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Finding Magic in Collective Impact


Wednesday, 26th February 2014 at 9:34 am
Staff Reporter, Journalist
The problem with collaborative efforts is that organisations enter into them with some kind of belief in magic and then face the inevitable disappointment, a national conference on Collective Impact has been told.

Wednesday, 26th February 2014
at 9:34 am
Staff Reporter, Journalist


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Finding Magic in Collective Impact
Wednesday, 26th February 2014 at 9:34 am

The problem with collaborative efforts is that organisations enter into them with some kind of belief in magic and then face the inevitable disappointment, a national conference on Collective Impact has been told.

The stark appraisal came from the Director of Social Leadership Australia, Geoff Aigner, who addressed the conference on the challenges associated with collaborative approaches to social issues, and the opportunity for Australia.

More than 200 participants from government, business and social purpose organisations are in Sydney for the conference, 'Collective Impact 2014: Convene, Immerse, Learn' hosted by the Centre for Social Impact and Social Leadership Australia.

“Speaking personally, after many years of supporting, consulting to, advising and observing change agents and stakeholders in many different contests I started to really understand how hard this is.

"And I started to develop a cynical belief that people nearly always only really come together to ‘collaborate’ for three reasons: because we are afraid of losing something; because we hope to gain something; or because our boss forced us to,” he said.

Aigner said a conversation with a former project partner helped identify that the problem with collaborative efforts is that people often enter into them with some kind of belief in magic and then face the inevitable disappointment.

"I have to say that really helped,” he said, and challenged the delegates: "What if we strip back some of the fantasy and start to see that the work is actually something more fundamental? It is about our skills to do something different and also set ourselves up in a way that has at least half a chance of success. To get something of the magic – rather than just engaging in the fantasy. Because there is a lot of work to do.”

Co-convenors, Kerry Graham from the Centre for Social Impact and Liz Skelton, from Social Leadership Australia, explored frameworks of problem solving including the Cynefin framework, methods of working, a continuum of collaboration what trolls initiatives may face along the way.

Get a backbone

Collective Impact expert Dawn O’Neil AM initiated the discussion on ‘backbone organisations’ and their role in implementing the Collective Impact framework – which is to pursue six common activities to support and facilitate Collective Impact.

To do this, O’Neil said specific leadership styles and skills are required including convening and facilitative leadership, inclusivity, stakeholder communication and engagement, process and content expertise, and discipline and processes.

In a panel discussion with international speaker Emily Tow Jackson, Australian experts Tanya James (Stronger Families Alliance) and Cathy Quinn (Benevolent Society), O’Neil highlighted the importance of using intelligence and data.

"Shining a light on the data and the information the initiative needs to make decisions and guide where they go was a crucial role we played when I led a backbone organisation,” Dawn O’Neil said.

Numbers tell the story

Emily Tow Jackson, Executive Director of the Tow Foundation in the United States, explained that  the Collective Impact approach had transformed the juvenile justice system in Connecticut and New York.

Tow Jackson said the foundation employed the principles of Collective Impact in consultation with FSG and arrived at a vision for their initiative, which was that: ‘across New York State, the juvenile justice system promotes youth success and ensures public safety’.

She said this was developed by multi-stakeholder group comprised of victims of crime, the public and community, families and systems professionals, and of course, youth.

"The kids weren’t just the goal, they were part of the conversation," Emily Tow Jackson said.

Tow Jackson pointed to specific benefits Collective Impact provided for their initiative, including:

  • Greater amplification of impact, involving multiple partners, a holistic approach and opportunities to influence the system.
  • Increase efficiency of resources including funding, leveraging public and private infrastructure.
  • Driving alignment by reducing duplication of effort, increasing coordination for greater results.

Tow Jackson also revealed that, as a result of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, between 2010 and 2012:

  • Juvenile arrests dropped by 24 per cent. 
  • Juveniles admitted to detention declined by 23 per cent.
  • Juvenile admissions in state placement were down 28 per cent.

Emily Tow Jackson said today that she firmly believes the elements of success were:

  • Convening appropriate levels of authority around the initiative to decisions could be made.
  • Emphasising continuous communication.
  • Recognise the critical role of public/private funding partnerships.
  • Ensuring work gets done between meetings.

Emily Tow Jackson said that the most valuable ingredient the foundation added in their role as a backbone organisation was measuring what is most urgent or actionable immediately, maintaining momentum, but also knowing where to respect the process and be patient.

She added it was also vital to be very vocal about what you’ve learned to ensure that the same mistakes don’t get duplicated, but equally vocal about what built success so that gets taken forward.

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