by Jasper Joyce, Consultant at Aleron

Last week we attended an inspiring workshop of youth leaders discussing and debating ‘collective impact’. Collective Impact is a concept and approach that is increasingly capturing the imagination of the social sector, funding community and governments alike. In a sentence, collective impact is the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social issue.


Five preconditions for success

The Centre for Youth Impact and UK Youth, along with a range of youth charities and charity advisers, are embarking on this ambitious and exciting project and, like most ambitious strategies for advancing social impact, there are likely to be several preconditions for success. As defined by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, five main conditions must be met if Collective Impact is to achieve meaningful social change:

  1. A common agenda: all participants must have a shared vision for change
  2. Shared measurement: Participants must be aligned on data collection and must measure results consistently
  3. Mutually reinforcing activities: Participant activities must be differentiated but complementary
  4. Continuous competition: Frequent communication and efforts to share learning
  5. Backbone support: a centralised infrastructure with dedicated staff

At its core, collective impact is about recognising that urgent social challenges cannot always be tackled by isolated efforts. In this vein, trust between partners is fundamental for success. Our experience of working with large and small charities and social enterprises in the youth sector is that trust and collaborative working is much talked about but hard to achieve in practice. Aligning incentives is a constant challenge, between charities, between charities and their funders, and between all organisations and the young people they seek to benefit.


Providing an opportunity in the youth sector

The workshop provided an opportunity to interrogate the preconditions for successful collective impact in the youth sector, and to define the right criteria for choosing a priority issue. Though collective impact remains, in some respects, a nascent field, the successes of the Camden Zone, West London Zone and others, demonstrate that this collaborative approach has significant potential. Further work and evidence gathering is certainly required to refine the concept and test the model, but it’s important to start somewhere. Charities urged that attention must be paid to impact measurement and developing approaches that inspire confidence that collective impact approaches really do ‘move the needle’.
The promise of collective impact is in one sense hard to resist. It is not about reinventing systems or redesigning services, but an investment in gathering behind a common framework backed by robust research and best practice approaches. Furthermore, it targets increased impact without necessarily seeking to attract more resources; it makes more of what we already have available.
It was an informative and impassioned event that will surely inspire more youth sector organisations and stakeholders to consider what can be achieved over the next few years.