Collective impact: a primer

Collective impact is an increasingly common term among funders and organizations who focus on complex issues that involve multiple stakeholders.

This primer gives an overview of the term so that you can contribute to the conversation if it comes up, or perhaps can see it as an approach that may be effective for your organization and community.

A socially innovative approach

Collective Impact is 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. Wikipedia

Collective impact is an approach that:

  • brings together stakeholders who have roles in a complex social or environmental issue,
  • in order to build a common vision for a desired future, and
  • uncover each stakeholder’s greatest opportunities to contribute to that future, and
  • who agree to focus their resources on those interventions with greatest opportunity for impact, and
  • who, as a group, continuously communicate and measure along their path towards the common vision.

Collective impact process as a cycle

But it’s more than just an approach.

While collective impact is a socially innovative approach, its success relies on people.

Relationships are fundamental. A collective impact process, when broken down into its smallest pieces, involves people, doing things, over time. Without respectful relationships between individual stakeholders, things won’t get done, and the whole approach is at risk.

Who should take a collective impact approach?

People who are invested in achieving a solution to a complex problem. People who enjoy working collaboratively with other stakeholders who are also invested in a solution. People who will persevere when things get murky.

Ideally you already work collaboratively and have good relationships with other stakeholders. The rest of the answers—like a clear vision and a strong theory of how to get there and who will do what—come as part of the process.

Who leads?

While an individual stakeholder may initiate conversations that lead towards a collective impact approach, successful collective impact initiatives rely on a neutral convenor, with a specific set of skills, to mediate, facilitate, navigate power dynamics, and ensure consistent communication, measurement, and recalibration.

This crucial support role must be resourced above an beyond stakeholders. Therefore funders also play an important role in collective impact.

The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails. – John Kania & Mark Kramer in Stanford Social Innovation Review 

In future posts, I’ll answer questions like:

  • How are collective impact initiatives and relationships governed?
  • Where are the resistance points to good collaboration?
  • How is collective impact similar to or different than strategic planning, impact measurement, stakeholder mapping, developmental evaluation, theories of change, basic collaboration, etc?
  • I want to try this in my community. How do I get the process started?

What other questions about collective impact do you have?

Writing chapter 1

After having many conversations (including a group gathering recently!) about quiet and changemaking with quiet changemakers big and small, it’s time to actually write. My goal for the Quiet Changemaker project was always to first write a book.

Part of my personality results in my collecting LOTS of data before moving forward. It makes me a good researcher for my consulting clients but it means I sometimes take too much time before implementing personal projects I’m working on.

Rather than “Ready, Aim, Fire” it’s more like “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim….”

So I’ve had dozens of conversations with quiet changemakers. I’ve read dozens of books related to quiet and/or changemaking. I follow dozens of blogs related to quiet and/or changemaking.

It’s time to fire.

I’m writing Chapter 1 so I can share it and shop it around to potential agents and/or publishers. This is a very new process for me, feel free to offer advice! I’ve read resources on publishing and talked to a few people who have been successfully published, but I always welcome new connections and ideas. I’m not ruling out self-publishing either.

No matter which path I chose, it will start with Chapter 1.

Quiet Changemaker Project: update, resources, meetup

Quiet Changemaker Project Logo

Tonight I had the opportunity to meet up with four other quiet changemakers in Vancouver (much discussion over the word “changemaker”). I heard refrains of “it was nice to hang out with people who don’t exhaust me” or “it was nice to not have to struggle to be heard”. We all happened to be people who work independently in builder/helper roles–ones that create, hold things together, and make them better. Not all of us identify as introverts but we definitely identify as quiet. People who make an impact without waves. Nice folks :)

Previous blog posts you may be interested in

You also might be interested in…

a few interesting resources that came up in conversation. I don’t remember them all, but here are a few to get you started. What have you read or listened to lately that has helped you be a better quiet changemaker?

Caring for Your Introvert (article from 2003 in the The Atlantic by Jonathan Rauch)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (book and TED talk by Susan Cain)
the book is a dense read, but shares interesting research and anecdotes

Introvert Advantage (Dr. Marti Olsen Laney)
this book was recommended to me when I first learned about being an introvert back in 2006, and it really helped me in the ways I think about work, life, and relationships with others

Future meetups

We thought having a meetup without commitment would be great. No pressure. Bring a book or something to listen to. If no one else shows up, it’s OK, you have some time booked off to yourself :) Dates TBA. If you would like to do something similar in another city, let me know.  

Working on chapter 1

The Quiet Changemaker Project was first envisioned as a book, and I’m working on Chapter 1 so that I can shop the idea around. What would you expect to see in the first chapter?


I’ve started a podcast on trends and issues facing nonprofit leaders and social innovators. Search for the Do Good Better Podcast on your favourite podcast app.

How I started a podcast

As you may know, I just started a podcast, and for those podcast – curious out there, here are the steps I used to make it happen.

  1. Create a name, description, and artwork for the podcast.
  2. Record an episode using Audacity on my MacBook. I used the internal microphone of my laptop.
  3. Format the recording using Audacity and iTunes, to get it ready to upload to my podcast host.
  4. I use Libsyn to host my podcast, and Blubrry to create the podcast feed (the latter is a plug-in in WordPress).
  5. Upload the episode to Libsyn.
  6. Format the settings for Blubrry in WordPress.
  7. Publish a blog post for the episode.
  8. Submit the feed created by Blubrry to iTunes and Stitcher.

It’s a little bit more complicated than this, so I highly recommend watching these two tutorial/ video series in order to walk through it. 

Smart passive income 

My wife quit her job 

They both cover similar information (both use Audacity, WordPress, Blubrry, and Libsyn), but each have some specific details that I found helpful.

I would say I spent about eight hours getting the first episode up. A lot of the time was spent watching the videos on the links above, and setting up things that I’ll never have to repeat again. I suspect other than the actual recording of an episode, I will need to spend about two hours per episode to get it formatted and online.