Special focus: Collective Impact (1/2)

In this two-part special focus blog, two Senior Grants Managers at Paul Hamlyn Foundation reflect on their experience at the 2017 Collective Impact Forum conference in Boston. Here, Ruth Pryce shares her thoughts.

Pivot - Migrate - Transition

Collective Impact can be defined as the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. It involves a defined infrastructure, a structured process, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants – more background and practice examples can be found here.

I’ve just returned from a gathering of over 800 people in Boston, where we learned about Collective Impact from theorists, practitioners and leading thinkers from the world of philanthropy, non-profits, business and academia. Three terms were used throughout the conference by colleagues in the USA and so indulge me as I use them here:

  • Pivot – a change in the train of thought, focus or subject being discussed;
  • Migrate – we didn’t move between sessions we migrated;
  • Transition – we didn’t have any breaks either, rather we transitioned.

These terms resonated as I reflected on a few key themes which I’d like to share.

A pivot in thinking

The aim and many of the concepts within Collective Impact are not new, but the framework and principles provide a robust structure and rigorous process to achieve change. Rather than dismiss this as the latest fad, or not engage because it is backed by a global consultancy I believe a pivot in thinking is required.

As funders, we need to recognise the key conditions essential for collective impact and where appropriate, invest to ensure these are in place in order to enable change. Examples could include investment in the infrastructure for collaboration such as:

  • leadership development and not only for individuals but collectively and at community level to increase capacity and capability to lead and challenge;
  • data skills, data literacy and data platforms to support data driven decision making, to move towards data sharing as standard and to improve impact;
  • coordination, communications, governance, evaluation, finance and administration, which are all critical functions for achieving any goal effectively and are critical when working collectively.

We could use the conditions outlined in the Collective Impact model and the readiness factors to inform key criteria when assessing funding applications in our areas of interest. It was clear that investing in these core functions would increase the capacity and capability of individuals and organisations to achieve change whether they are following the Collective Impact model or not.

We need to migrate away from individualism

Relationships, collaboration, commitment to a shared goal and mutual accountability are essential in tackling complex and entrenched issues at local, regional or national level and ultimately trust is the vital element. We need to migrate away from individualism at a personal and organisational level.

Individualism breeds competition and duplication which can be counter to maximising our collective ability to achieve change and in particular, in doing so in an increasingly hostile economic and political environment. We need to come together across the community and work from a foundation of authenticity, trust and shared values, identifying what we have in common and exploring conflict constructively, remaining curious and compassionate and focusing on equity and social justice.

We cannot and should not be experts in all things, rather we should work with a range of partners who are experts in their own fields. We should invite expertise from business, for example from design and technology, to enhance our efforts. Most importantly we must include community members, ‘service users’ and ‘experts by experience’. As funders, we should be convening a variety of stakeholders, understanding where there is alignment and where there is conflict and commit to building trusting relationships within and across sector and community boundaries.

Only when we are committed and coordinated, when there is a diversity of voice, each with an expert role and mutually reinforcing one another’s activities will we achieve change.

Transition of power and resources is crucial

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, structural or systems change is the key goal and funders and philanthropy are one of the systems and part of the overall change that is required. For me, philanthropy is responsible for some of the inequity and inequality; in the way that we distribute resources, where we are located, in the individuals who make decisions, in the language that we use and in the power dynamic that is created and perpetuated. We should not continue to play around in a broken system but instead be part of creating a new system. A transition of power (the ability to achieve purpose) as well as resources is crucial in this endeavour.

We need to embrace our role as catalysts, co-investors and influencers and commit to being contributors to change rather than seek attribution. Some of this may involve fundamental behaviour change. Funders should commit to transparency and openness (this has begun through the Fund for Shared Insight). We need to be comfortable amidst uncertainty, responding to changing contexts but maintaining a long term commitment to change.

We should support core costs, and ensure different voices are equally represented in decision making. We should invest in building movements, collectives and collaborations, not just organisations. We need to fund policy and advocacy work as well as use our social and political capital to push for change. We should actively create the conditions for change internally as well as externally.

I return with a renewed interest in the potential of Collective Impact to transform thinking and practice and to contribute to more effective systems to tackle some of our most complex social issues. But I’m also convinced that Collective Impact will not work in isolation but is rather part of the ecosystem for change. A pivot to being intentional about our commitment to change, and systems change in particular is the first step. Migrating towards others who take a similar position is the second. Understanding that achieving any change will require internal as well as external transition is perhaps the most difficult, but of course also the most important.

Ruth Pryce
Senior Grants Manager
Paul Hamlyn Foundation

This blog was first posted on Paul Hamlyn Foundation's website:

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