Does Collective Impact work?

"Collective impact is a long-term
proposition; take the time to lay a strong

The research study “When Collective Impact Has an Impact: A Cross-Site Study of 25 Collective Impact Initiatives,” conducted by a research team from the organizations
ORS Impact and the Spark Policy Institute, looks at the question of “To what extent and under what conditions does the collective impact approach contribute to systems and population changes?”

To explore these questions, the research team studied 25 sites and has generated a rich set of findings that we hope will be useful for the field of collective impact practitioners, community members, funders, researchers, and evaluators.

Many of the study sites achieving population-level change have been around for more than a decade, and none for fewer than three years. There are specific steps initiatives can take up front to increase their likelihood of success over the long-term including:
• Recognizing it is worth the time upfront to clearly define the problem and target population.
• Not rushing to get the five conditions in place, but rather first investing thoughtfully in the two that are most foundational: backbone role and creating a common agenda.

The research team looked at how the collective impact approach contributed to each initiative’s ability to achieve systems changes to population changes, including:

  • What population level, systems change, and early outcomes were found across  the participating initiatives,
  • How implementation of the collective impact approach contributed to outcomes, and
  • How embedding an equity approach contributed to equity results within their work.

A key finding of the report is that “the role of the collective impact initiatives in contributing to population change alongside other efforts or enablers is a critical and valuable aspect of social change.”

For all 8 site visit sites, collective impact undoubtedly contributed to the desired population change.

Overall, 20 of the 25 sites showed evidence of population change.
Population change generally stemmed from changes in services, practices, and policies.
Barriers to population change include, establishing a Common Agenda, measuring impacts, and other internal/external challenges such as staffing, leadership, competing initiatives, and political constraints.