June 30, 2022

This AES Seminar with Liz Weaver, Co-CEO of Tamarack Institute provided an overview and key features of collective impact approaches and the unique challenges associated with evaluating them. These approaches have gained greater sway and influence over the last 10 years, as uniquely place to  to address  complex, multi-faceted issues involving intersecting systems, organisations and population groups. In Australia, these collaborative initiatives may be positioned as ‘place-based’ initiatives or they may draw together multiple organisations and even service systems around a  common social issue (family violence) or common cohort (those suffering from mental illness).  Regardless of the galvanising issue, collective impact approaches provide an architecture, resources and tools that can help you set up for success and trouble shoot as you go.  They also provide a wealth of knowledge about how to successfully engage, support and embed evaluation approaches into this multi-layered and multi-stakeholder terrain.

This session had something for everyone – policy and program managers leading complex, multi-organisation initiatives, internal and external evaluators and anyone interested in supporting effective collaborative practice and integrative rather than silo-ed thinking.

Liz leads the Tamarack Learning Centre. She has been a key player in building the collective impact model over many years. The Tamarack Learning Centre, which is an international leader in the collective impact approach, advances community change efforts with a focus on collective impact, collaborative leadership, community engagement, community innovation and evaluating community impact. Liz is well-known for her thought leadership on collective impact and is the author of several popular and academic papers on the topic.

Key messages

Collective impact approaches have emerged over the last 10 years or so.

Collective impact is defined as the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem, using a structured form of collaboration.

It arose as an approach to address the unique challenges posed by complex or “wicked” social problems, those that cannot be solved through traditional or silo-ed service approaches.

Collective impact proposes an approach to collaborative action which draws together diverse perspectives to respond to these challenges. They have five key elements: a common, agreed agenda; continuous communication; mutually reinforcing activities; backbone support; and shared measurement.

Collective impact approaches provide a systematic approach and a range of tools and resources of value to any collaborative project or approach.

Fundamental to the collective impact approach is a focus on:

  • building common agreement and understanding of the issue through engaging research, service providers, and client and community voices.Asking questions such as – what do we want to accomplish and how will we know.
  • early planning and collection of key measures to track changes over time, and
  • an iterative and emergent approach to shepherding change.

Evaluating collective impact approaches can be challenging. Key tips for evaluating these types of initiatives include:

  • Start measuring from the beginning – don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good
  • Support (resources/time/logistics) shared measurement and evaluation – it’s worth it!
  • Technology is secondary
  • Be inclusive –the process of getting a broad set of partners to jointly identify shared measures is as important as the measures themselves. Different users of the data will also have different needs.
  • Often, you will be making a case about contribution (alongside other factors) rather than causal attribution – your intervention as the singular cause of the effect you are identifying – this is part of working in a complex system.
  • Shared measurement alone is not sufficient –be intentional about continuous learning, and improving the system itself

Presentation slides – download here

Further resources

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