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Unpacking Collective Impact

6 February 2013 at 11:12 am
Staff Reporter
STRIVE is a framework that helps communities in the US improve student outcomes from ‘cradle to career’. This week, Australian social change advocates Dawn O’Neil and Kerry Graham share an example of collective impact at work.

Staff Reporter | 6 February 2013 at 11:12 am


Unpacking Collective Impact
6 February 2013 at 11:12 am

STRIVE is a framework that helps communities in the US improve student outcomes from ‘cradle to career’. This week, Australian social change advocates Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham share an example of collective impact at work.

That is one of the best pieces of advice we heard last year. We were in America undertaking a study tour on Collective Impact and it was the first day of the ‘STRIVE Convening’ in Milwaukee, Wisonsin.

STRIVE is a framework that helps communities improve student outcomes from ‘cradle to career’. The first STRIVE started in Cincinnati in 2006 when education and nonprofit leaders came together to address the low educational attainment rates of their young people. In coming together, they found that there were a great many organisations working hard to build better futures for young people, but they were working in silos with distinctly different approaches. In short, they were ‘program rich but system poor’.

Based on research they undertook on what actually worked in increasing student success, the STRIVE Cincinnati developed a common agenda to make all young people successful. This was based on a roadmap to success.

The roadmap for success formed the basis for STRIVE’s five shared goals:

  • Be prepared for school,
  • Be supported inside and outside school,
  • Succeed academically,
  • Enroll in college, and
  • Graduate and enter a career.

During its first five years, the STRIVE Partnership realised a host of promising outcomes at multiple levels: student achievement, strategy implementation, and system level changes. 

Impact in student achievement

With the community focused on each goal, STRIVE have since seen 40 of its 54 indicators for student success move in a positive direction. On the following core indicators, The Strive Partnership has reached needle-moving change of 10% or more over the baseline in the following areas:

  • Greater preparation for school,
  • School test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment in Cincinnati schools, and
  • College readiness, retention rate and graduation in many of Cincinnati’s colleges.

Impact on Strategy Implementation

  • Quality Early Childhood Education – Led by the United Way Success By 6 © initiative, focused existing public and private resources on evidence-based strategies: certified teachers, small class sizes, and summer enrichment. This work has led to a 9% increase in kindergarten readiness over 4 years in Cincinnati. Similar gains have been realized in Newport and Covington. This is particularly significant as progress in this area had been stagnant for years.
  • College Access – The Cincinnati College Access Alliance has pulled together 12 college access programs to identify local, evidence-based practices they are implementing in five low-performing schools. These strategies are being implemented with little new investment as the partners look to focus their existing resources on proven practices such as one-on-one advising and the completion of financial aid forms and scholarship applications. Due to the efforts of the Alliance, one school increased college enrollment 40% in one year.

Impact on Systems:

  • Cincinnati Public Schools developed the Learning Partner Dashboard by working in close partnership with Strive staff and loaned staff from Microsoft. This platform enables communities to input data from early childhood, K-12, postsecondary, and community-based student support services onto a single platform.
  • Developed Urban Educator Academy – Districts, schools of education, professional development providers, and unions have come together to develop a cohesive recruitment, training, and professional development system to attract, prepare, and support the best talent for educating children and youth in our region.

These amount to stunning achievements over just five years.

STRIVE is one of the key US case studies of collective impact.

Due to its success, the STRIVE Partnership in Cincinnati has gone on to be replicated across the USA. The STRIVE Network now supports 120 established or emerging STRIVE communities. 

The ‘STRIVE Convening’ brings together these 120 communities to learn from research and each other. It was here that we heard this important piece of advice. We learnt that when communities come together to explore their readiness for a collaborative effort, they often instinctively focus on starting new programs instead of improving the system. They default to doing more of the same – being ‘programs rich but systems poor’ – and it can take up to five years before the collaboration refocuses their efforts on the system and start seeing the change they desire.

To support communities to focus on becoming ‘systems rich’, the STRIVE Network has developed a focused strategic assistance framework to build their ‘cradle to career civic infrastructure’.

The focus on infrastructure provides a way for communities to focus on strengthening the system – to come together around a Cradle to Career vision and organise themselves to identify what gets results for children and young people; improve and build upon those efforts over time; and invest the community’s resources differently to increase impact. When working with communities the STRIVE Network feels confident that the community is focusing on the system, and not programs, when they see:

  • Collaborative action being implemented to ensure existing and new resources are focused on what gets results,
  • Time, talent, and treasure in a community being repurposed to focus on work that does get results, and
  • A community as a whole beginning to take ownership for education results as opposed to assuming it is the role of a few core institutions.

Learn more about how to focus on the system through collective impact at the STRIVE Network at

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