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Five Strategies to Include Community in Collective Impact

As of late, our field and NCDD specifically has been looking more closely at “collective impact” models of creating change in our communities, and we saw an article from Rich Harwood, an NCDD organizational member and president of the Harwood Institute, on that theme recently that was worth sharing.

Rich’s article looked at the way that, though collective impact strategies are becoming more popular, the involvement of local communities is often left out of our thinking on how we create collective impact: “My chief concern here is that we sometimes leave robust notions of community out of collective impact discussions and implementation efforts. At times, the very nature of community seems like an afterthought, even a nuisance.” 

He says that rather than imposing collective impact strategies on communities, we have to ensure that the community and its civic culture are part of the calculations for how to succeed. What is civic culture? Rich says,  

Civic culture is how a community works—how trust forms, why and how people engage with one another, what creates the right enabling environment for change to take root and accelerate. It directly contributes to the degree of readiness and appetite for change among leaders, groups, and everyday people.

Each community has its own civic culture, and to make progress, it’s important that everyone understands and develops it.

As part of making sure that civic culture is factored into the ways we approach change, Rich describes what he says are five characteristics of a community’s civic culture that effective collective impact efforts have to address.

The first characteristic is community ownership:

…the success of collective impact depends on genuine ownership by the larger community, and that starts with placing value on both expert knowledge and public knowledge, which can come only from authentically engaging the community.

The starting point is to determine shared aspirations for a community and to know the challenges people face in moving toward those aspirations.

The second is selecting strategies that “fit” the community:

…organizationally aligned strategies will produce measurable progress when teams base them on data, evidence-based decision-making, best practices, and other inputs. But it is important to not confuse a commitment to rigorous analysis with developing strategies that actually fit a local context.

Collective impact efforts should actively use public knowledge to drive the definition of a common agenda and to understand what strategies are relevant to the community.

Third, it’s important that collective impact strategies create a sustainable enabling environment:

…it is critical to create the right enabling environment in a community. This means focusing on the underlying conditions in a community that allow change to occur—and for the community itself to change how it works together.

…These include different layers of leadership in a community, norms for interaction, the presence of multiple groups that span boundaries and bring people together, conscious community conversation, and networks for learning and innovation.

The fourth characteristic is a focus on impact and belief:

…the intense focus on impact alone is not enough to create that desired goal. Another necessary ingredient is belief… Belief, after all, is that intangible factor that prompts and prods people to step forward and engage… Belief arises when people feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. How we structure collective impact efforts can either enlarge or diminish people’s belief.

And finally, Rich writes that collective impact efforts that genuinely involves community have a story:

…traditional aspects of communications strategies are not adequate for addressing the challenge that narratives play in a community. This is the story the community tells about itself. And it is this story that helps shape people’s mindsets, attitudes, behaviors, and actions.

We took a lot from Rich’s insights and think that as we strive to innovate and change the way we engage with our communities for the better, keeping these five dynamics in mind will help us to do that better.

The full version of Rich’s article was published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review and we encourage you to read the full article, which you can find at www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/putting_community_in_collective_impact.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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