Making Collective Impact Work

Audio Seminar || John Kania
John Kania
In this audio seminar, Paul Born speaks with John Kania about collective impact, a methodology championed by he and his colleagues calling for a more collaborative and comprehensive approach to addressing complex challenges, and learning about key elements for its successful implementation.

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In this audio seminar, Paul Born speaks with John Kania about collective impact, a more collaborative and comprehensive approach to addressing complex challenges. John shares is growing insights about key elements for its successful implementation.   
Learning Objectives:
  • To introduce the concept of Collective Impact
  • To explore the essential elements for implementing Collective Impact
  • To consider the "essential intangibles" which are another important dimension of success in collective impact work
Access Podcast Highlights...
Defining Collective Impact
John offered listeners some background about what brought him personally to this work and his calling to "bring more heart into business." His personal interest in issues of system-wide change and leadership have shaped his research and writing and led to the study of Collective Impact.
Isolated Impact vs Collective Impact
John defines collective impact as getting organizations and people to work together differently in pursuit of a clearly defined common goal.  Unlike its counterpoint - an isolated impact effort - which sees individual organizations in the social sector doing good work in an independent fashion, collective impact recognizes that the complex issues the social sector is trying to impact are well beyond the scope of any one organization or sector. 
John outlines the following five elements as unique to collective impact efforts when contrasted to other collaborations:
  1. A Common Agenda - Agreement on a proposed set of strategies
  2. Shared Measurement Systems - A common set of indicators for monitoring progress and impact
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities - The distinct activities undertaken by various collective impact partners reinforce the activities of other partners and together, lead to system-wide change
  4. Continuous Communication - Collective impact partners communicate frequently (on a weekly or bi-weekly basis) in the spirit of continuous improvement and learning
  5. Backbone Structure - This is the structure which supports alignment and coordination across the collective impact partners
In the clip below, John recaps each of these five conditions unique to collective impact efforts, offering a more expanded explanation of each one.
The Pre-Conditions for Collective Impact
John explained that he and his colleagues have identified three pre-conditions that help them to assess and confirm the readiness for collective impact work to begin on an issue.  The three pre-conditions are:
  1. An Influential Champion - An individual or small group who command the respect necessary to bring CEO-level cross-sector leaders together and keep them actively engaged over time
  2. Adequate Financial Resourcing -  Adequate financial resources to last at least two to three years and generally involving at least one anchor funder to support needed infrastructure and planning
  3. A Sense of Urgency for Change - A new opportunity or crisis that convinces people that a particular issue must be acted upon now and/or that a new approach is needed
Listen in the following clip as John expands upon each of these three pre-conditions and both he and Paul illustrate them with specific examples from their own experiences.
The Three Phases of Collaborative Work
Phases of Collective ImpactJohn and his colleagues have mapped out the work of Collective Impact into three phases, as depicted in the visual here.  He explained that one of their reasons for doing this is to help set clear expectations upfront regarding the groundwork on both the content and process of an issue before "getting into the work."  He acknowledged that even while the planning is underway, the group should expect to discover opportunities for "early wins" on the issue through their collaboration while the more substantive planning work is continues. In fact, inthe following clip, John shares an example of exactly how this happened in a broad-based educational reform effort in the Seattle area. 
Shared Measurement
John defined shared measurement as, "use of a common set of measures to monitor performance, track progress towards outcomes and learn what is and is not working in the group's collective approach.  He also acknowledged that reaching agreement on shared measurements is one of the more difficult aspects of collective impact work.  In the clip below, John clarifies the purpose of shared measurement as supporting collective learning and illustrates some reasons why reaching agreement on the most appropriate shared measures can be challenging.
The Critical Role of the Backbone Organization
The Backbone Support Organization is a critical piece of collective impact efforts.  John shared that research that he and his colleagues are just now completing with different organization's playing this role in five different sectors in the Cincinnati area has given them a renewed appreciation for the essential need and complexity of this role.  The six major activities that most backbone support organizations are involved in are:
  1. Guiding Vision and Strategy
  2. Aligning and Coordinating Activities
  3. Creating and Supporting Shared Measurement
  4. Partnering in the Building of Public Will
  5. Advancing an Aligned Advocacy/Policy Agenda
  6. Mobilizing Funding to Support the Collective Effort
While these six activities represent a wide scope requiring a diversity of skills, they are critical to maintaining alignment across the multitude of organizations and individuals collaborating on the collective impact effort.  However, these organizations typically have a relatively small number of staff.  Listen in the following clip as John speaks specifically to the question of the size of backbone support organizations.
John then spoke about the governance structure of the backbone support organization and observed that there is a wide variance of models in use which all tend to be context specific. In the following clip, John describes the important qualities and skills for an effective governance of the backbone support organization.
The "Essential Intangibles"

The essential intangibles speak to the "softer" dimensions which are absolutely essential to a successful collective im"pact effort: relationship and trust-building. Food and celebration are two important ingredients identified in Channelling Change for nurturing these intangibles.  In the clip below, John speaks to the critical importance of "essential intangibles" in the successful implementation of any collective impact effort.
Reflection Questions
  • What are the opportunities I see where the pre-conditions exist for a collective impact effort in my community?
  • In my collaborative work, what are the important pieces which I see as needing to be put in place to strengthen our collective impact?
  • Personally, what aspects of collective impact do I want to learn more about? 
Links and Resources
  • Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work - This recent article by Fay Hanleybrown, John Kania, and Mark Kramer was featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. It serves as a follow up to the ground-breaking 2011 article titled, Collective Impact. In Channeling Change, the authors take an in-depth look at how organizations of all types, acting in diverse settings, are implementing a collective impact approach to solve large-scale social problems.
  • Collective Impact Institute - This 3-day collaborative leadership learning event featuring John Kania, Paul Born & Mark Cabaj of Tamarack and Anne Kubisch of the Aspen Institute is being held in beautiful Waterville Valley, New Hampshire from October 29th to November 1st, 2012. 
  • Collective Impact - This article, co-authored by John Kania, was published in the Winter, 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. It concludes that large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.
  • Collaborating for Impact - In this Tamarack audio seminar, John Kania speaks with Paul Born about his groundbreaking work on multi-sector collaboration and collective impact.
  • FSG Social Impact Consultants - FSG is a nonprofit consulting firm specializing in strategy, evaluation, and research, founded in 2000 as Foundation Strategy Group and celebrating a decade of global social impact. John Kania has been a Board member and Managing Director of FSG for the past nine years.
  • The Golden Theme - This book, by Brian McDonald, is referenced by John as a resource for building a sense of urgency for change.  The book's premise is that the "golden theme" of all stories is that we are all the same and that the closer a story comes to illuminating this truth, the more powerful and universal it becomes, and the more people are touched by it.
  • Catalytic Philanthropy - This is the first chapter of Do More Than Give the latest book co-authored by John Kania. It reveals how foundation leaders, trustees and individual donors can rise to address the complex challenges facing our increasingly interdependent world. While it's a book about philanthropy, the authors don't focus on how to give away money. Donating is an important starting point but not the end point in how high-impact donors catalyze change in the world.
Meet John Kania
John KaniaJohn Kania: John is passionate about getting people, organizations, and communities to change for the better. He co-authored two recent watershed papers: Collective Impact and Making Collective Impact Work.  As a Board member and Managing Director at FSG for the past nine years, John focuses on inspiring FSG's Leadership Team, consultants, and operations staff to achieve excellence in their work. John has led dozens of strategic planning and evaluation efforts for foundations, nonprofits, and corporations. John brings twenty-five years of experience advising senior management on issues of strategy, leadership, assessment, and organizational development, John oversees FSG's consulting practice. Client activity includes significant experience in education, economic and community development, health care, and the environment. He has also been a leader in FSG's intellectual capital development related to Catalytic Philanthropy, Collective Impact, Shared Value, and community foundation sustainability.  John was a keynote speaker at Tamarack's 2011 Communities Collaborating Institute John is also co-author of the acclaimed new book Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World, Wiley & Sons (2011).