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Collective Impact – Revolutionising Social Change

22 July 2014 at 12:48 pm
Lina Caneva
While cooperative approaches are not new to the Not for Profit sector, many people are realising the way they have been working isn’t getting the results they hoped for, a national conference on Collective Impact has been told.

Lina Caneva | 22 July 2014 at 12:48 pm


Collective Impact – Revolutionising Social Change
22 July 2014 at 12:48 pm

While cooperative approaches are not new to the Not for Profit sector, many people are realising the way they have been working isn’t getting the results they hoped for, a national conference on Collective Impact has been told.

Co-convenor of the Conference Liz Skelton, representing Social Leadership Australia, told the two-day conference in Melbourne that there’s definitely momentum building for finding new ways of working.

“What the Collective Impact approach offers is an evidence based framework that sets down the key elements required for collaboration between separate organisations to actually get measurable results.

“With all the best will in the world we find that collaborative projects often fail because organisations haven’t built up skills in addressing conflict and competing agendas,” Skelton said.   

“It’s the definition of a ‘wicked problem’, and anyone working in the community or welfare sectors knows of one—a community with intractable social problems, which have been addressed in various ways, with varying degrees of success over the years, but where actually fixing the problems besetting generations remains elusive."

One of the Conference  plenary speakers is Go Goldfields General Manager, Sharon Fraser, from the Central Goldfields Shire in rural Victoria.

“In 2009, Central Goldfields was 79 out of 79 shires on the ABS Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA). It was the worst performing shire in the region for school readiness, with the highest child protection reporting, highest levels of children in out of home care, and the lowest levels of post-secondary qualifications in the state. Despite significant resourcing in the Shire, nothing was changing.

“Then in 2011, Go Goldfields, an innovative multi-sectorial alliance, decided to take a different tack and, with $2.5 million from the State Government, created a coordinated approach which fits the Collective Impact framework.

“Four years on and results are showing that something is working,” she told the Conference.

“Instead of 60% of children needing speech pathology when they start school, now just 25% are predicted to need it in 2015. Reading levels and school attendance of children in their first year of school have significantly improved. Parenting skills and confidence have increased, and more than 1000 people have experienced meaningful connection in community arts projects.”

Fraser said the important thing to note is that the improved speech and reading is not due to any one person’s efforts or any one project.

“The reason things are changing is that we are all working on it together. We have worked with the early years services—including childcare services, supported playgroups, kindergartens, ante-natal education and maternal and child health—in schools and with the library, all embedding language, rhyme, music and other pre-literacy activities into their programs.

“In addition, we have changed how we are delivering speech pathology services, relocated the early years services to the Goldfields Childcare Centre, involved families and early years’ service providers more in the programing and supported the reinforcement of speech and language programs in kindergartens.”

Co hosted by the Centre for Social Impact and The Benevolent Society’s Social Leadership Australia, the coordinators say the Collective Impact approach is a chance to change the way social change happens in Australia.

“We are very encouraged that representatives from government as well as the community sector are taking part in Collective Impact 2014,” said Co-convenor Kerry Graham, representing the Centre for Social Impact.

“Getting fragmented and siloed organisations and departments to coordinate and function as an effective system is the new frontier in social change. As the results in Goldfields show, it’s the key."

The Collective Impact framework is premised on the belief that no single policy, government department, organisation or program can tackle or solve the increasingly complex social problems we face as a society.  The approach calls for multiple organisations or entities from different sectors to abandon their own agenda in favour of a common agenda, shared measurement and alignment of effort.  

Unlike collaboration or partnership, Collective Impact initiatives have centralised infrastructure—known as a backbone organisation—with dedicated staff whose role is to help participating organisations shift from acting alone to acting in concert.

Kania and Kramer first wrote about Collective Impact in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2011 and identified five key conditions:

  • All participants have a common agenda for change including a shared understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions.
  • Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all the participants ensures shared measurement for alignment and accountability.
  • A plan of action that outlines and coordinates mutually reinforcing activities for each participant.
  • Open and continuous communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation.
  • A backbone organisation(s) with staff and specific set of skills to serve the entire initiative and coordinate participating organisations and agencies.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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