This report from the Forum for Youth Investment explores how the principles of collective impact align with the experience of Ready by 21's community-based work.

Ready by 21 and Collective Impact

Every now and then, you run across an individual or organization that not only understands what you are trying to do, but articulates your theory and validates your actions with elegance and simplicity. Everyone involved with Ready by 21 just received that gift, through the powerful words of John Kania and Mark Kramer, managing directors of Boston-based FSG.

Many of you know about their buzz-creating article, “Collective Impact,” in the Winter 2011 Issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. A few excerpts will show why what they said matters so much to those of us in the Ready by 21 community:

“Organizations have attempted to solve social problems by collaboration for decades without producing many results. The vast majority of these efforts lack the elements of success that enable collective impact initiatives to achieve a sustained alignment of efforts. ...

“Shifting from isolated impact to collective impact is not merely a matter of encouraging more collaboration or public-private partnerships. It requires a systemic approach to social impact that focuses on the relationships between organizations and the progress toward shared objectives. And it requires the creation of a new set of nonprofit management organizations that have the skills and resources to assemble and coordinate the specific elements necessary for collective action to succeed. “Our research shows that successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together produce true alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.”

The Forum spoke this month with Kania and Kramer about their research on collective impact and how Ready by 21 aligns with that work; those discussions will continue. Meanwhile, let’s reflect on that ourselves. Looking at the article through our Ready by 21 work, we find two main takeways.