I flew home from a two month whirlwind trip to Kenya in the summer after grad school (*more on that later) and my best friend took an epic road trip across the U.S. I was moving to Boston from California to work with a group of passionate and dedicated neighborhood leaders. The Millennium Ten Steering Committee was made up of residents, non-profit leaders, CDCs, hospitals, and businesses in a neighborhood in Boston and was acting as a backbone agency with funding to develop a neighborhood-based plan. Over the next 2 years we created - through trial and error - a grassroots community vision plan for a neighborhood in Boston with measurable outcomes and an action plan that was ripe for implementation.
The Steering Committee understood that addressing surface problems wouldn’t change a community, and that systemic, rooted problems could not be solved alone. While engaging over 1000 residents in the community, the group identified racism, prejudice, a culture of violence, and disconnected communities as systemic issues in their neighborhood. With an action plan in hand, the Steering Committee got to work in developing and implementing a Youth Jobs HUB, a Merchants Association, a Men and Boys of Color Initiative, and a Community Cafe - all ideas that were developed through the collaborative process. These big ideas that came out of the Millennium Ten process have been implemented over time, and the impact has been distinct in the community. It turns out, we were doing something now known as “collective impact,” a term that had yet to be coined.
What is Collective Impact?
John Kania & Mark Kramer launched the idea of a structured collaborative process into the zeitgeist when they wrote about “Collective Impact” and a defined framework for success in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Groups like Millennium Ten were using a mixture of tried and true collaboration frameworks alongside their own innovative processes, but the Collective Impact framework gave structure and legitimacy to their work. The following are hallmarks of a successful collective impact process as defined by Kania & Kramer:
All participants have a common agenda
Collecting data and measuring results across all the participants ensures shared measurement and accountability.
An action plan that includes mutually reinforcing activities
Open and continuous communication.
A backbone organization to serve the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies.
It takes time
I have spent last few years tinkering with different models of how to make collective impact work. In fact, this blog was originally written for my dear friends over at FLDWRK who invested in and partnered with me to start a non-profit aiming at doing just that. And while the model we developed didn’t work at the time, I’m still excited to see how ideas like this can grow and impact the way communities change over time. Because there are things that I do know to be true - nothing happens in a vacuum, and most good work isn’t accomplished alone.