Showcasing eight highly collaborative education projects, the newly released publication, Mobilizing Communities: Improving Northwest Education Through Collective Impact, offers a starting point for people wanting to learn more about this innovative concept.
A term first introduced in a 2011 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, collective impact involves bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders to collaborate on long-term solutions to a deeply rooted community problem.
Coauthor Mike Garringer notes that collective impact can be applied to many diverse social issues, such as environmental or economic causes, and it’s now gaining traction in education and youth development. Garringer played a part on the Education Northwest team that recently gave collective impact trainings around Oregon to prepare community stakeholders on applying this approach to new, state-funded projects in youth development.
What I like about collective impact is how it brings a greater number of voices to the table and allows everyone to have some influence in setting the common agenda. It’s not a group of powerful individuals making all the decisions but rather a true collaboration with an emphasis on systems change and aligned strategies. I also like that the goals of these initiatives are often very ambitious—communities are trying to address concerns that could take a generation to turn around. Collective impact is about long-term change, not just making short-term tweaks.
Because collective impact is an emerging practice, there is minimal research on its effectiveness and best practices, which draws the interest of Aisling Nagel, an Education Northwest researcher who coauthored the Mobilizing Communities publication with Garringer. Her background in collective impact comes from her work on the Road Map Project, which has set a goal of doubling the number of students on track to complete college or earn a career credential by 2020 in South King County and South Seattle, Washington.
When I’ve attended work group meetings, I’ve liked seeing all the enthusiasm and the potential brought by getting so many organizations represented in the same room, how excited people are, and their willingness to work together.
Nagel hopes that the publication of Mobilizing Communities will fill a gap in the body of knowledge on collective impact. “There is a lack of examples of what’s going on in projects using this framework,” says Nagel. “What we’ve included are concrete examples of collective impact projects that are moving into the implementation stage.”
The paper also provides snapshots of the featured initiatives in the Northwest, as well as a resources section for readers who want to learn more about emerging practices in this area.