Sustaining Collective Impact

BB_MapIn the summer of 2016, the Collective Impact Forum published seven interviews with experienced backbone leaders from the US.

David Phillips then summarized the key takeaways from these seven interviews for us in this post. Here’s the short version of his summary:

Keys to sustaining a CI initiative:

  • Evolve scope
  • Diversify funding sources
  • Build capacity of others
  • Know how to speak the language of different types of funders
  • Share credit
  • Build trust
  • Engage the community in authentic ways to foster community ownership
  • Focus on the benefits of partnerships
  • Produce convenings that people want to attend

Character traits and skills we observed about our interviewees (all experienced backbone leaders):

  • Celebrate successes while embodying urgency to do more
  • Have exceptional instinct for managing interpersonal dynamics
  • Are open about their personal and organizational shortcomings

Ideas worth considering:

  • Given the size of their key roles, compensate working group chairs for their time
  • Compensate community members for their participation, but in a thoughtful way.
  • Create an Equity & Inclusion Workgroup to help the whole initiative embed equity in its work
  • Support programs and system-level reforms
  • Reinforce a collaborative culture through communication protocols and high-quality deliverables

Additional thought-provoking comments from our interviewees:

  • To reinforce a collaborative culture, don’t have every organization on the Steering Committee
  • We live in a unique moment where the time is ripe to push for equity. If we don’t push, the moment may be lost
  • To build relationships, you have to sincerely care about people
  • Backbones are not “neutral facilitators,” but “transparent facilitators”
  • Acting together can create just as much (or more) alignment than planning together

Using Data (for measurement and intervention)

Shared Measurement is at the heart of Collective Impact.

According to Jeff Raderstrong in his recent blog post at Living Cities, “Without continuously tracking and managing progress with data, it is highly unlikely that a collective impact initiative, or any large-scale change initiative, can achieve its goals.”

Measurement only one of the reasons we are developing an Index of Connectedness through the Child & Youth Health Network. We also intend to use data as a core element of our intervention strategy.

In an earlier post, Jeff outlined five steps to using data in Collective Impact:

Step 1: Agree on the Data

This is what we are currently doing as we build the Index of Connectedness with a panel of experts in the area of measurement from around British Columbia.

Step 2: Find the Data

The Index will use existing data sources, such as the EDI and the Adolescent Health Survey, but we know that there may be data gaps that we will also need to fill in order to create a truly useful index.

Step 3: Present the Data

We are currently working with data science students to create data visualization for the index so that it will be easy for everyone (not just data geeks!) to interpret. Data visualization will also aid comparison between communities and over time.

Step 4: Discuss the Data

Once the index is complete (we are planning to launch the Index in 2017, it will provide information that we hope will provoke discussion at multiple system levels throughout our region.

Step 5: Change Behavior and Share Responsibility

The Index of Connectedness will be at the core of our shared measurement system, but it is also intended to function as an intervention for change. Through the index we hope to:

  1. Mobilize knowledge, to help everyone in our communities understand that increased connectedness for children and youth improves their health, as well as their academic performance, future productivity, and future parenting capacity.  Increased connectedness for children and youth results in improved overall community health in the long-term.
  2. Support all community members in seeing that they have a role, and helping them to  take steps to increase connectedness for children and youth in their families, schools and communities.

Second Generation Collective Impact

A new article Second Generation Collective Impact from the Stanford Social Innovation Review investigates what separates initiatives that lose momentum from those that are successful in the long term.

Saphira M. Baker & Kelly King Horne identify four elements that are essential to get & keep traction for collective impact:

  1. Results: Align and Deliver;
  2. People: Develop and Share Leadership;
  3. Focus: Keep the Mission Manageable; &
  4. Information: Keep Data Alive.

Read more here.

Our Evaluation Plan

How do you evaluate something that’s evolving?

We wanted an evaluation plan that would grow with the Child & Youth Health Network would enable us to adapt as we learned.

We also needed a plan that would utilize our strengths: enthusiasm and abundant resources in the form of in-kind donations of time and expertise.

And that didn’t rely heavily on the resources we don’t yet have much of: $!

Through reviewing all the literature we could find about evaluating Collective Impact and attending Tamarack’s Evaluating Community Impact workshop in Winnipeg in 2014, here’s the plan we came up with:

And here’s a short presentation on the plan, presented to Tamarack’s Collective Impact Community of Practice earlier this month:

Fast-tracking Trust

We know that “change happens at the speed of trust” (~Stephen M. R. Covey).
But David Sawyer & David Ehrlichman suggest that it can be fast-tracked. In a recent article called the

The Tactics of Trust in the Standford Social Innovation Review, they suggest a number of strategies for accelerating trust building, including using network briefings at cross-sector meetings:

Network Briefings

“In this exercise, each leader delivers a three-minute presentation, followed by a two-minute question-and-answer session. Leaders should discuss the main issue that concerns them, efforts that are under way to deal with the issue, and the obstacles to success that they face. To keep participants’ energy levels high, organizers should schedule sets of four to six presentations at various points during the day. By the end of these briefings, participants will understand the range of issues that affect a system, why those issues matter, and where the network might be able to intervene constructively.”

Collective Impact for Opportunity Youth

‘Opportunity Youth’ are 16-to-24-year-olds who are not engaged in school or work, and face barriers to education and employment.

The Child & Youth health network has 5 youth partners aged 15-17 who are active partners, who are disengaged from the education system and have 1st-hand experiences with the challenges of finding the supports they need. These youth are meeting regularly to develop an idea for delivering youth services in the capital region.

Their idea is receiving favorable attention from local practitioners and funders~.

Interestingly, their idea also aligns with the guidelines set out by FSG in their paper Collective Impact for Opportunity Youth, as demonstrated by the following diagrams:



Silos create blind spots (& more silos)

Bronfenbrenners ecological modelIn response to the post Ecological Determinants of Health, a partner of the Child & Youth Health Network who works in local Government responded:

“I would have to say that we absolutely should be looking at ecological determinants of health. If our aim is to improve the health and well-being of children and youth in the region, we would be making a tremendous mistake by not considering this domain. My definition of the environmental domain of health includes all environments in which we live, learn, work, play and care for each other. This includes both natural and built environments. Without the environment we have nothing, so it should be paramount in our thinking. I assumed that was why we had an environmental domain in the wellness wheel already….Was that not the intention?”

And, an answer:

“Absolutely, yes. Environment as in: home environment; built environment; access to nature; and… ecological environment.

But here’s where we get into the blind-spots that silos create: for people whose focus has been social systems (including education, child protection, youth justice, all of us in family/youth serving community-based organizations, etc.), the ‘environment’ has only extended to social systems (& by extension, direct environments, such as housing & schools).

Weird, right? Major blind spot~!”

Bronfenbrenners ecological model 2(This post includes 2 versions of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model, as an illustration.)

“…For many of us, it’s radical to consider ‘ecological ecology’ when we are attempting to create social change, because up until now we’ve primarily been concerned with ‘social ecologies’, and there has been a conceptual divide between those who focus on social justice & those who work on on ecological justice.”

What is obvious to some, is paradigm altering for others~.

That’s why we need Collective Impact, to cross-pollinate between sectors ( & silos) so we can make these connections.





Preventing Snapback

Brenda Zimmerman was a thought leader who had a gift for applying complexity theory to living systems for social change. She died in unexpectedly in December 2014.

Just 2 months earlier, she shared her newest idea – the concept of “snap back” – at the 2014 Collective Impact Summit.

Paul Born, of Tamarack Institute for Community Change, has summarized the key ideas from Brenda’s presentation Preventing Snap Back: The Challenge of Resilient Systems:

  • Resilience 101 – Communities and organizations, like all living systems, experience ecological resilience: adaptation and deep change through creative destruction which allows the system to continually learn.
  • Change in Complex Living Systems – The behaviour of the system can be largely explained by understanding “attractors.” Relationships and coordination among parts of the system can be more important than the parts themselves.
  • Simple Rules – Living systems are self-organizing and influenced by simple rules that provide coherence while allowing for constant adaptation and innovations.
  • Snap Back Defined – The tendency for innovative solutions to lose momentum or fail to take root when faced with pressure from the dominant system to return to the status quo.
  • Preventing Snap Back: How to Make Innovations More Durable – The following four principles are outlined as important for minimizing the threat of snap back when implementing an innovative initiative:
    1. Relationships are Key – Choose an “Audience of Significance” that can provide honest feedback and validation for your thinking.
    2. Pay Attention to Engagement – Ensure resources are available for listening and engaging on an on-going basis. Protect space in your calendar and reward others that take the time to do this. Listening, engaging, and pattern recognition must be supported forever – not just at the beginning.
    3. Be Strategic Thinkers, not merely Strategic Planners – Reinforce strategic processes that recognize the iterative nature of profound strategic thinking, and always look for the small differences that could create a tipping point.
    4. Don’t Confuse Quick Wins with Quick Fixes – Success is not a destination in complexity. Make resources available for safe-fail experiments and value context expertise as much as content expertise.

Indicators: A shortlisting exercise

VisionAt the meeting of the Shared Measurement constellation on Tuesday January 13th at CRD Headquarters, we started the process of shortlisting indicators for use in the Shared Measurement system for the Child & Youth Health Network.

We recognize that selection of indicators will be an iterative process. It will be informed by the work of the Framework/Common Agenda constellation and will be refined by the collective.

It will take some time to get it right.

This is just a first step, but the more perspectives we can bring to this process, the better.

To participate in this initial exercise:

  1. Look at the Summary of Indicator recommendations from the Child and Youth Health and Well-being Indicators report (print pages 30-33).
  2. Choose 15 of the 51 indicators on this list. Focus your selections on the shared measurement system of the Child & Youth Health Network, rather than your particular area of interest. (Keep in mind: what get’s measured, get’s done. We want our measurement system to reinforce the activities what will get us to our our collective goal).what gets measured
  3. E-mail your top 15 indicators #s to In the e-mail, describe the criteria you used for selecting those 15 indicators.
  4. Share this exercise with anyone/everyone with a stake in the health & well-bring of children, youth & families in the capital region.

“The moral imperative of human rights work means that results can be amorphous, long-term and potentially unattainable- the opposite of measureable.” ~Michael Quinn Patton (2015). Let’s try select meaningful indicators anyway!


Constellation guidelines for partners

The Constellation Model

The Child & Youth Health Network (C&YHN) uses the constellation model.

The following are our guidelines for C&YHN constellations:


  • Establish a champion & coordinator
  • Attend monthly meetings: commit to 6-12 months of membership
  • Engage in research and outreach between meetings as needed
  • Review materials and come to meetings prepared for engaged discussion & respectful dialogue
  • Welcome alternative worldviews. Allow conflict to deepen understanding & relationships
  • Involve youth in in a meaningful way

Shared Measurement & Mutually Reinforcing Activities

  • Review research on effective strategies & develop criteria to determine what is already working well
  • Align actions inside & outside of the constellation with the Common Agenda of the Child & Youth Health Network
  • Provide frequent progress updates to the collective & respond to communications from partners
  • Track shared indicators & share data through Continuous Communication systems


  • Champion the Child & Youth Health Network Collective Impact initiative in the community