CP TIG Week: Amy Hilgendorf on Evaluating the Community Impact of Collective Impact

Hi! My name is Amy Hilgendorf and I am the Associate Director for Engaged Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (the CommNS). We specialize in community-based action research and evaluation partnerships with grassroots and nonprofit groups and offer support to others who do this work.

In recent years, we have partnered with county-based and statewide coalitions that are seeking to address childhood obesity by applying a model of collective impact. John Kania and Mark Kramer first characterized collective impact as consisting of five key conditions that can help unite multi-sector collaborative efforts towards greater community impact than what isolated efforts can achieve. Those five conditions are: a common agenda, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, shared measurement systems, and backbone support. The coalitions we work with have found the collective impact model offers valuable guidance for the kinds of processes that will set them up for achieving impact, but questions remain about how to actually evaluate the impacts of collective impact.

Rad Resource:

The Collective Impact Forum is an online hub of information, resources, and peer networking related to collective impact. The searchable resources section includes a host of “Evaluation” resources. One tool is the Guide to Evaluating Collective Impact by Hallie Preskill, Marcie Parkhurst, and Jennifer Splansky Juster. While much of this guide focuses on evaluating the process of collective impact, the third part lists suggested behavior changes and systems changes that may result from collective impact initiatives and provides ideas of indicators and approaches for evaluating these changes.

Lessons Learned:

We have found it critical to remember that collective impact is not necessarily a new concept, but rather one that has emerged from a long tradition of collaborative and coalition practice and thinking. Literature on this topic stretch back more than 30 years, especially in the community psychology field, and includes theory and practical tools for assessing the process and impact of collaborative work.

In particular, the Community Coalition Action Theory developed by Fran Butterfoss and Michelle Kegler synthesizes much of this research to suggest how coalition practices can lead to different kinds of community impacts. These theorized impacts include community change outcomes, such as policy achievement and program expansions; community capacity outcomes, like new skill development and new partnerships; and, over time, the health and social outcomes that are the target of the coalition’s work. Additionally, we have found that Michelle Kegler and Deanne Swan’s efforts to empirically test the relationships in this theory offers especially useful guidance for “connecting the dots” between evaluation of coalition processes, including implementation of collective impact practices, and evaluation of community impacts.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Community Psychology (CP) TIG Week with our colleagues in the CP AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our CPTIG 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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