This glossary provides definitions of some of the terminology used for collective impact initiatives and was developed through FSG's work with the Health and Wellness Alliance for Children.

Collective Impact Terminology

1.    Collective Impact is defined as the commitment of a group of cross-sector actors to a common agenda for solving a targeted social problem through alignment and differentiation of efforts. Collective impact efforts around the country often grow out of the recognition that stakeholders across the community have a deep, vested interest in improving outcomes, and that these outcomes depend on a complex range of challenges that can only be improved through a systematic and coordinated approach owned by the many relevant players. The five necessary conditions of collective impact are:

  • A Common Agenda is a shared vision for change, including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions.
  • Shared Measurement is collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants to ensure activities remain aligned, decisions are data-driven, and participants hold each other accountable.
  • Mutually Reinforcing Activities are actions taken by stakeholders that are both differentiated and coordinated through a plan of action.
  • Continuous Communication is consistent and open across the many players in order to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and appreciate common motivation.
  • The Backbone Organization coordinates and manages the day-to-day operations and implementation of work, including stakeholder engagement, communications, data collection and analysis, and other responsibilities.


2.  Community engagement is working with citizens by educating, informing, collaborating, empowering, and listening to them as partners in achieving the goals of the Collective Impact initiative. Community engagement can range from a more passive, informational outreach approach to a more proactive approach involving citizens in decision-making.

3.  The Impact Goal is the overall goal of the Collective Impact initiative, focused on population-level change in a social issue. They are focused on the system, environment, or community that surrounds and supports the issue, not just the individuals involved.

4.  Outcome Goals reflect changes the initiative expects to see as a result of its efforts within a set timeframe. They move the initiative towards achieving the overall Impact Goal, and are often linked to evidence-based models or practices. They may measure changes in knowledge, opinion/values/attitudes, skills, policies, decisions, structures, etc.

5.  Indicators are used to track the initiative’s progress towards both Outcome and Impact goals using both existing or new data sources and methodologies.

6.  Stakeholders are individuals or organizations with the ability to influence the social issue that is the focus of the Collective Impact initiative. They may represent the public, private, nonprofit, or philanthropic sectors, or the population targeted for change.

7.  Strategies are evidence-informed activities and processes that support the adoption and implementation of each goal, typically selected by Working Groups.

8.  The Steering Committee is the entity providing guidance and oversight to the Collective Impact initiative, with membership representing the wide range of stakeholders with the ability to influence the issue.

9.  A System is the group of interdependent actors and factors, both formal and informal, forming a complex social problem. No one person or organization has the ability to influence the entire system, but working together, the group can moves towards systems change.

10.  Working Groups are sub-groups reporting to the Steering Committee that help choose and implement strategies, engage community members, and track progress towards goals. Members are often relevant subject matter or community experts.