Avoid the pitfalls of those before you! The Collective Impact Principles of Practice

Posted Thursday, March 12, 2020 at 5:08 pm

No two collective impact initiative are the same … that of course is the reality of working to make progress on complex, systemic issues.  However, one thing that has tripped up many initiatives using a collective impact approach is that they have been so focused on implementing the “Five Conditions of Collective Impact” – outlined in the original article Collective Impact in the Stanford Social Innovation Review – that they forget about the *how* this work actually unfolds.

Several years ago, my colleague Sheri Brady and I worked to lift up much of what we were learning about the “how” of collective impact – to help others avoid this trap.  I find that few folks are familiar with what we put together: the Principles of Practice for Collective Impact, which add to this original framing of collective impact.

Below I’ve reintroduced these Principles, but there is a field of research and practice relevant for each so please consider these resources just as a starting point!

1. Design and implement the initiative with a priority placed on equity.

For collective impact initiatives to achieve sustainable improvements in communities, it is critical that these initiatives address the systemic structures and practices that create barriers to equitable outcomes for all populations, particularly along the lines of race and class. To that end, collective impact initiatives must be intentional in keeping equity at the center of an initiative’s governance, participant composition, planning processes, strategy identification and implementation, and use of data and evaluation. Some resources and examples to dive deeper:

  • This blog by Junious Williams and Sarah Marxer is a great place to start for more
  • Equity Matters in Collective Impact, keynote by Angela Glover Blackwell
  • This webinar, featuring Deycy Hernandez - Director for Promesa Boyle Heights, talks about one initiative’s experience centering equity and community within their work.
  • The keynote Beyond Seats at the Table: Equity, Inclusion, and Collective Impact by Vu Le. We have the video and transcript as well as a podcast of this talk.
  • A range of resources on equity

2. Include community members in the collaborative.

Members of the community—those whose lives are most directly and deeply affected by the problem addressed by the initiative—must be meaningfully engaged in the initiative’s governance, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Engaging community in these ways helps collective impact efforts address the issues most important to those most directly affected, can build capacity and enable community participation in and ownership of solutions, and helps embed the work in the community so that it will be more effective and sustainable. Some resources and examples to dive deeper:

3. Recruit and co-create with cross-sector partners.

Collective impact collaboratives are created by and composed of actors from across sectors and parts of the community, including nonprofits, residents, government, private sector, and philanthropy. Not all initiatives will engage all sectors actively at the same time, but collaboratives made up of only one or two types of actors (e.g., all nonprofits, all funders) typically do not have the diversity of actors required to create the systems-level view that contributes to a robust collective impact initiative.

  • Systems thinking tools, such as those included in this toolkit by FSG, such as actor mapping, can be a useful place to start when thinking about who and how to expand engagement.

4. Use data to continuously learn, adapt, and improve.

Collective impact is not a solution, but rather a collaborative problem-solving process. This process requires partners to remain aware of changes in context, to collect and learn from data, to openly share information and observations with others, and to adapt their strategies quickly in response to an evolving environment. To accomplish this, initiatives should have clear learning priorities, build strong structures and processes for learning, and create a learning culture that enables the group to use meaningful, credible, and useful qualitative and quantitative data for continuous learning and strategic refinement. 

5. Cultivate leaders with unique system leadership skills. For collective impact initiatives to achieve transformational change, leaders must possess strong facilitation, management, and convening skills. They must be able to create a holding space for people to come together and work out their disparate viewpoints, they must possess the capacity to foster shared meaning and shared aspirations among participants, they must be able to help participants understand the complexity and non-linearity of system-level change, they must be dedicated to the health of the whole and willing to change their own organizations in service of the group’s agenda, and they must be adept at building relationships and trust among collaborators.  Two great pieces to go deeper on systems leadership are:

6. Focus on program and system strategies.

The mutually reinforcing activities that the initiative takes on to achieve its goals should focus on collective program and system change strategies rather than individual programs or organizations. As described in The Water of Systems Change,  this means attending to explicit conditions such as policy, practices and resource flows, but also semi-explicit and implicit conditions like relationships & connections, power dynamics and mental models.

  • This panel discussion from the 2018 Collective Impact Convening shares the experiences of three collective impact leaders working to pursue systems change

This webinar series can help unpack systems change topics if you are interested in learning more.

7. Build a culture that fosters relationships, trust, and respect across participants.

Authentic interpersonal relationships, trust, respect, and inclusion are key elements of the culture that is required for difficult work like collective impact . 

8. Customize for local context.

While the five conditions are consistent across collective impact initiatives, and initiatives benefit a great deal by learning from each other, customizing the initiative for the local context is essential. To that end, it is important to situate new collective impact in the local historical context, and in relationship with other collaborations already in place. 

I encourage you to think not only about the five conditions of collective impact, but these principles of practice as well. While ideally these are tended to from the beginning of an initiative, it is never too late to introduce these to your practice.

What do you think? How do these principles show up in your work now? Feel free to share in the comments!

13 Collaboratives Selected to Participate in Collective Impact Data Accelerator

Posted Monday, September 23, 2019 at 12:59 pm

The use of data across partners is a core element of the collective impact approach. In fact, the central use of data – for both collaborative learning and accountability – is often the element of collective impact that practitioners report to be the most differentiating from the other collaboratives in which they have worked. Through our engagement with funders and practitioners in the Collective Impact Forum community, we understand that collective impact initiatives are using a variety of types of data – including collecting data through public databases, shared measurement systems, evaluations, research studies, and in informal conversations – to learn, inform, and improve their work.

We believe that an important step in supporting the field is to support the capacity development and facilitate peer learning about the ways in which collective impact initiatives are using data to learn and improve their work, ultimately contributing to achieving greater impact in communities. 

In response to a growing need in the field around data, the Collective Impact Forum launched the Collective Impact Data Accelerator, a 12-month action learning cohort focused on using data for advancing progress in collective impact. We are excited to announce today that we have selected 13 collaboratives to participate in the Collective Impact Data Accelerator:

  • Achieve Escambia and Florida College Access Network (Tampa, FL)
  • Chattanooga 2.0 (Chattanooga, TN)
  • Healthy Community Partnership Mahoning Valley (Youngstown, OH)
  • My Brother's Keeper Houston Collaborative (Houston, TX)
  • Project Safety Net (Palo Alto, CA)
  • Ready, Set, Healthy! (Trenton, NJ)
  • Sport for Good Cities (Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, and New York)
  • Systems Building for Resiliency in Southwest Virginia: A Trauma-Informed Care Network Approach (Abingdon, VA)
  • The Alliance to End Abuse (Martinez, CA)
  • The Detroit Homelessness Continuum of Care (Detroit, MI)
  • The Partnership Network (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Thrive Chicago (Chicago, IL)
  • United Way of Greater Atlanta: Youth Works Department of Family & Children Services (Atlanta, GA)

The Collective Impact Forum reviewed applications for the Collective Impact Data Accelerator over the summer, and we recently selected these 13 collaboratives that submitted strong applications.

“We are excited about working with these participants in the Collective Impact Data Accelerator,” said Sheri Brady, Associate Director, Strategic Partnerships, Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. “All of the collaboratives involved in this accelerator demonstrate a strong commitment to using data for advancing equitable outcomes in their communities. We hope this learning cohort will deepen their peer relationships and advance their knowledge and practice about using data in collective impact.”

A few highlights about this learning cohort:

  • All collaboratives are in the mid-to-late stages of implementing collective impact – having moved beyond initial planning into coordinated and aligned efforts among cross-sector partners.
  • The cohort represents a mix of different issue areas, including education & youth, workforce development, health & nutrition, homelessness, and more.
  • The cohort is focused on different geographic areas of focus, including neighborhood-level, city-wide, county-wide, multi-county / regional, and multi-state.
  • Two or three people are participating in each collaborative, including one funder and up to two backbone/data partners.

Participants will meet for three in-person working sessions from November 2019 to November 2020, and will also join group peer learning calls and participate in 1:1 coaching with the Collective Impact Forum team during months when there is not a working session. Participants will identify an area of their collaborative where they will focus on using data, and participants will commit time in between the Accelerator meetings and calls to make progress on their identified action learning project for their collaborative.

For additional context, the goals of the Collective Impact Accelerator are to:

  • Build the capacity of backbone leaders, funders, and other partners to effectively use qualitative and quantitative data for learning in ways that provide insights into how the initiative might improve, adapt, and grow, in service of achieving a community goal.
  • Create a supportive peer learning community where backbone teams, funders and/or partners have candid conversations and learn with one another when using a broad range of different types of data.
  • Identify promising practices that will be shared broadly with the field to support backbone leaders, funders, and other practitioners interested in using data in collective impact.

In addition, some of the priority learning topics that this group will address include:

  • How to incorporating equity into all data identification, collection, disaggregation, and use
  • How to develop a culture of using data to adapt work and hold one another accountable
  • How to use data effectively and robustly toward learning and improvement

After the learning cohort concludes in November 2020, the Collective Impact Forum team will share lessons learned more broadly with the field. We look forward to keeping our network of collective impact backbone leaders, funders, and other practitioners in the loop on what we learn through the Collective Impact Data Accelerator.

Collective Impact Accelerator: Using Data for Advancing Progress in Collective Impact (Apply by July 26)

Posted 1 year ago at 9:21 am

You are invited to participate in a 12-month action learning cohort focused on using data for advancing progress in collective impact. The Collective Impact Forum, an initiative of FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, is developing a “Collective Impact Accelerator” to improve how collective impact funders, backbone teams, and other partners use data to learn and strengthen their work in collaboration with others, ultimately contributing to achieving greater impact in communities.

The goals of the Collective Impact Accelerator are to:

  • Build the capacity of backbone leaders, funders, and other partners to effectively use data as a key strategy in collective impact contributing to improved results for communities.
  • Create a supportive peer learning community where backbone teams, funders and/or partners have candid conversations and learn with one another about using data in collective impact.
  • Identify promising practices that will be shared broadly with the field to support backbone leaders, funders, and other practitioners interested in using data in collective impact.

This Collective Impact Accelerator will be limited to participants from 10 separate collaboratives (including one funder and up to two backbone/data partners from each collaborative). Participants will meet for three in-person working sessions from November 2019 to November 2020, take advantage of individual coaching support from Collective Impact Forum’s staff facilitators, and also join three peer learning calls during months when there is not a working session. Participants will identify an area of their collaborative where they will focus on using data, and participants are expected to commit time in between the Accelerator meetings and calls to make progress on their identified action learning project for their collaborative.

The participation fee is $10,000 for each collaborative (for two representatives) or $12,500 for each collaborative (for three representatives). This fee covers the meeting costs and staff time to plan for and facilitate all calls and meetings. Participants will cover their own travel and accommodation costs.

Mark your calendar for these key dates:

  • Applications opened on May 29 and will close on July 26, 2019.
  • Join an informational call from 4-5pm on June 26 to learn more before applying. (note: you can listen to the recording of the June 18 informational call here; attached to this post are the informational call discussion slides).
  • We will select 10 participating collaboratives (including one funder and up to two backbone/data partners per collaborative) by August 16, 2019.
  • The first full-day in-person meeting will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019 in Chicago, IL (with reception and dinner the night before).
  • The second in-person meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Minneapolis, MN (with reception and dinner the night before).
  • The third in-person meeting will take place in October/November 2020 in Washington, D.C. (date will be confirmed by late 2019 based on selected accelerator participants’ availability).

See attached or click on this link to read "frequently asked questions" about the Collective Impact Accelerator.


Using Data and Shared Measurement in Collective Impact

Data gathering and shared measurement systems are key elements for collective impact initiatives to better understand and assess their work, but can be also very challenging to start and sustain. What can we learn from other initiatives about their practices related to gathering and sharing data, and what impact it had on their outcomes?

In this virtual coffee, we're talking about gathering and sharing data with Emily Bradley and Michael Nailat, program officers at Home for Good, an initiative that works collaboratively on systems and solutions to end homelessness.

This virtual coffee was held on August 14, 2018 from 3pm – 4pm ET.

Note: For the first 2-3 minutes of the session, the audio goes in and out a bit. After this short period, it evens out and is audible for the rest of the 60-minute session.

Virtual Coffee Resources:

Presentation: Download a copy of the presentation used for this virtual coffee at the link on the right of this page. (Logging in to your Collective Impact Forum account will be necessary to download materials.)

Home for Good was one of 25 sites that participated in the research study When Collective Impact has an Impact. This new study, more than a year in the making, looks at the question of “To what extent and under what conditions does the collective impact approach contribute to systems and population changes?”

Listen to past Collective Impact Virtual Coffee Chats

Virtual Coffee archive


Using Data for a Collective Impact Refresh

In Project U-Turn’s 10th year of collective impact work, data has played a crucial part in the continuous improvement process. Both quantitative student data and qualitative stakeholder data helped refine the goals, structure, and collaborative processes aimed at stronger, equitable outcomes for a new three-year action plan.

In this online training, Project U-Turn presenters will highlight each point in the renewal process and have attendees reflect on how they would approach stages of change given their current community conditions and desired outcomes. Participants will leave with a series of concrete tools to guide similar processes for their collective impact work.

Training Materials: Download the training presentation, worksheet, and referenced resources at the links on the left of this page. (Logging into your CIF member account will be needed to download resources.)

How to watch: To participate in this training, please register ahead of the training time of 2pm ET on December 6, 2017. A recording will be shared with registrants 24-48 hours following the event. Register now.

For those undable to register ahead, the video of this training will be made broadly available in early 2018 on the Collective Impact Forum.


  • Roxolana Barnebey, senior associate of External Relations, Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN)
  • Meg Long, president, Equal Measure
  • Bilal Taylor, senior consultant, Equal Measure.


Roxolana Barnebey

Roxolana is senior associate of External Relations at Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN)

Roxolana manages Project U-Turn for PYN, which aims to engage and re-engage students who are at-risk of disconnecting or already disconnected from high school to support their secondary and post-secondary success. In this role, Roxolana ensures that the collective efforts across systems and organizations all drive toward the overarching goal of increasing Philadelphia’s high school graduation rate.

As the backbone staff for Project U-Turn, she works to secure resources that allow for Project U-Turn related efforts and has carried out the first Project U-Turn Fellowships, as well as a PYN Stoneleigh Fellow, who will work to expand post-secondary access more broadly across Philadelphia.

Prior to her time at PYN, Roxolana worked at Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), southeastern Pennsylvania’s child advocacy organization. In her nearly 9 years there, she led strategy, external relations, and mobilization as part of the statewide Campaign for Fair Education Funding, which achieved its goal of gaining Pennsylvania legislature approval for a fair funding formula for the state’s public schools. She raised attention to the need for improved access to children’s behavioral health services and managed PCCY’s day of free children’s dental care—increasing the program from about 10 dental practices serving a few hundred children in Philadelphia to nearly 30 dentists throughout southeastern Pennsylvania serving nearly 1,000 children.

Roxolana received her Master of Science in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania (August 2012) and her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Miami (May 2006).

Meg Long

Meg is president of Equal Measure.

Meg has nearly 20 years of evaluation, philanthropic strategy, program management, organizational development, and leadership experience. Over the course of her career, Meg has worked on a wide range of domestic and international issues, including righting educational disparities, building individuals’ economic security, and improving the communities in which they live. Meg leads Equal Measure’s postsecondary success and asset building portfolio, bringing her extensive experience in cradle-to-career and place-based evaluation to initiatives such as the Lumina Foundation’s Community Partnership for Attainment, the Irvine Foundation’s Linked Learning investment, the Aspen Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, and the Kellogg Foundation’s Family Economic Security portfolio. Meg also provides strategic and evaluation support to the Goddard Riverside Community Center’s Options-NYCDOE training program, the Stoneleigh Foundation, the Philadelphia Youth Network, and the Helmsley Charitable Trust to help increase the impact of their programs and investments.

In each engagement, Meg has helped her clients translate ambitious, complex change strategies into successful interventions. She plays numerous key roles, such as designing strategy, managing the relationships of multiple partners, facilitating the inclusion of all stakeholder voices, and leading the communication of evaluation findings to clients and their grantees.

Before joining Equal Measure, Meg was the coordinator for Volunteer Recruitment, Training and Marketing for Experience Corps Philadelphia, a national intergenerational tutoring program. In that role, she worked with 22 inner-city elementary schools and 2 after-school programs to address the literacy needs of children reading below grade level. She also worked with community members and stakeholders to improve educational services to children and their families in Philadelphia. Her experience at the United Nations, the World Bank Institute, and the International Longevity Center included conducting analyses of poverty alleviation policies in Kenya and assessing socioeconomic indicators of older New Yorkers to improve service delivery in intergenerational programs.
Bilal Taylor

Bilal Taylor

Bilal is a senior consultant at Equal Measure.

Bilal has a more than 15-year background in planning, implementing, and evaluating high-quality youth development programs, particularly in schools and community settings serving older youth during out-of-school time. He also has extensive experience in developing theories of change and in qualitative evaluation methodologies, including focus group facilitation.

At Equal Measure, Bilal works on a diverse set of national and local evaluation projects, including evaluations of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Family Economic Security Workforce Development Pilots, the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s investment to enhance teaching practices and establish institutional incentives to increase the number of STEM college graduates, the Irvine Foundation’s Linked Learning Regional Hubs, Living Cities’ City Accelerator initiative, and the Stoneleigh Foundation’s Fellowship programs.

Prior to joining Equal Measure, Bilal was a program officer at the American Friends Service Committee, an international Quaker peace-building organization headquartered in Philadelphia. In this role, Bilal oversaw a portfolio of 50 civic engagement and youth organizing programs aimed at helping youth find their power to challenge systems of oppression in their cities and nations. His direct service experience coordinating grant-funded out-of-school time programs and serving as a dean of students at a high-performing charter school in Philadelphia leave him uniquely positioned to understand the challenges of funders, grantees, and public sector leaders searching for innovative ways to help youth transition successfully to adulthood.


Using Data in Collective Impact

In this virtual coffee chat, JaNay Queen Nazaire and Jeff Raderstrong from Living Cities will share what they have learned about how to use data within collective impact efforts to help change behavior and achieve better outcomes.

Part of this chat also goes over Living Cities' Data and Collective Impact resource series.

This virtual coffee chat was held on June 6, 2017.

Resources referenced in this episode:

Data and Collective Impact

About the Collective Impact Virtual Coffee Chats: The CI Virtual Coffee talks are free online webinar chats where we talk with collective impact practitioners from around the field to hear about their work and see what they're learning. Each Virtual Coffee chat will include Q&A time where attendees can ask their questions and find answers.

Listen to past Collective Impact Virtual Coffee Chats

Virtual Coffee archive


Equity and Collective Impact: Lessons from Disaggregating Data (COP Learning Call - May 2016)

This Community of Practice Learning Group Call was held on May 11, 2016.

Access the presentation and audio from the call with the download links on the left of this page.

Learning Group Call Agenda

1. Introductions and Overview (10 min)

2. Equity and Collective Impact: Lessons from Disaggregating Data (75 minutes)

  • Presentation and discussion with Kantahyanee Murray, Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Presentation and discussion with Junious Williams, Urban Strategies Council
  • Presentation / discussion with Nicole Jolly, EMPLOY, Cowen Institute at Tulane University

3. Next Steps (5 Minutes)

To Validate or Elevate? Measuring Community Impact in an Actionable Way

Posted Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 11:49 pm

Last November, Matt Forti and Kim Siegal penned an article titled Actionable Measurement: Getting from “Prove” to “Improve” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The article calls upon the social sector to unite around “common questions” that “nonprofits ought to answer about their impact so that they can maximize learning and action around their program models.”

Forti and Siegal depart from ongoing debates in the social sector’s measurement community over the appropriateness of experimental evaluations (i.e., randomized trials)—the industry’s gold standard—to prove a program’s impact. Such large-scale evaluations may be suitable in some instances, but Forti and Siegal thoughtfully argue, instead, that most practitioners would be better served through a more immediate focus on improvement.

We agree. Experimental evaluations are valuable tools to test whether a program works—when programs are applied consistently across similar settings.

But community-level interventions pose significant limitations to experimental evaluation. Ethics aside, providers are quick to point out their community’s uniqueness from all others, confounding an apples-to-apples comparison across sites. Moreover, an average study timeline of three to five-years, coupled with a price tag in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more, pose serious hurdles to those who must not only maximize the value to their clients and funders, but also demonstrate that value in short order.

Instead, Forti and Siegal pose a guiding question that closely mirrors our Institute’s approach to community-level evaluation: “what common insights would allow nonprofit leaders to make decisions that generate more social good for clients they serve?”

There is an old Army saying that goes, “what gets checked gets done.” So too, Forti and Siegal’s idea of actionable measurement is to use insights now—in the midst of doing the work itself—to learn, adapt, improve program service delivery, increase social good, and maximize impact over time.

Actionable measurement, or “shared measurement” in collective impact parlance, is a major driver within our AmericaServes initiative, an effort to build local coordinated networks of service organizations that improve how our nation’s military-connected members and their families access a wide range of services and resources in their communities.

Put simply, AmericaServes helps communities create networks of service providers and improve how they operate as a system. Analogous to health care coordination models (e.g., accountable care organizations, patient centered medical homes), AmericaServes strengthens local nonprofit coordination by providing initial funding for a backbone coordination center and the technology to manage—and measure—a referral-based system of care. Accordingly, for both health care and human service delivery, system-level measurement focused on continuous quality improvement is critical to test and implement changes that address the complex or changing needs of the client.

Standard system outcome and satisfaction measures allow AmericaServes communities to monitor and improve their performance. These insights provide the basis for community planning sessions, on-the-ground relationship building, and quarterly in-progress reviews.

As new insights continually emerge, communicating our advances (and setbacks) takes on increasing importance. Additionally, there are new aspects of our work—some we believe followers may have missed—that we want to expand upon to promote a greater awareness and understanding of IVMF’s community-based efforts.

Forti and Siegal, following a comprehensive review of a decade’s worth of their organization’s field studies and research, established “four categories of questions that drove the greatest learning, action, and impact improvement.” We apply the Forti and Siegal framework to the AmericaServes initiative and find that it provides a helpful basis upon which to consider our current outcomes and future actions in the coming years.

1. Impact Drivers: Are there particular conditions or program components that disproportionately drive results?

While there are multiple performance indicators, two stand out above all others: case referral timeliness and appropriateness. As a coordinated network, AmericaServes’ theory of change is centered on assisting clients to the right point of service, resource, or care, in the shortest time possible. This is consistent with what the heath care field defines as quality of care.

Often, those seeking services present multiple, co-occurring (i.e., comorbid) needs. Consequently, service providers within AmericaServes communities—operating as a comprehensive support network, rather than fragmented collection of services—are best-incentivized to address the specific need(s) presented to their organization. Here, their limited resources are put to their first and best use—a hallmark of superior performance and sustainability.

As human service providers, we all know the disproportionate amount of time and energy spent on attempts to address needs beyond our organization’s boundaries. More often than not, these efforts to connect people and their needs beyond our capacity or expertise results in not only organizational failure, but extreme client frustration and unmet expectations. Getting the right client to the right point of service in a timely fashion—streamlined access—while critical, is, at times a herculean feat.

It is often said that communities are not capacity-poor, but rather fragmented-rich. Additionally, the veteran-serving nonprofit sector is rife with patchy eligibility criteria (each uniquely exclusive or inclusive in their approach) and layered on top of membership rules that subsequently underpin the very programs put in place to help. To combat these factors, AmericaServes communities work carefully to digitally connect their clients to the most appropriate provider in a timely fashion, mitigating the deep fragmentation across the social sector. If done disproportionately well enough, we can open the all-too-often locked doors of any community’s capacity to serve human needs and drive greater innovation within human services overall.

2. Impact distribution: Does the program generate better results for a particular sub-group?

Apparently so. The greatest early gains appear to be in networks with strong, active coordination centers—the backbone organizations that manage and monitor case referrals between network providers.

We see a pattern emerging in our AmericaServes networks. Those that report the greatest share of positive case outcomes (e.g., client received housing services) and levels of provider engagement (i.e., making and receiving case referrals), also tend to have coordination centers that:

(1) focus on equitable referral distribution across many providers and

(2) have built strong relationships with the local VA.

For example, the PAServes-Greater Pittsburgh coordination center, based within the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, has a longstanding relationship with the local VA. To date, the Pittsburgh network reports the highest share of providers making and receiving referrals, and of positive overall case outcomes in the first year of operation. Having witnessed the success in Pittsburgh, other networks are actively building and expanding their relationships with local VA offices, and we will be monitoring the resulting provider engagement and outcomes over the coming months.

Strong coordination centers with knowledgeable intake specialists are able to navigate the complex eligibility criteria and make appropriate client referrals. In other words, this generates “smart” referrals to them, consisting of pre-screened clients who eligible for the services they provide. More importantly, accurate referrals eliminate wasted time, resources, and most importantly, the negative interactions that occur when providers are forced to turn away ineligible clients.

3. Impact persistence: How does a given client’s impact change over time?

While AmericaServes ultimately aims to demonstrate a positive long-term impact on the well-being of each community’s local military-connected population, it is, foremost, a care coordination intervention on a system of human service providers. The initiative’s immediate outcomes—adapted from health care—are centered on the activities and experiences of those coordinating and receiving coordinated services.

Forti and Siegal’s work revealed that clients that experience good outcomes tend to engage with the program more over time.

AmericaServes aims to ensure that clients who access coordinated services see similar benefits. If working as intended, long-term impact at the client level should loosely follow a needs hierarchy. That is, over time, clients should use the network less frequently as needs are met. Moreover, longer-tenured or repeat clients’ needs should resemble a pattern that transitions from basic physiological needs (food and water), to security (housing, employment, healthcare), social (education, relationships, love), and esteem (hobbies, volunteering) needs.

Early data suggests that a select number of program participants return to the network for additional services. While further analysis is underway, early thinking suggests three possible explanations:

(1) the initial provider’s service intervention failed to take root sufficiently, thus creating an opportunity to improve and reattempt to solve the individual’s problem;

(2) a tertiary need (a related aspect of co-occurrence) was discovered after the initial provider’s service intervention was introduced, creating a secondary network demand; or

(3) the client returned to the network for additional services to satisfy higher-order social or esteem needs, following successful resolution of prior basic physiological or security needs.

Regardless of the root cause, one constant is clear: clients are viewing the network as a resource to help address their needs. And as Forti and Siegal found, client impact may be measured and improved upon through a greater emphasis on client retention.

4. Impact externalities: What are the positive and negative effects on the people and communities not directly accessing the program?

While we aim to in time, we have yet to explore the unintended consequences—both positive and negative—on the communities and individuals not directly accessing AmericaServes. Consider, for example, does AmericaServes, by addressing the social determinants of health and well-being, generate positive returns to VA health care system (e.g., improved health markers, reductions in hospitalization, prescription drugs, cost avoidance, etc.)? This is a fantastic research question, notwithstanding that AmericaServes is barely two years old, operating in just a handful of communities, and still evolving.

Learning from what gets measured—“checked” in Army-speak—and the actions taken in light of that learning, may be, as Forti and Siegal concluded, the more important boost in social good needed to serve our veterans and military better today. Certainly, understanding these externalities is crucial to prove the efficacy of our approach in the long-term, and we continue to explore opportunities for an AmericaServes randomized trial or quasi-experiment.

We will get there eventually. For now, however, we remain strongly focused on improving the AmericaServes model to create more social good in these communities today.

What do you think? How have you worked with public, philanthropic, and nonprofit stakeholders to reconcile the tensions and timing of both proving and improving system-level collective impact initiatives? How are you using insights today to drive greater understanding and dialogue around the impact drivers, distribution, persistence, and unintended benefits and consequences of your work?

Recommended Platforms to Share Data with Partners?

Posted 4 years ago at 9:21 am

What platform/software do you like to use to share data/benchmarks with your partners?

Some CI efforts contacted us looking for recommendations, and we wanted to see what you resources you found most useful. What works for you?

Lessons on Using Data for Collective Impact

Posted Friday, June 24, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Using shared measures to track progress toward goals and understand where partnerships are making progress and where improvement is needed is increasingly emphasized as essential for addressing complex issues and improving our communities. However, our understanding of exactly how to harness the power of data is limited. One thing, though, is abundantly clear: Making good on the commitment to use data is hard—and the challenges aren’t just about technology.

There’s much that collective-impact efforts can learn about using data from The Wallace Foundation’s Next Generation Afterschool System Building Initiative. This multi-year initiative involves support for nine cities where city agencies, schools, and nonprofit organizations are working to better coordinate access to high-quality afterschool opportunities for children, along with independent research to learn from their experiences. These place-based collaborative efforts in Baltimore, Denver, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Louisville, Nashville, Philadelphia, and Saint Paul share features with collective impact initiatives as they work across sectorial silos to leverage resources to affect children’s lives, use data to diagnose needs, engage and sustain partner engagement, and improve the quality of services.

A new research report on their efforts, the first of two planned volumes from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago commissioned by Wallace, offers insights into what it takes to put data systems in place and use them to reach common goals. Key conclusion: While we typically focus on addressing the technology needs of data use, in reality, two other components—people and processes — are just as crucial, as shown in the diagram below.  These findings echo and expand upon the research conducted by the RAND Corporation and published in Hours of Opportunity Volume II, which found based on a study of eight afterschool systems that using MIS data can help improve access and services but that it requires careful planning.

The new Chapin Hall study finds that often, as these collaborative efforts begin, the focus is on technology, but that leaders are caught short by the challenges posed by the people and the processes that are required to transform the data into useful information. But as the triangle suggests, the components are inter-related and each is equally necessary.

As the  researchers write: ……as important as technology is, most of the factors that appear to facilitate or inhibit data use in city afterschool systems—norms and routines, partner relationships, leadership and coordination, and technical knowledge—have to do with the people and process aspects of a data system.

Not surprisingly, that’s also one of the findings from researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University, who are studying collective impact communities participating in the Ford Foundation’s Corridors to College Success initiative. In this recent brief, the researchers described “myriad challenges associated with their organizations’ capacity for data collection, data-sharing agreements, third-party data warehousing or merging, data privacy and storage, and staff capacity for meeting technical data management and analytic needs.”

The Three Legs of the Triangle

The nine cities in Wallace’s effort that are using data in their afterschool systems are finding paths that are deepening their capacity for data use. Their experiences as captured by Chapin Hall, we believe, can help people involved in other collective-impact and system building efforts.

  • Start small to learn what works. A number of cities intentionally started with a limited set of measures for data collection and use, and/or a limited set of providers piloting a new data system, with plans to scale up gradually. For a collective impact effort, that might mean starting the data work with one working group, learning how to enable the people, processes, and technology work together successfully before scaling across all strategic areas of focus.  
  • Leverage existing data expertise. Expertise came from within as well as outside the organization coordinating the initiative. Some cities are working with a research partner who participates in all phases of the development of their data systems, providing ongoing support. Others leveraged the relationship primarily for access to data, analysis, and reporting of data collected by providers. Still others did not engage an external research partner, but identified internal staff who are capable analysts who can provide these supports to the system. Many collective-impact efforts might tap research partners, or communities have research institutions, committed to developing knowledge to positively affect lives.
  • Provide ongoing training. System stakeholders learned that they needed to provide ongoing introductory trainings in using both the management information systems and the data to enable use.

Taken together, these lessons suggest that cities should acknowledge upfront and plan for the challenges of data use and that there are steps they can take toward success, namely prepare and provide ongoing support for the multifaceted interplay of people, processes, and technology.

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