Making a Case for Collective Impact

Reducing health inequities, improving the health and wellness of communities, addressing root causes of poor health by focusing on social determinants, and combating poverty in regions across the country have become the key foci of public health agencies, healthcare organizations, and service providers over the past several years. The critical nature of these issues has placed them front and center at conferences, symposiums, regional stakeholder meetings and organizational roundtables the last several years. These poignant calls to action have been successful at raising awareness, increasing legislative interest, and inspiring action in many agencies across the country, however, positive impact of these complex, deeply entrenched social issues continues to elude us. But the question remains: Why?

Collaboration has long been a strategy for addressing and solving public health issues. However, what I have come to realize is that we often collaborate for the sake of collaboration and completely miss the key outcome: Impact. Collaborating to share resources, insights and feedback, while important, has not proven to be impactful. Through collective impact, stakeholders from multiple sectors are aligned around a shared vision and driven towards positive outcomes. But collective impact has also become a watered-down term often used interchangeably with collaboration. Perhaps the reason for the confusion is because, while the concept is simple, the execution of collective impact is as complex and messy as the issues it seeks to address. What differentiates coordinated cooperation from collective impact is the intentional incorporation of the following components:

1.    Focused on Outcomes- Stakeholders and partners center the work around the desired outcomes rather a single program or intervention. 

2.    Data-Driven- In order to achieve outcomes and realize impact, data collection and sharing must be at the center of the work to understand progress in real time, and track trends. 

3.    Continuous Improvement- Through strategic, intentional data collection, stakeholders and partners can identify what is working well, areas for improvement and additional resources needed. 

4.    Community-Centric- A key challenge to many collective impact initiatives is they are often structured as a top-down approach, leaving out the most important group: Community. It is critical in collective impact to do things with the community that are for the community, rather than providing what we believe the community needs without their involvement or consent.

5.    Collective Leadership- A social process that replaces individual goals and agendas with a collective vision that shares power and influence, and intellectual capital with social capital. Collective leadership increases mutual accountability among the members, breaks down the silos created by systems, and dissolves power structures that obstruct meaningful change and impact.

Collective impact is a model that can, and will, lead to sustainable outcomes in population health initiatives that seek to address health inequities and improve social determinants of health in our most under-resourced communities. It requires champions of change that do not shy away from innovative solutions, adequate financial resources, a shared sense of urgency, and a commitment to community over individual motives. There is no other way to make lasting impacts in society’s most complex issues without the intentional integration of these key considerations.