Continuous Communication

A Collective Impact must have an organized, consistent way to communicate what has been learned, what needs to be learned, and what needs to be changed. Data, being at the center of communication, must be continuously shared to result in continual improvement.

Partners should work together on and offline, form personal relationships, ensure adherence to the common agenda, and act for the common good.2 Partners will join at different phases of the process and each has a distinctive set of skills which add value to the collective. As these partners join, strong communication will be what pushes the collective toward emergent solutions.

Emerge” is a term crucial to Collective Impact as it represents the new way of learning. It’s inevitable that original intentions will alter as reality changes and causes strategies to shift. As communication flows without restraint, new strategies and learnings emerge that will carve the path for the initiative to have the largest influence.3

Failing forward” is another term commonly promoted as it glorifies making, reporting on, and learning from our mistakes.4

We need to utilize all resources, individuals, and organizations including the community, boards of directors, funders, social media, etc. to have valuable and consistent communication.5

How is information communicated?

Think of continuous communication as a river of data and information that flows in a circle. It never stops flowing and as a result of this rapid feedback of new analysis and insights multiple organizations can respond to new knowledge at the same time. This can happen through both formal and informal streams of communication.5

As transparency increases, information flows freely between the steering committee and the working groups. The progress reported will help guide regularly held meetings.

Cascading Levels of Linked Collaboration10

– complete transparency in all activities (see also Mutually Reinforcing Activities)

  • Oversight Group or Steering Committee
    • This core group consists of innovative thinkers and leaders from cross-sector organizations and beneficiaries. This committee holds regular working meetings to create the common agenda and set the strategic action framework, thereafter it oversees the progress of the initiative.10
  • Working Groups or Subcommittees
    • Depending on the scale of work the Collective has decided to undertake, smaller working groups may be formed. Working groups meet separately, yet coordinate with each other.
      • Work Groups are responsible for coming together often to share data and evidence-based feedback about what is or is not working on a regular basis.
      • They then share their learnings with the community – other organizations and individuals – so the circle of alignment grows.10
  • Backbone
    • The Backbone of a Collective Impact coordinates and manages the communication within the steering committee and between the working groups. The backbone synthesizes results from the work groups and presents it to the steering committee. This takes time and resources to coordinate. Success cannot occur without a supporting infrastructure centralizing the data and information.10 “Every collaborative needs a day-to-day person to maintain momentum, guide participants to the right questions and facilitate the group towards agreement and action.”11

The Backbone and Steering Committee are responsible to communicate a common, consistent message across internal partners and to keep the public informed of progress.12

This chart (or graphic) was republished from Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity, January 21, 2013, with permission from Stanford Social Innovation Review (

This graphic was republished from Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity, January 21, 2013, with permission from Stanford Social Innovation Review (

Essential Elements of Continuous Communication

  • Build trust1
  • Assure mutual objectives4
  • Appreciate common motivation4
  • Learn on a deeper level what activities each is doing and how to mutually reinforce each other6
  • Recognize and appreciate the value each brings
  • Build relationships and experience with each other13
  • Create a culture of learning13
  • Establish a common purpose11
  • Use data to learn and improve work going forward6
  • Create innovative ways to address the problem6
  • Build hope13
  • Ensure all have an equally powerful voice11
  • Align work rather than duplicate.6
  • Identify and develop leadership13
  • Place partners and the collaborative out front for publicity and credit1
  • Support the collective good1


Trust is Vital

Trust is essential and all partners must see themselves as “equal, interconnected partners” rather than as “hubs at the center” of their work.7

Partners must suppress individual agendas in support of the collective good and develop deep relationships among each other.1 Because of the consistent and open communication between these different nodes in a Collective Impact, these organizations are better positioned to develop coordinated, successful, and realistic solutions to the social issue than had they tried on their own.7

As the initiative grows and partners communicate more freely, they will “see that their own interests will be treated fairly, and that decisions [are made objectively to solve problems the best way possible without favoring certain organizations.]”8


Honest Communication

Communication must be honest. It is important that the challenges and obstacles as well as successes and hope are communicated to the initiative. Difficult issues should be discussed and addressed as they surface.5

It is difficult to address the same topic over and over again, yet this “process of continual improvement requires constant reevaluation and evolving.”3

As the initiative learns “how” things happen and not just “what” they are better positioned to influence leaders and the community.9


Frequency of Meetings

The frequency of meetings and reports varies from weekly to monthly depending on the phase and group gathering. Meetings are most successful when the stakeholders are from various, relevant backgrounds and use rigorous and disciplined problem solving while keeping it flexible and organic.9

Most collective impact initiatives hold monthly or bi-weekly in-person meetings.8


 helpful resources

1 Needle-Moving Collective Impact Guide: Capacity and Structure, Bridgespan

2 Needle-Moving Collective Impact Guide: Community Collaborative Life Stages, Bridgespan 

3 Collective Impact: Embracing Emergence Webinar

4 Champions for Change: Leading a Backbone Organization for Collective Impact, FSG

5 Conference Handout: Putting Collective Impact into Practice: First Steps 

6 Champions for Change Pre-Workshop Webinar

7 The Networked Nonprofit, Stanford Social Innovation Review 

8 Collective Impact, Stanford Social Innovation Review 

9 Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity, Stanford Social Innovation Review

10 Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work, Stanford Social Innovation Review

11 Community Collaboratives Whitepaper, The White House Council for Community Solutions

12 Strive Together Theory of Action: Creating Cradle to Career Proof Points 

13 The Nuts and Bolts of Collective Impact and the Backbone Organization, FSG

Research has been gleaned from a number of resources, included here is a list of referenced resources on this page.