Collective Impact initiatives are difficult to describe until they begin to crystallize into action, require an immense amount of consideration, intention and thoughtfulness and can feel frustratingly slow at times. So why on earth would a group of stakeholders, usually organizations and communities already heavily taxed with work, take on this messy process?
Perhaps the answer is because we all have learned that working independently … doesn’t work. With Collective Impact we have an opportunity to not only create systemic change, but to find ways to elevate and support the work of each stakeholder involved.
Understanding the process of Collective Impact for some can take a moment simply because competition is embedded in our culture even among organizations and entities that by their very nature exist to uplift others. It is hard for us to imagine that non-profit, civic, faith-based, education and community partners could come together around one common goal long enough to make permanent and systemic change. However all over the country communities are suspending disbelief long enough to allow for the necessary growth process of such a project to make significant change. We are seeing this in the Achieve Palm Beach County initiative currently underway in Florida.
Achieve Palm Beach County is a Collective Impact initiative that has been in community planning sessions since 2015 and has recently reached the point where the initiative is ready to begin implementation. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation is a supporter of this initiative. Achieve PBC’s mission is to ensure an integrated and effective system of supports from middle school through post-secondary that empowers Palm Beach County students for career success. By 2023 this collective wants to have at least 65 percent of PBC high school graduates completing college or career preparation education within six years of graduation.
The Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce predicts that of all new jobs created in Florida by 2020, 68 percent will require a post-secondary credential. In the School District of Palm Beach County, only 42.3 percent of all graduates and 31.5 percent of low-income graduates are predicted to receive a post-secondary credential within six years of high school graduation. The School District of Palm Beach County has a clear strategic plan which outlines the significance of post-secondary success and was a great informer as Achieve began. Over 160 stakeholders from universities, faith based organizations, government agencies, non-profits, the school district, community groups and human service organizations came together create a plan for addressing the county’s future labor needs and the goal of every student having the opportunity to access post-secondary education.
To accomplish this goal the United Way of Palm Beach County is serving as the backbone organization thus providing a credible and organized infrastructure to the collective’s strategies and staff. Like every Collective Impact initiative, Achieve Palm Beach County must ensure that the five conditions developed by John Kania and Mark Kramer in 2011 are met in order for there to be systems change across a community.
The Five Conditions developed by Kania and Kramer are as follows:
- Common Agenda: All participants share a common agenda for change that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving the problem through agreed upon actions.
- Shared Measurement: All participating organizations agree on the ways success will be measured and reported. A short list of common indicators is used for learning and improvement.
- Mutually Reinforcing Activities: A diverse set of stakeholders, typically across sectors, coordinate a set of differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
- Continuous Communication: All players engage in frequent and structured communication to build trust, assure mutual objective and create common motivation.
- Backbone Support: Staff dedicated to the initiative provide ongoing support by guiding the initiative’s vision and strategy, supporting the aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practices, building public will and mobilizing resources.
This framework sets the stage for rules of engagement as communities begin to work together in unprecedented ways to tackle some of the seemingly overwhelming issues that can affect our lives and will determine if the generations of the future are simply surviving or thriving. As organizations and adults involved in Collective Impact work, we are learning a new way to think about how to create a better world, communicate with each other, incorporate and validate differing experiences and streamline funding sources to make a larger impact without diminishing services. As stated above, this work can be messy. We are indoctrinated into a certain way of operating that takes time to unravel. We have organizational fears around autonomy. In the non-profit and education sectors, where we are used to competing for the same resources, we are learning how to work with each other in trusting ways that evoke all of the natural progressions and obstacles of change. The work it takes to move a community in an agreed upon direction allows adults across many sectors the opportunity to lead by example in our ability to collaborate for something much bigger than any of us could accomplish alone. The Collective Impact structure allows not only for macro level change truly reflective of community goals, but reveals the best in who we are and what we can achieve together.