Is Collective Impact the Right Approach?


No one can deny that collective impact as a core concept has caught the nonprofit field by storm. Everywhere you look, communities are coming together to set a common vision for change with cross-sector partners, aligned funders and shared measurement systems. Issues from childhood obesity to homelessness to diabetes prevention are being addressed through collective impact with invigorated and committed partnerships. While many acknowledge that collective impact isn’t a panacea to addressing every social problem, it’s often difficult to understand how to predict the situations in which collective impact would be most feasible, and thereby successful.

In one of our early articles on collective impact, Channeling for Change: Making Collective Impact Work, we identified the preconditions for collective impact – an influential champion, adequate financial resources, and a sense of urgency for change. Alone these preconditions help communities define “readiness” to implement collective impact. However, these factors alone do not tell you whether or not collective impact is “appropriate” for the social problem you’re trying to solve in your community.

The Collective Impact Feasibility framework tool offers a guide to help a group of stakeholders assess whether or not collective impact is the right approach to address the specific social problem in their community. This framework is most helpful before you invest in a collective impact effort by assessing the landscape of actors, the scale and complexity of the social problem you want to address, and then the readiness of local stakeholders for collaboration. Both practitioners and funders could take advantage of this tool to ensure that subsequent investments are made to the best use – either to implement collective impact OR to invest in alternate approaches that may make better use of limited resources, e.g. capacity building, programmatic approaches, etc.

How to use the tool?

  • If considering a collective impact approach, convene a diverse group of local stakeholders to conduct this feasibility assessment.
  • Facilitate discussions with local stakeholders using the four (4) questions as guides. Use data, stakeholder perspectives, system maps, and other tools to help local stakeholders assess each question.
  • Communicate the results of your assessment to the wider community when possible to rally support for future initiatives.

Check out the tool below:

(For a larger version, download the tool from the resource library)

Key considerations when using the tool:

  • The individual community context should be taken into consideration when assessing each of the questions. Rarely will answers be as easy as “yes and no.” However, this framework helps you to understand opportunity areas for investment to support a collaborative process like collective impact.
  • If a community finds that collective impact is not appropriate, it means the nature of the problem best lends itself to an alternative solution or approach. By better understanding the nature of the problem you want to solve, you can make better use of the community’s resources.
  • If a community finds that the local stakeholders are not ready for collective impact, the framework offers tips on how to build readiness for cross-sector collaboration over time.

What do you think?

What are some questions you may be considering before investing in a collective impact approach? How does the nature of the problem you’re trying to address best lend itself to a collective impact approach? We’d love your feedback on the tool so please don’t hesitate to post your questions or comments below.

Upcoming Event: Interested in talking more about readiness for collective impact? Join us for the webinar Is Collective Impact the Right Approach for You? on Oct. 6, 2015.


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