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The Future of Collective Impact in Australia

3 December 2014 at 8:50 am
Lina Caneva
The Collective Impact approach has gone ‘viral’ according to Collective Impact specialist Kerry Graham as she reflects on a recent trip to a global Summit in Canada.

Lina Caneva | 3 December 2014 at 8:50 am


The Future of Collective Impact in Australia
3 December 2014 at 8:50 am

The Collective Impact approach has gone ‘viral’ according to Collective Impact specialist Kerry Graham as she reflects on a recent trip to a global Summit in Canada.

I have just returned from the Collective Impact Summit in Canada where it was well and truly confirmed that the collective impact approach has gone ‘viral’.

The Summit was fantastic – a deep learning experience with the worlds leading collective impact thinkers and 300 smart and passionate practitioners from Canada, USA, NZ, Denmark, Israel and 8 wide-eyed Australians.

There was much discussion about how the global movement is developing – Canada and the US are on the cusp of collective impact 3.0, going beyond experimentation into deeper impact. There was also debate about the ‘viral’ nature of collective impact being both good and bad – good because it has resonated with communities and has the potential to create large-scale change, and bad because if we don’t ‘go slow to go fast’, the movement might peak too early and crash for lack of measurable impact.

At the close of the Summit, we were asked: “What is the future of collective impact?” In trying to tie together an intense week of learning, here are my thoughts on the future of collective impact in Australia.

Change maker, change thyself first

John Kania from FSG introduced early the idea that collective impact is fundamentally about culture change – changing the way our systems interact and behave. Complexity guru, Prof Brenda Zimmerman, taught us that it is deeply embedded assumptions that drive the behaviours of systems. But it was Alan Broadbent, founder of Tamarack Institute, who made it personal – reminding us that to change the culture around us, we must first change our own culture. Jay Connor provided the grab line – the path is the obstacle. As a change maker, I must do the work of fronting-up to my own embedded assumptions if I am to strengthen my ability to work with the inherent tensions created by a system that is resistant to change.

Embrace being a ‘Catalytic probe’

Melody Barnes from the Aspen Institute affirmed my belief and passion about the importance of building the field of collective impact as a means to create the change our communities desire and need. Conferences, learning events, online learning communities, capacity-building support – these are the activities of building the field.

With Brenda’s help, field building was re-framed into complexity theory. The activities of field building are a ‘catalytic probe’ that has been introduced into the complex system of social change in Australia. We have sensed and observed a significant positive attraction within the system – the narrative varies from ‘we’ve always being doing this’, to ‘a big a-ha! moment’ to ‘the latest fad’. When a positive attraction is sensed, the response is to stabilise and amplify. That is the next step for future of collective impact in Australia.

There are some technical things we need to do to stabilise and amplify collective impact in Australia – Jay Connor talked about building structures, processes and measures. Much is a breadth of work happening in this regard, such as interconnected networks forming around practice, government & philanthropy; and shared measurement frameworks being developed for local and national application. This is good and much-needed work that now needs greater focus and coordination if it is to be stabilised and amplified.

But, in my view, it is the adaptive work we need to do more of. Every speaker and every practitioner at the Summit spoke about relationships and learning being key. It goes without saying, that in order to learn from each other, we must trust each other more – trust to share data, trust to talk about what works AND what doesn’t, trust to help each other see what we need to do more of and what we need to stop doing, trust to hold ourselves and each other accountable for doing better together.

This is the culture change needed. Because – and here is my biggest grab line of the Summit – change happens at the speed of trust.

About the author:

Kerry Graham has worked in social change for more than 20 years. Over this time her work has broadened from advocacy for and with individuals to leadership of organisations, advising on policy and now – solving complex social challenges.

In recent times, she undertook a Collective Impact study tour in the USA on behalf of the Centre for Social Impact. She now has a vision is to translate Collective Impact into the Australian context.   


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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