI space, talked about how CCA/CI has evolved their work, discussed how they measure impact, and gave advice on starting or growing a CCA/CI initiative. We are grateful to our three panelist and we a sharing a reflection of learnings we gathered from these organizations that you can use to drive your own Collective Impact initiative. No matter what stage an initiative is at, these are some skills we learned that an initiative must have:

Commitment – ensure leaders and partners are committed to the vision and overall goal of the initiative.

Be Nimble – change the initiative direction, if necessary, and be able to take partners along the way.

Build Trust – develop trust within an initiative to not only create partner buy-in, but also build confidence between partners if the direction has to shift.

Do Your Homework – know who is at the table and what their motivations are.

Do What You Are Best At – know what your strengths are and focus on those. Let other partners do what they are best at.

We are passionate about bringing a systems lens to all of our work and often share resources and ideas for how to find and act on leverage points, use systems mapping to help change the game, and how experimentation can help drive social change. Additionally, we have many free tools and resources available if you are considering or already involved in a collaborative community action or collective impact initiative, this includes our full report When Collective Impact Has an Impact.

 

Do you have other lessons to share? Is there a topic you would like to see us explore in this blog? Tell us in the comments! Stay up to date on Spark latest news by following us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter today!

[1] Erase Equity Gaps. (2017). Colorado Department of Higher Education. Available: http://masterplan.highered.colorado.gov/goal-2-erase-equity-gaps/

Related Publications: When Collective Impact Has an Impact

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When Collective Impact Has an Impact: A Cross-Site Study of 25 Collective Impact Initiatives

When Collective Impact has an Impact
Downloads:
Executive Summary

Full Report

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.

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Collective Impact Study Update

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.

Methods

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.

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August Spark News: Getting Unstuck – Equity, Advocacy, and Collective Impact

Spark Policy Institute

Are We Getting Anywhere?

Spark Policy InstituteAt Spark, we’re experts at developing actionable strategies to achieve meaningful, measurable outcomes. But in today’s complex environment, it’s sometimes challenging for our partners to see the progress they’ve made. In our August newsletter, we’re sharing resources you can apply in real-life settings to measure your progress and take positive steps forward, no matter where you are in the process of making meaningful social change happen. We’re also excited to share new efforts in understanding Collective Impact and how it is, or isn’t moving the needle on systems change.

Want to receive more updates like this? You can also subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly updates.

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For the Good of the Group: Be Nice, Respond in Kind, Be Forgiving

When working to change complex systems it can be difficult for individual stakeholders to engage in authentic collaboration. This is neuroscience. We are all motivated to move away from perceived threats and toward perceived reward. Bringing multiple actors together to work toward a common goal can create conflict between doing what is best for the individual organization and doing what is best for the system.

In the latest issue of The Foundation Review, we’ve shared tools on how to navigate this difficult terrain using an on-the-ground example: The Colorado Health Foundation’s (TCHF) Creating Healthy Schools funding strategy. TCHF engaged Spark, as well as Harder+Company and The Civic Canopy to support an emergent approach to design and implement the strategy.

Here are some highlights on how to help stakeholders align their work and build inclusive engagement and partnership:

  • Lead stakeholders to a shared understanding of systems thinking and how it translates to systems acting.
  • Leverage a neutral facilitator.
  • Engage on-the-ground perspectives to involve those who will be most impacted by the change.
  • Support increased communication between systems-level and on-the-ground groups.
  • Develop clear function-group goals.
  • Be transparent about what you are doing, how you are approaching the problem, and how decisions are made.

Read more about TCHF’s implementation of an emergent philanthropy philosophy in Insights from Deploying a Collaborative Process for Funding Systems Change.