Tami Silverman is the president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. Her column appears in Indiana newspapers.
Urgent, complex challenges affect children across Indiana, including high infant mortality rates, persistent achievement gaps and the soaring impact of parental opioid use. There are successful prevention and intervention programs throughout the state, many of which engage government, philanthropic and corporate partners. A growing body of evidence shows the key to lasting improvements will be the proliferation of prolonged crosssector partnerships.
The collective impact approach holds potential for tackling large-scale social problems. First defined by the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2011, this framework brings together multisector stakeholders with a shared desire to address a complex issue. It has been received with enthusiasm and widely adopted. With implementation and effectiveness varying greatly across initiatives, many question whether “collective impact” is simply a trendy update to the term “collaboration.”
The collective impact framework offers a fundamentally different approach based on discipline, high performance and constant adaptability. Stanford’s model outlines five key conditions that differentiate the approach from other collaborations or partnerships: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and the presence of a backbone organization.
Experts stress that three conditions must be in place before launching a collective impact initiative: an influential area champion, adequate financial resources and a sense of urgency for change. There must also be a core understanding that collective impact work takes time, patience and financial resources.
Promise Indiana, a nonprofit based out of Wabash, functions as the backbone organization for community-driven efforts to create pathways for all children to go to college. This initiative engages many sector partners, and a community applies to the program as a unit. Clint Kugler, Promise Indiana’s founder, explains that the program succeeds by “connecting current systems and creating a network of community champions.”
Policymakers and funders can encourage collective impact. Representatives from all sectors must be invited, arriving with a learning mindset and willingness to compromise. The best initiatives include space to customize for local context. In addition to public and private sector leaders, it is important to engage individuals who are impacted. As individuals, we can attend local government meetings and community gatherings to generate the shared sense of urgency.
Collective impact is not simply a new buzzword to describe collaborations. If implemented with intention, the framework holds potential to create lasting change. Leaders are recognizing that solving complex social problems is more effective when isolated interventions become systems of shared vision and coordinated effort. When we are talking about the well-being of our future workforce and leaders — our kids — collective impact is an approach that can provide the insights, connections, energy and optimism needed to tackle our biggest challenges.