Collective impact requires all participants to have a shared vision for change, one that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions. This is known as the common agenda.
So – how do we do it?
1) Engage broadly and with unusual suspects
The most successful Collective Impact initiatives have learnt that if you bring the same players together they will invariably have the same conversation they have always had.
To intentiionally create a different conversation, ‘unusual suspects’ need to be engaged. Some unusual suspect may be people who have great influence – who bring gravitas to the process; others may be people with lived experience of the social challenge; and others because they are outliers who have the perspective and ability to shift the conversation towards new thinking and ideas.
Interestingly, the most successful Collective Impact initiatives have had people in leadership positions from business or philanthropy who bring with them a disciplined focus on process and results.
2) Define the problem being tackled
First, it is important to create boundaries as the problem being addressed is complex and multifaceted. There needs to be significant attention given to the root cause of the problem and problems which will have a significant impact on the agenda.
It needs to be remembered – and factored in – that the common agenda can evolve over time as new partners join the initiative and the expertise in the room changes, or new information becomes available.
The need for data
Data is essential to clearly define the nature and size of the social challenge and to narrow the focus of the Collective Impact agenda. This involves collecting and analysing existing data sets. Often new data needs to be collected to fill data gaps. Only once the data gathering and analysis is complete can the common agenda and goals be set.
3) Develop a plan of action
Once the problem has been defined a strategic action framework has to be developed. The purpose of the framework is to outline the way in which the problem will be tackled and clarify the role of each organization in this process.
Creating a plan for action requires balancing the necessity of having clearly defined functions and responsibilities for each organization, while allowing enough space for emergent learning to happen and be incorporated in the strategy.
Remember – this takes time!
It can be a frustrating experience which challenges people’s motivation and commitment. Good facilitation is essential to help steer the group through this part of the process, as is intentionally creating early wins – even if they are not strategic or highly impactful in nature.
Above all, it is important to stay with the process and resist the temptation to jump ahead to planning or implementation until the common agenda is robust, clear and agreed.