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What is the Role of Local Government in Collective Impact?

By Kate Caldecott

Much as we hate to admit it, Big Change takes Big Effort. We’ve accumulated enough failures and partial successes to know that society’s most intractable problems are not going to be solved by any one policy, government entity or organisation. Rather, we have to accept that we are all in this thing together and that working together we are more than the sum or our parts.


What is Collective Impact?

All of that sounds good, and not particularly new. We all believe in collaboration. However, the Collective Impact model (defined in 2011 by John Kania & Mark Kramer) goes beyond the usual definitions of collaboration and outlines an infrastructure:


  1. All participants have a common agenda for change including a shared understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions.

  2. Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all the participants ensures shared measurement for alignment and accountability.

  3. A plan of action that outlines and coordinates mutually reinforcing activities for each participant.

  4. Open and continuous communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation.

  5. A backbone organisation(s) with staff and specific set of skills to serve the entire initiative and coordinate participating organisations and agencies.
Collective Impact Model

Graphic courtesy of Collaboration for Impact


Why use Collective Impact?

Of course the main reason for implementing a collective impact model is that the problems we face are big and hairy, and we’re unlikely to achieve meaningful change on our own.  That is reason enough for doing it.  

However, there are additional benefits that go beyond the specific problem you are working to solve.  Collective impact initiatives can absorb risks that a single organization is unlikely to expose themselves to. With increased competition for limited funds and the expectation that dollars should be spent on evidence-based practices, service providers design their programs around proven models. The shared risk of collective impact makes it possible to be flexible, responsive and emergent, as demonstrated in the case of Burnie Works.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of collective impact is the effect it has on the system (as opposed to the population that has been targeted for services). It creates an infrastructure that facilitates meaningful, cross-sector collaboration. It demonstrates to stakeholders (and the community at large) that hurdles such as restrictions on data sharing, different legal and funder requirements and individual egos can be overcome for the greater good.


Local Government in Collective Impact Initiatives

Obviously, Councils and other local government entities can play an important role in any collective impact initiative. While specifics will vary per project, its worth considering which pieces of the collective impact framework are particularly suited to local governments.

Councils have resources which can help define and lend credibility to the problem the initiative is trying to address. The work that went into to putting together a Strategic Plan can serve as a basis for helping to define an agenda and align services. Councils can also leverage their relationships to help bring more stakeholders to the table ensuring broad, cross-sector participation.  

Local governments are in a unique position to get the public’s ear. As such, they can play a key role in garnering public interest in the project, in educating the public about the time needed to measure impact and in convening celebrations of the initiative’s wins (big and small).

When a collective impact initiative is getting started, a local government entity may serve as an incubator for the backbone organisation. It is important to remember that a Council should not serve as the backbone organisation itself. Truly impactful initiatives take a long time, likely longer than any particular political administration’s term. One of the principles of collective impact is that participants need to set aside their own agendas to work towards the initiative’s priorities.  Having an independent backbone organisation helps ensure this.

Finally, public entities are the owners of public data. Depending on the targeted outcomes, they may be the only ones who have access to the needed data. Councils can take a leadership role in developing data-sharing protocols and agreements, and in making data they hold available to measure the success of project(s) within the initiative.

If you would like more information on how creating or supporting a collective impact initiative in your community, please contact me at Kate@katecaldecott.com.au or 0447 227 598.


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