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Why Collective Impact?

The Foundation for a Healthy High Point supports a collaborative approach known as Collective Impact to transform conditions that impact health outcomes in our community.  Collective Impact brings people and organizations together in a structured way to achieve system improvement.

“We believe in Collective Impact because it is data-driven, focuses on stakeholder ownership, and is solution-oriented, with actionable items,” said Whitney Davis, program officer for the Foundation for a Healthy High Point. “It dovetails with our focus on system-building work, emphasizing an upstream approach to addressing critical health issues in the High Point community.”

But what does that mean? And why choose this approach? What makes it effective?

Let’s take a look at Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready), one of the Foundation’s Funded Partners using the Collective Impact approach, for an understanding of why Collective Impact works.

Collective Impact is centered around five key conditions, each of which supports the framework for Ready Ready’s efforts. One key condition is the presence of backbone support. Ready Ready was founded in 2018 as an early childhood backbone organization for Guilford County after years of community and stakeholder engagement to explore why the community wasn’t seeing an improvement in outcomes for families with young children. An essential realization was that there was no coordinating body working with key agency providers and stakeholders to lead and guide community conversations around the best ways to improve the number of children entering kindergarten developmentally prepared to learn. 

This is the critical role that Ready Ready plays, serving as a kind of orchestra conductor, or a quarterback, providing direction for those organizations who provide early childhood services. The goal of Ready Ready, as with any backbone organization, is to drive the community toward a targeted outcome – in this case, for families with young children.

This backbone support aspect of Collective Impact creates an environment where everyone is moving together under a common agenda, with the goal of collectively defining the issues and challenges, and developing a shared vision for stakeholder efforts. This embrace of a shared vision – rather than working in individual silos or at cross purposes – is a pivotal part of achieving system-level success.

In addition to this shared vision for improving community indicators and working together, shared measurement is another pillar of Collective Impact. “What’s cool and unique to Guilford County and this initiative is that our work is so grounded in data,” says Jaqueline McCracken, chief impact officer for Ready Ready. “We’ve received significant investment to build an integrated data system, which allows us to really look at trends of strengths and needs of families across the entire county, and to identify where we may have service gaps.”

This allows Ready Ready to gather stakeholders around that data. This shared, data-oriented starting point means that everyone is engaged in an evidence-based approach to solving clearly communicated challenges.

A common starting point allows Ready Ready’s partners to focus on mutually reinforcing activities. Ready Ready works with any organization in Guilford County that supports children under the age of 8.  They lift up and support those community partners who are doing certain aspects of early childhood work really well, help them lean into what they do best, and at the same time encourage them to let go of initiatives that don’t support the shared vision. This aligning of efforts across a range of diverse partners allows for the maximization of both human and financial resources in the community.

Continuous communication can be one of the most complicated aspects of Collective Impact work. There is a multitude of intricacies among and within organizations, and a need to communicate at different levels and in diverse ways. Ready Ready has built a connected system of community partners and is a vital part of so many different conversations in the early childhood space that they are  positioned to ensure that the right stakeholders are sharing the right information.

Ready Ready and the Foundation are partners in their commitment to the Collective Impact approach. Part of Collective Impact is the alignment of resources to achieve the desired outcomes, and Ready Ready and the Foundation work together to further this effort. “Collective Impact work does not happen overnight and does not have really short outcome windows,” says McCracken. “It’s important to have funders who are willing to walk alongside you for a longer time period in service of longer-term outcomes.”

So why Collective Impact? It requires focusing on the greater good.  Planned change is hard enough to achieve within one organization. Driving planned change across many organizations to accomplish systemic change is that much more of a challenge. Collective Impact provides the framework – through backbone support, a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, and constant communication – to facilitate the important work of addressing complex social challenges. The fact that Ready Ready is doing this work and doing it successfully is a testament to the benefit of utilizing this approach.

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