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The New Old Way to Collaborate

Posted by Bernadette Merikle

the-new-old-way-to-collaborate.jpgTowards the end of March, I journeyed to Stanford for a full-day conference on Collective Impact. As the Manager of Community Engagement and lead for Equity in the Highline Public Schools just south of Seattle, I work with non-profits, faith-based orgs, businesses and grassroots folks who want to do the right thing for amazing kids struggling in our system. It is my job to shine an intense, if not uncomfortable light on how we are leaving poor, brown, special needs, multilingual kids in the dust.

Every day, I field calls and sit in meetings with an assortment of wonderful people who want to save these kids.  Every day I go home wondering why we are still waiting on superheroes to save whole communities instead of empowering them to save themselves.

This is why I was surprised when reviewing the conditions for collective success (more here):

1.    Common agenda
2.    Shared measurement
3.    Mutually reinforcing activities
4.    Continuous communication
5.    Backbone organization

“Community” doesn’t make the cut.  Be it community initiated, community buy in – however you want to phrase it.  These criteria imply that people who are not of the community will succeed in saving the community.  I question the sustainability of this approach.

Community engagement is at the core of collective impact, but what if it was an explicit condition for sustainable success?  Maybe we’d view social change as strength building rather than as deficit reduction and truly value the expertise those whose lives are impacted.

Collaboration vs. Collective Impact

Members of the communities I work for have asked me to explain the difference between collaboration and collective impact.  From a resource perspective I see the difference as this:

Collaboration = Do more with less. What weaknesses can someone else shore up for us?
Collective Impact = Do more with more. What unique strengths do we bring to the table?

AustinMcNamee.jpgAustin McNamee, another Partner who attended the conference, captured it in a slightly different way:

Collaboration is not enough.  Organizations that collaborate well may meet often and discuss common goals and challenges, but collective impact requires a results-oriented objective through systems change.

Nobody wins unless everybody wins.  Collective impact is sustained by balancing individual organizations’ self-interest with shared interests.  Collectives that build a solid foundation of trust and mutual benefit from their shared efforts are more likely to maintain commitment to the group and reinforce activities that meet the group’s objectives.

So What Do You Think?

Is Collective Impact the new old way of collaborating or are there significant differences between the two?

Should everyday community members be setting the Impact agenda or is it okay for that responsibility to fall on recognized leaders and interested others who see a need, but are not of the community?

Bernadette.jpgPlease share your thoughts below or email me to chat about what collective impact looks like in my District as we pursue a Promise Neighborhood initiative and engage with the Community Center for Education Results.  You can also join me and the whole SVP community as we tackle collective impact at our Spring Meeting!

For more details from the Collective Impact Conference itself, check out SVP Partner, Janet Levinger’s notes.

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