An article in the Winter 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review outlined five ingredients for successful collective impact (CI) at the local level. The idea took off in a big way and is still going strong. See the original article here: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/collective_impact.
The five ingredients for successful collective impact.
Common Agenda. Collective impact brings local people and organizations from different sectors (ngo, business, government) together to work on a particular initiative. All participants must understand and agree on exactly what the initiative intends to accomplish. By focusing on a particular set of goals, chaos is reduced and success is more likely.
Shared Measurement System. For each goal or subgoal, measurable key indicators are specified. All participants must be open with the measurements that they can provide. This can be problematic for some participating organizations and agencies, so it is critical that all participants honestly agree to be transparent.
Mutually Reinforcing Activities. This is where real progress can be made. Each participating organization, as it learns what the others are doing, can make modest adjustments in their own activities in order to mesh better with the others, thus improving outcomes all around. But this requires real friendship, with everyone being delighted to boost the overall result. A tit for tat approach will bring only minimal benefits.
Continuous Communication. Clearly everyone has to be kept up to date and new ideas must be encouraged to percolate through the collective impact community. In person meetings are often possible, since everything is happening locally.
Backbone Organization. The independent backbone organization provides paid staff. The wikipedia article lists six functions of the staff: “Guide Vision and Strategy; Support Aligned Activity; Establish Shared Measurement Practices; Build Public Will; Advance Policy; and Mobilize Funding.” Clearly a backbone organization is a requirement, but that organization is ever so likely to have its own agenda, however much it tries to be purely supportive of the collective impact initiative it has adopted. The process will only work if the participating organizations trust the backbone to be open and not heavy handed.
Voices of Humanity can be a big help for CI in at least five areas. First, it implements geographic levels, so it can bring together multiple local CI endeavors into a larger national or global project. Second, as a bottom-up process, it can bring balance to the top-down influence of the backbone organization. Third, the built in voices by gender and age can be augmented as needed with other intersectional breakouts. If you haven’t run across it yet, “intersectionality” is an idea that is worth understanding. Fourth, the ability to break out sub-groups by issue adds an “across-the-silos” capability that intersects with the identities, so we have a hugely flexible matrix of identities and issues that can be brought into play as needed. And fifth, the voice of humanity-as-one maintains the holistic perspective which can otherwise get lost in the emphasis on measurable outcomes. The voice of humanity-as-one will also reinforce that sense of camaraderie which is needed for the CI endeavor to implement mutually reinforcing activities.
VoH features that will be useful for collective impact:
Communities and community hashtags. For instance the “@sdgs” community is for VoH participants who support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is easy to see the list of messages in the VoH forum written by @sdgs members. Each community has a corresponding hashtag. For instance if one specifies #sdgs in the forum as well as @sdgs, then one sees only messages written by @sdgs members which are meant to be of interest to that community. Each collective impact project can have its own community. In this way, CI participants from many projects can be rubbing shoulders in the forum, and even belong to more than one project.
Geographic levels (city:metro:state:nation:global). The geographic levels intersect with the communities, so, for instance, if you live in San Francisco, California, you can easily limit the forum list to messages written by the @sdgs community members who live in San Francisco or who live in the Bay Area, or California or the USA. Or you can go global. An initiative looking to have CI projects in many cities in the U.S. can set up a national community, so the local CI members can easily share across many cities. This feature makes it at least thinkable that there might be a national or state CI project with local chapters that meet in person. Even a global CI project might be set in motion.
Anyone may add their voice or comment on what others have written and may hashtag the message to bring it to the attention of a particular community.
Voting on messages. Any participant can give any message 1, 2 or 3 thumbs up or down. The thumbs up or down generate an “approval” rating between -3 and +3 and an “interest” rating between +1 and +3. A comment generates an interest rating of +4 for the message commented on. A “value” score is calculated as the average approval times the average interest for the rating. Regression to the mean prevents an item with few ratings from winning the day unfairly.
Voting results are available on the “Voices of Humanity” page where we have the top rated messages for the Voice of Women, Men, Youth, Experience (middle-aged), Wisdom (seniors) and the Voice of Humanity-as-One. For the Voice of Women, we list the top rated message written by a woman as rated by women and so forth for the other Voices. The Voices of Women and Men build gender equality into the process. A date range for the past day, week, month can be set to include only recent messages. Importantly, the Voices of Humanity page implements the same cross-cutting identity / community / hashtag / geographic levels as the VoH forum.
Transparency but with a curtain (coming this Summer). When posting a message, the user may specify that the message be restricted to members of the current community. The message will be emailed only to community members. Non-community members may see the message by visiting the community, so transparency is maintained, but members of the community will be able to share within the community without feeling they are adding to the communication overload more widely.
Bottom up Networks (coming this Fall). Bottom up networks will enable local CI members to easily access the full geographic ladder of their national or global CI project. For instance, individual members of @sdgsSF in San Francisco may create their own “network” consisting of @sdgsSF, @sdgsCalifornia, @sdgsUSA and @sdgs. Or, a participant can create an across-the-silos network for themselves, such as @sdgsSF, @peace, and @nuclear_disarm. Easy user access to this network will restrict the list to messages that are written by those who belong to more than one of these communities. There is more to it, but that’s the idea. Users can copy these networks from each other, so a new bottom up network invented by one person could go viral in the larger VoH community.
Identity Communities (coming this Fall). This will create communities for all user profile values, such as “Faith tradition”, “Class”, “Cultural affiliation” and “Political affiliation”.
Peer-to-peer networking (coming when we have the funding for it). When VoH goes peer-to-peer, larger organizations will have their own VoH hub hosted on their own computer network. This will enable them to enlist their members while keeping their email addresses secure. Peer-to-peer networking will also enable massive participation without fear of losing the network if particular host computers go out of service.
As a final thought, VoH could help the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to succeed. The SDGs are a very ambitious attempt to implement collective impact on the largest possible scale. The 17 goals with 169 sub-targets and 230 measurable indicators have been decided after much discussion. The UN is the backbone organization. So far so good, but when it comes to mutually reinforcing activities and continuous communication across all the goals, something more than a series of conferences, each concentrating on one or a few of the goals, is needed. Why not VoH?
As a final final thought, I would like to mention the It’s Time Network. Quoting from the It’s Time Objectives page: Mission: It’s Time Network engages organizations and individuals in collective action to accelerate full equity for women and girls. Vision: It’s Time Network will facilitate collective action to achieve gender equity for women and girls at the local, state, and national levels in the United States and beyond. Values: Collaboration for collective impact; Interdependence; Partnership; Love and compassion; Service to all people and to all life.
The San Francisco It’s Time project is one of the Networks first local CI projects. I hope to connect and will post more here in Voices of Humanity. In the best case, perhaps It’s Time will adopt us!
-- Roger Eaton