Using Data in Setting up Your Collective Impact Initiative

Kate Tye, Results Leadership Group Australia, shares some valuable insight on the significant role that data plays in informing your collective impact initiative.

Data can often be the missing link in a collective impact initiative. However, data plays a substantial role in informing the collective.  It has a significant role in the initial planning and determination of focus for collective initiatives, enabling the approach to be greater than simply collaboration. Many collectives are challenged by the role that data plays; caused by stereotyping of the use of data as ‘intimidating’.  In fact, using data can be ‘liberating’ – providing freedom in the process of analysis and improvement, enabling collective impact initiatives to clearly demonstrate the impact that the mutually reinforcing activities are having on the community.

What role does data play in the initial phases of a collective?

Anecdotally, collectives might have an inkling about the key issues impacting their community. However, without the evidence that data provides, the collective is limited in their ability to analyse the forces at work, influencing what is occurring.  Data analysis helps drive a continuous improvement process.  To commence this process, collectives need to:

  • Identify data that is available: What data exists that tells us how we are going as a community in a particular area? For example, if the agreed result is ‘children are ready for school’, then it would be important to determine accessibility of data that will demonstrate what is happening for children in the community based on the key determinants of school readiness.  Data can be difficult to access, so partnerships with departments, data sources and key contributors who collect data relating to your collective is important and improves the accessibility of data on a regular basis.
  • Be data prepared: Some of the data work needs to be done prior to inviting and engaging all partners. This is an important foundation of the governance process.  This data work might include the following steps:
    • Establish access to data that relates to your agreed result.
    • Does the data have more than two data points? For example, has it been collected over a period of time and can therefore demonstrate a trend in a baseline (baseline data has a history and provides you with the opportunity to forecast its trend if nothing changes).
    • Apply the criteria for ‘selecting indicators’ to determine how strong the data is in relation to other data available, by asking the following questions:
      • Does the data have communication power? (Does a broad audience understand the data?)
      • Does it have proxy power? (Does it say something of central importance about the agreed result)
      • Does it have data power? (Is it available on a timely basis?)
        (Mark Friedman 2005)
  • What is the data telling us? Within your backbone/governance structure, begin to review the data to gain some initial understanding of the compounding issues. This enables the backbone to determine if there are additional partners who will be crucial to the data analysis process, and therefore need to be engaged in the collective.  This process is referred to as ‘the story behind the baseline’ (Friedman, M. 2005).  The story allows you to engage stakeholders, the community and identified partners in the process. This is the community voice and local expertise that is crucial to understanding and analysing what is influencing change in the community.
  • Is there other data needed? This initial analysis often leads to discovery of additional data required to tell the full story.  This data may not be available, it may need to be developed – this forms a ‘data development agenda’ and is a crucial part of the process.  The collective might determine that it is a vital investment to develop this data.
  • How are we going to track and improve this data over time?  The development of a shared measurement system (a key element of the collective impact framework) is essential.  Providing a system that can track the changes in the community indicators (data), enables the collective initiative to demonstrate the influence and contribution of the mutually reinforcing activities on change in the community.  Without data it is impossible to clearly demonstrate the impact that the collective initiative is having towards the agreed result.

The Benefits of Using Data from the Beginning

  • Provides the opportunity for deeper analysis of the forces at work within a community related to the result.
  • Enables collectives to interpret data and identify if additional data is required to provide a deeper understanding of what is occurring.
  • Enables discussion and provides a process to engage the community and partners gaining local understanding.
  • Allows collectives to start from a strong position of understanding the baseline so as to commence the tracking and evaluation of change at the community level.
  • Hard evidence of the work that is being achieved through the collective – leverage of the data through a results driven focus.
  • Identification of the influence on other data – ‘data runs in herds’ premise – positive movement on one data source often impacts others.
References: ‘Trying Hard is Not Good Enough, How to Produce Measureable Improvements for Customers and Communities.’ Mark Friedman, 2005.

Results Leadership Group Australia – Experts in achieving results for communities and organisations and the Results Scorecard


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