Collective Impact

By: Bess Langbein & Adrianna Weissburg

We’ve seen incredible examples of people coming together in common cause since the beginning of the pandemic. Whether it is wearing masks and getting vaccinated to protect the vulnerable, collecting and sharing food and funds with others affected by pauses or loss of work, or using our voices and standing up to end systemic racism, the power of the collective has been on display. If you’re like us, you’re ready to get back to “normal” but realize the old version of “normal” just doesn’t fit anymore. You want to emerge different, and better. You want to learn from hard-earned lessons that come from a difficult time.

One of the biggest lessons from the pandemic is that a focus on collective impact is the ultimate protective factor during times of uncertainty and scarce resources.

Collective impact (CI), a cross-sector approach Due East regularly facilitates, is defined as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem,” (SSIR, 2011).

CI is used to solve complex, systemic problems — ones that can’t be solved by just a single organization or even a single sector. Think something like, say… a pandemic. To address such a monumental challenge, leaders from nonprofits, businesses, public agencies, and communities must come together to create a shared vision for meaningful and measurable change that is anchored in a common set of priorities and strategies.

Together, they identify the root causes of a problem and find points to intervene and change course. Sometimes, if the status quo is irreparably broken and rooted in inequities, they may opt to build a new, better system or approach from the ground up, such as telehealth. Telehealth has redefined the delivery of and access to medical services, creating a more equitable healthcare system with fewer disparities based on region and socio-economic status, among other barriers, and has spiked significantly as a result of the pandemic. Importantly, they agree on a set of shared results and measures they can use to track whether, as a collective, they are making meaningful progress.

The practical benefits of CI are amplified in times of turmoil. Instead of feeling paralyzed by the changes and choices around them when the pandemic hit, many of our clients were able to make immediate pivots in their work because they were already coordinating with other organizations. They weren’t alone when they suddenly had to shift from offering in-person programs to other urgent tasks, such as meeting basic needs, transitioning to virtual services, or hiring new staff. Multi-sector collaborations gave them easy access to the resources, partnerships, and coordination they needed to better serve their clients.

“At the neighborhood level, CI builds robust local partnerships and collaborative processes to address issues as they arise,” said Dr. Pamela Brown, Executive Director of the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families. “At the beginning of the pandemic, our existing CI models that Due East helped us develop allowed us to pivot, nimbly and quickly, to ensure basic needs were met in our worst-hit neighborhoods. ”

Another client of ours in the relational violence space had to quickly staff a 24-hour hotline for the first time. Thanks to their preparation and work on CI, instead of rushing to hire new staff and build new infrastructure, they were able to turn to another provider in the collaborative. This provider already had overnight staff and ultimately offered to take on the hotline responsibility. After having to close shelters, together, they wrote new manuals and policies for keeping victims safe in new satellite locations. They shared job descriptions to help make timely new hires. They removed the barriers to moving quickly by moving together.

It’s not surprising that we’ve heard our clients use words like “sisterhood” and “solidarity” to describe their collaboratives during the pandemic.

The big, bold vision that drives CI collaborations is a North Star in uncertain times. Whether you’re getting ready for the new school year or running an organization, CI helps you look beyond the daily challenges by leaning on and learning from each other so you can focus on your end goal.

Learn more here.

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