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Our Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I am thrilled to welcome back Mr. Ed Long from Cross Sector Innovations.   This is a must read.  Together, we can accomplish more. – Best Regards, Dave


How well are we working together to improve outcomes in Oklahoma? There is significant room for improvement. Greater investment in a collective impact approach would enhance efficiency and effectiveness, increase focus on outcomes and help us look beyond organizational boundaries.

In the Winter 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, John Kania and Mark Kramer coined the term “collective impact,” referring to “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem” (36). Of course this was not a new concept. We all know of networks in Oklahoma who for years have been coming together around a common goal and partnering for results. The authors acknowledge that while the concept may not be new, it provides a common framework to guide our conversations and a common vocabulary to improve understanding.

Also, a collective impact approach goes beyond gathering 20-30 of the usual stakeholders at a table. It often includes hundreds of participants from the business, government and nonprofit communities as well consumers all working on their piece of the larger puzzle and sharing in the accountability for results. This approach takes collaboration to an entirely new level.

While there are several collective impact initiatives in the state doing an outstanding job and poised to produce great results, we need to learn from them and expand this model across policy areas and geographic locations.

There are five components to this approach: 1) common agenda; 2) shared measurement systems; 3) mutually reinforcing activities; 4) continuous communication; and, 5) backbone support organizations. If our actions don’t go deep enough in one or more of these areas, we risk inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Our words become just that—lacking substance and real results. Process matters.

We often meet in groups and agree upon a shared goal, but we don’t always have everyone we need at the table. We are doing a better job across the state with consumer engagement, but at times they are being in engaged in ways that do not put them at the center of design, planning and evaluation. Better consumer engagement allows us to learn more about potential challenges, the consequences of choices and how the consumer defines success. A broader dialogue is helpful for developing a shared agenda and measuring results.

As a state, we are making good progress in the area of data sharing; but, we must continue to focus on measuring the same things in the same way, and using this data to inform decision- making across organizations and across sectors.

The use of a backbone organization dedicated solely to coordinating work on the shared agenda is also important for success. We’ve all been in collaborative discussions where ideas are generated and momentum begins to grow to then go back to our organizations and be pulled in multiple, sometimes competing directions. Backbone organizations can be very small and focused and add tremendous value.

The collective impact approach doesn’t leave anyone out; rather, it helps organizations hone in on what they do best, and identifies where other participants may have more to offer. We’ve seen these initiatives achieve positive results with complex challenges where others struggle. We’ve seen at least one foundation in another state discourage a go-it- alone approach by requiring organizations to join the collective effort in order to receive funding.

Kania and Kramer agree that this approach is not the solution for every challenge. However, there are a multitude of opportunities in the state for working together to save dollars and improve outcomes. More is possible, and we must expect it. Our actions speak louder than our words.

Ed Long, Principal

Cross-Sector Innovations


Twitter: @C_S_Innovations

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