Chicagoland Evaluation Association Week: Scaling Collective Impact Initiatives by Tameeka Christian

Welcome to The Chicagoland Evaluation Association Week on AEA365! This week’s postings reflect the diversity of our Local Affiliate members and their work, using a lens of cultural responsiveness evaluation with various types of communities. We are excited to share some of our projects along with lessons learned, hot tips, and rad resources from our projects. 

Casey Solomon-Filer, Vice President, and Asma Ali, Past- President

Tameeka Christian

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

I am Tameeka Christian, a Community Psychologist, Social Justice Advocate, and Community Development Practitioner. Over the past 20+ years, I have always wondered how to coordinate cross-sector partnerships to address complex social challenges. My research on the collective impact model allowed me to explore this approach on a deeper scale. 

Collective impact is a collaborative model that became popular around 2011. There are five criteria (listed below) required for the collective impact model from the Community Tool Box website:

  1. Common Agenda
    • All participants share a vision for change that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving the problem through agreed-upon actions.
  2. Shared Measurement
    • All participating organizations agree on the ways success will be measured and reported, with a short list of common indicators identified and used for learning and improvement.
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities
    • A diverse set of stakeholders, typically across sectors, coordinate a set of differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
  4. Continuous Communication
    • All players engage in frequent and structured open communication to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation.
  5. Backbone Support
    • Funded staff dedicated to the initiative provides ongoing support by guiding the initiative’s vision and strategy, supporting aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practices.

Lessons Learned

Traditionally, the collective impact model leverages large systems and public partners working to resolve a specific social issue (i.e., homelessness, improving birth outcomes). However, while doing my research, I discovered small grassroots community organizations using this model across several Chicago neighborhoods. I explored how these smaller organizations carried out this model and the core capacities that enabled them to do so. While my research produced multiple findings, I will highlight three findings that I believe are relevant when evaluating collective impact initiatives.

  1. Backbone Support with dedicated staff is one of the basic tenements of the collective impact model. The organizations surveyed identified sustaining staff to oversee the work was challenging. Due to the nature of grassroots organizations, the assigned team member would often have to fill in other areas of the work and leadership was stretched thin, often hindering decisions to be made in a timely manner, which deterred partners from engaging deeply in this work.  
  1. Funding was allocated to the backbone organizations; however, it was limited and many organizations contributing to the efforts needed funding support as well. There was an internal tension within the backbone organization to fundraise for the collective impact initiative and the organization’s programming. 
  1. Systems change is the focus of all collective impact work. When the model is implemented within local communities, there should be a healthy balance between addressing the immediate social needs of the community and focusing on systems change. It was tough for community-based organizations to hold fidelity to the model while responding to the community’s needs. 

While it is understood that the collective impact model was designed for larger organizations and government agencies, many local communities are determining how to best implement this model to address specific issues through a placed-based lens. Therefore, I would advise that as this model continues to develop, evaluators not only look through the lens of size and scale but also incorporate an organization’s setting and capacity. 

Rad Resources 

The following is a list of resources to check out if you are interested in learning more about the collective impact model, its implementation, and how to evaluate the model.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Chicagoland Evaluation Association (CEA) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from CEA members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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