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Collective Impact or Community Action...?

Posted by Thomas Edwards on January 16, 2019 9:50 AM EST
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Thanks to the research conducted over the last dozen years or so by Stanford University's social economics group and their publishing of findings of "collective impact" projects in their Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) periodicals.....

...there is increasing knowledge of the concept of "collective impact".  And their reporting has added clarity to the key success elements to the concept that can be applied to community-wide social economic projects of all types and sizes.

And "hats off" to Joe for raising the idea in his last blog post that attacking the substance abuse issue and the opioid crisis with a collective impact model is an important and practical idea.  His notion that perhaps a community-wide project that would be kicked off with a summit or information sharing and connection event (SUD Summit) as an additional element to the research on the collective impact concept is both novel and relevant.

As I read through his blog post, it occurred to me that perhaps calling the concept a "community action" project may be a good way to not have it lost in the bigger ideas of "collective impact". By this I mean to suggest that using the "collective impact" model and enhancing its name slightly to include other elements of how the model can be applied for a specific social economic issue which may be nationwide but dealt with on a regional basis may help it stand apart from academia and have a clear bias to action.  In other words, such a project name suggests it is based on an evidence-based approach-"collective impact".  But it also acknowledges that there may be differences in terms of how that model could be executed in a given region.

Clearly, any such project must have as its ultimate goal to achieve measurable improvements in the issue being targeted.  So, the word "impact" is a powerful way to convey that focus.  And the descriptor of the word "collective" identifies the need for disparate groups to collaborate for the greater good of a particular project or set of projects.  

I propose we consider a term such as "community Action" project as a way to leverage the concept of collective impact with a bias for taking action.  Perhaps the actions taken will be small at first, but measurable and meaningful in terms of the community's learning and sense of progress.  My notion here is that by boiling the focus to actions that can be taken to achieve the long term objective of sustained collective impact, makes it easier to get started versus spending much time and energy discussing the perfect solution and not taking action at all.

We know from our reading and writing around the concepts of innovation that getting started with a "good enough" initial effort enables bold change to happen in a positive, measurable, expandable and sustainable way.  Thus, while the proven model of "collective impact" gives us a foundation to build on, the "community action" focus or naming convention gives us a shorter term way to begin to take steps forward without over-thinking (and over shooting) the goal of community-wide improvements on social economic issues whose resolutions matter greatly.

In essence, the idea is to apply the principles of disruptive innovation to the concept of collective impact and applying it right at the issue of community-wide improvements and reduction in substance use disorder (SUD) by focusing on SUD recovery and the key actions that can be implemented at scale in local regions and communities.

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