The ‘How To’ Guide

Before you and your core collaborators consider starting a Collective Impact initiative, there are a few questions you should get clear in your collective minds.

Q1: What type of social problem are you trying to solve?

The Collective Impact approach is an appropriate response for tackling complex social problems – the types of problems that have multiple layers of stakeholders, all with different perspectives and disagreement about the causes and best solutions.  Tackling complex social problems requires change in numerous places, often across organisational boundaries, meaning they are beyond the capacity of any one organisation or sector to respond to effectively.  As such, they require systems change and innovation.

The Collective Impact approach is not the most appropriate response for delivering a known solution in partnership with others, or for work focusing only on service integration and coordination.

For more on this go to “Collaborative Approaches

Q2: What is your purpose?

Assuming you and your collaborators agree you are convening to tackle a complex social problem, the next question is: are you aligned to a high level purpose?  To find out, ask yourselves:

  • Purpose graphicDo we aim to effect significant change (i.e., 10% or more) on a community-wide metric?
  • Do we believe that a long-term investment (i.e., three to five- plus years) by stakeholders is necessary to achieve success?
  • Do we believe that cross-sector engagement is essential for community-wide change?
  • Are we committed to using measurable data to set the agenda and improve over time?
  • Are we committed to having community members as partners and producers of impact?

If you and your core collaborators answered YES to all these questions, you are likely to be sufficiently aligned around your purpose to lead systemic change using the Collective Impact approach.

Q3: Do you have a Collective Impact mindset?

With your problem and purpose clearer, the next question to ask is if you have the mindset for Collective Impact. Initiating and sustaining a Collective Impact initiative requires you to lead and model new thinking and behaviours. The diagrams below provides some insight into the mindset needed to do this work.



Q4: Can you lead adaptively?

Leading through complexity requires an adaptive leadership approach.  Typically, leaders who practice “adaptive leadership” demonstrate the following three key success factors:

  • Skills over Content. More than knowing the nuanced insides and outs of an issue area, a successful Collective Impact leader must possess existing relationships with, or an ability to build relationships with, a cross-sectoral range of system players who themselves are issue area experts. More than having a specific solution in mind for how to address Social Issue X, such a leader must have the ability to thrive in a fluid, unstructured, and often entrepreneurial environment.
  • conductorOrchestra Conductor – being the “orchestra conductor” and not a “top-down boss telling people what to do.” It’s not about the conductor coming in and throwing all the musicians out and starting from scratch. It’s about exploring the great talents that can be built upon, and identifying some gaps where we need other musicians to fill in.
  • Sufficient Authority.  The effective Collective Impact leader must feel comfortable pushing the thinking of senior-level people at a range of partnering agencies and organisations, facilitating difficult conversations, and communicating with a range of stakeholders more broadly.  That can be formalised and institutional in nature (e.g., they are part of a very important organisation or agency), or more informal and rooted around the relationships that have been developed, or both.

To wrap this all up in a question:  Individually or collectively are you respected by a broad number of stakeholders, a high-level strategic thinker, and able to inspire confidence and passion in both internal and external audiences?  If so, you are likely an adaptive leader with the required mindset for Collective Impact.

If you and your core collaborators are clear that you:

  • Are convening a Collective Impact initiative to tackle a complex social problem,
  • Are sufficiently aligned to a purpose of systems change,
  • Have enough of a Collective Impact mindset, and
  • Are able to lead adaptively

then you are likely ready to begin implementing Phase 1 of the Collective Impact approach.