Collective Impact 2014: The Insights

21 APRIL 2014

The Centre for Social Impact (CSI) and Social Leadership Australia (SLA) delivered a sell-out conference called Collective Impact 2014 in Sydney. That's one bit of good news. The better news is that in response to overwhelming demand, we're doing it again in Melbourne in July. Event conveners, Kerry Graham and Liz Skelton, give us the wrap-up on two days of convening, immersion and learning from the Sydney conference.

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In February we presented Collective Impact 2014: a sell-out conference that took place over two days in Sydney. It brought together 230 leaders from government, business, philanthropy, non-profits and the community.

It was more than just a conference. It was an event that convened the key players in a movement, and this was CSI and SLA’s shared vision - to accelerate the adoption of the Collective Impact framework in Australia as a means to creating significant and sustainable social change on complex social problems.

What did people learn at Collective Impact 2014?

Participants at Collective Impact 2014 were already well versed on the fundamentals of Collective Impact, so the program moved straight to developing the practical skills and knowledge required to apply the framework to their collaborative challenge.

  • Over two days participants learned through an interactive and immersive learning program, participants:
  • Increased their knowledge and skills to collaborate in adaptive challenges.
  • Shared and increased their knowledge on collaboration and Collective Impact.
  • Practiced skills together.
  • Increase their confidence to translate the Collective Impact framework into practice.
  • Connected to a network of like-minded practitioners.

Of those that attended, we are thrilled to report that 82% of delegates we surveyed left the conference confident about starting a conversation about Collective Impact in their sector, community or organisation; and 89% felt able to start or progress a Collective Impact initiative.

The enthusiastic response to the conference - before, after, and during the event itself – clearly demonstrates that the Australian social system has a strong appetite for collaborative solutions to make change that matters and lasts. 

Day one: the must-haves

The first day at Collective Impact 2014 focused on the fundamental skills and key infrastructure needed for successful Collective Impact initiatives. We explored:

  • What complex social problems are and why collaboration is an appropriate response to tackling them.
  • The skills, challenges and opportunities of collaborating, including being introduced to the three ‘warty’ trolls of collaboration - competition, control and commitment.
  • The leadership style and backbone functions required at different stages of a Collective Impact initiative
  • The learnings and impact of Australian and US case studies.

A key theme that emerged was the frustration that the ‘isolated impact’ of disconnected program-based responses was not enough to address complex social problems.

While many organisations have been working hard - even meeting their targets - the activity has not yet created the desired change. Conditions are not changing fast enough or, in some cases, are getting worse.

Day two: deep dive

On day two of Collective Impact 2014, we got stuck into the 'doing stuff'. Participants explored the knowledge and skills needed to apply directly to their collaborative initiative. We looked at:

  • Creating the conditions to start a Collective Impact initiative.
  • Being introduced to collaborative leadership skills on developing a learning environment to do the adaptive work of collective impact
  • The challenges and opportunities in mobilising a community to start Collective Impact.
  • What it takes to develop a funding model for Collective Impact.

Workshops were run in four streams and included different approaches to measuring progress and impact, and participants learned from tangible case studies demonstrating the challenges, opportunities and learning from Australia and around the world.

The opportunity for Australia

Collective Impact 2014 revealed an enormous opportunity for Australia. Beyond the buzz - which is electrifying, and exciting to see across the media, social media and in discussions across sectors - we learned of significant numbers of initiatives mobilising and a smaller number that are well-established and making progress.

One clear message: the Australian social system is responding. We have a number of long-standing examples of cross-sector collaboration that have created tangible and lasting change for communities. 

However, these ‘lighthouse’ examples are pockets of promising practice that – in general – are disconnected from each other and have not documented and disseminated the approach they have adopted. As such, the social system has not learnt from these examples to develop an Australian practice of collaboration. 

This is where the Collective Impact framework offers such promise.  

Collective Impact provides a structured and disciplined approach to the practice of collaboration. This event was as much an exercise in learning how to apply the framework, as it was translating this approach into the Australian context from existing success stories. 

There is a great appetite among leaders, practitioners and communities to contribute to a growing network. We have established a community of practice to explore knowledge, best practice and share learning from experience.

Challenges

Collaboration in and of itself will not be enough to facilitate the social impact communities’ desire to make change happen.  

The reality is that there are many structural barriers to collaborative practice that need to be dismantled.  

From a funding perspective, communities applying the Collective Impact approach need a way to engage with Government to mitigate the negative impacts of competitive tendering and inflexible project based funding contracts. These communities also need an accessible way to access real-time data often held by Government line agencies and, to a lesser degree, large non-profit organisations and private businesses.

There are cultural barriers that need to be addressed also. Funders (government and other) need to recognise, value and fund the backbone functions required for successful collaborations. All levels of government need to think through how they constructively come to the collaborative table as an agency with dominant authority and power.  

Similarly, communities need to better understand the drivers of government and business in order to meet their needs and harness the significant contributions they are able to make.

The readiness of the Australian social sector to tackle these challenges was revealed to CSI and SLA from our evaluation survey to conference participants. In looking at the pre-conditions for Collective Impact, there was a descending level of readiness:

  • Building a sense of urgency – most (33%) respondents felt ‘on their way’.
  • Engaging influential champions from all sectors – most (35%) felt reasonably ready.
  • Garnering financial and other resources – most (32%) felt at the beginning stages.

Where to from here?

Collective Impact 2014 was a significant milestone in a long-term commitment by CSI and SLA to establish and nurture an Australian community of practice on collaborative approaches to large-scale change for complex and entrenched social problems.

See Collaboration for Impact's program of events to get involved and learn more.

You can watch the videos, see the images and read the Storify wrap-up of the Collective Impact 2014 event...and if you missed out on our Sydney conference, sign up for our next event in Melbourne on 22-23 July 2014