The concept of Collective Impact has been around for several years. In order to truly affect change for the good in a community, multiple service organizations and stakeholders, all of which have different focuses, must work together. The problem of hunger is not solved just by the local food bank. It is solved by the local school system with distribution, by career development organization ensuring the hungry can have jobs to pay for food, and by drug addiction clients to get clean, save money, and go grocery shopping. All of these organizations, which vary in structure, resources, and expertise, must coordinate and cooperate. Easy in theory, difficult in execution. Fortunately, technology can provide solutions to achieving collective success.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), which has published a treasure trove of research on Collective Impact, has identified “Five Condition of Collective Success”. Let’s explore each success factor and how technology can have an impact on each.
1. Common Agenda
In order for the Collective Impact model to be successful there needs to be a deep and shared understanding of the problem, the approach, and vision. The issue lay in the fact that very different organizations are coming together at the table. There is an old saying “Everything looks like a nail when you are a hammer” and the same is true for each organization. A food bank, a school, and a drug clinic may all agree on trying to solve hunger, but each are going to view the people coming through their doors differently. To them the problem of hunger and the solution to hunger may mean different things.
Technology to look for: Here you will want to look for technology that empowers sharing of information and centralizing documentation. Wikis and knowledge bases are a great way to facilitate the documentation of your Collective Impact. Look at software like Quip or wikidot which can provide accessibility to information from multiple sources.
2. Shared Measurement System
So how will you measure your success? A shared measurement system will force partners to hold themselves and each other accountable. It also reinforces the idea that “we are all in it together” by using the same yardstick.
Technology to look for: Data collection can be a challenge for nonprofits. Fortunately, technology can help automate this process saving time and hassle. Collect data on individual outcomes using surveying software such as SurveyMonkey or Typeform. With Google Forms you can distribute a form to many individuals in the field, collect data, and analyze the information.
3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities
Each partner in the collective impact framework has their own list of objectives. However, these tasks are not created out of thin air. They must be activities that build and compliment each other. These tasks will be reflective of the specific nature and role of each partner.
Technology to look for: You will need technology that helps organize and assign jobs. Platforms like Trello can be used by multiple organizations at once. You may also want to consider software like Monday to help you plan the big picture. Regardless, the members need a single place to access all of their responsibilities to allow coordinated yet independent work.
4. Continuous Communication
Communication is important, but often receives just lip service. SSIR points out that you need a “common vocabulary” at every level of the organization. Letting CEO level leadings skip out on meetings is explicitly called out as unacceptable. We know it is hard, but a commitment to continuous communication builds trust and understanding.
Technology to look for: Use dedicated emailing platforms like Constant Contact or MailChimp. These are great not just for newsletters for your outside followers, but also can be used to create standard communication and update to all partners. Make sure communications can easily be accessed at any time in case individuals need to review or catch up.
5. Backbone Support Organizations
The backbone support organization serves as air traffic control. Who is doing what? How do we prevent overlaps? How can we ensure everyone is up-to-date? This is where the organizing and coordination happens. These backbone organizations need to be empowered by technology to keep track of everything.
Technology to look for: A backbone organization should be thinking in terms of a project manager. There are many services available from well known names such as Microsoft Project to more niche startups like Airtable. Even if you are on a tight budget, you can still use free tools such as spreadsheets through Google Sheets to keep organized.
A Common Theme
You may have noticed a common theme in all the suggested technologies above; the ability to be accessible yet centralized. Keep in mind that Collective Impact means you are working with many different people with many different expertises in many different organizations. True success lies in having everyone (really, everyone, not just a majority) working together on the same platform with the same expectations.
Communities engaged in collective impact are confronting challenges of unparalleled complexity and are calling for innovative, comprehensive solutions. Unfortunately, too many of the solutions being proposed represent more of the same, resulting in incremental, localized improvements.
Download our FREE concept paper on how community-wide adoption of “connective tissue” technology focused on collaborative work can have a transformative impact on the most complex challenges that communities face.
Additional Resources: State of Technology Report