Partners in a collective community impact effort continue to do what they do best, while being committed to the mutually-reinforcing vision for collaborative community change.
“Participant activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action. Local individuals or organizations begin to work together differently than before and therefore find and adopt new solutions.”1
From the beginning, partners strive to understand each other’s activities and to strengthen their own activities while directing them to support each other and the common agenda. From the development of a common agenda, participants are able to be collectively intentional and must combine this with emergence “that unfolds through collective seeing, learning, and doing.”1
The results of partners’ and others’ actions “brings about learning and creating new strategies over time.” This is a “process of continual improvement;” we must “consistently reevaluate and improve.”2 “This requires near constant contact.”1
Finding “a balance between being flexible and taking advantage of emergence with being disciplined enough to stay focused on your goal”2 is a key to success.
Partners must “let go of the pretense of certainty.”2 Focusing on the common agenda we must be aware of opportunities for processes or approaches to advance our process.
In the short-term, “partners [should] increasingly communicate and coordinate their activities toward common goals.” In the long-term the goal is for “Partners [to] collaboratively develop new approaches to advance the initiative.”3
Participants are not necessarily trying to do the same thing, but they figure out how they complement each other over time.4
“Stakeholders bring their own strengths to the table, they are very aware of other’s strengths, and are proactively building on one another’s work.” Mutually Reinforcing Activities involves “differentiated approaches,” a “willingness to adapt individual activities,” and “coordination through a joint plan of action.”5
Cascading levels of collaboration1
The organization of the collaborative lends itself to improve continuous communication thus boosting mutually reinforcing activities.
“Cascading levels of collaboration creates a high degree of transparency among all organizations and levels involved in the work.”1
In this system, “information flows both from the top down and from the bottom up. Vision and oversight are centralized through a steering committee, but also decentralized through multiple working groups that focus on different levers for change.”1
“Participants must gather regularly to share results, learn from each other, and refine their individual and collective work based on their learning. Although each working group meets separately, they communicate and coordinate with each other in cascading levels of linked collaboration.
“Effective coordination by the backbone can create aligned and coordinated action among hundreds of organizations that simultaneously tackle many different dimensions of a complex issue.
“The real work of the collective impact initiative takes place in these targeted groups through a continuous process of “planning and doing,” grounded in constant evidence-based feedback about what is or is not working.
“The working groups typically develop their own plans for action organized around “moving the needle” on specific shared measures. Once plans are developed, the working groups are then responsible for coming together on a regular basis to share data and stories about progress being made, and for communicating their activities more broadly with other organizations and individuals affected by the issue so that the circle of alignment can grow. This confers an additional benefit of collective impact: as the common agenda’s center of gravity becomes more apparent to all those working on the issue, even people and organizations who have not been directly engaged as a formal part of the initiative start doing things in ways more aligned to the effort.”6
“The Backbone’s role is to understand what activities are going on and to assist in aligning them.”3
As the Collective Impact grows roots, “participants learn [to] react consistently with the common agenda to emerging problems and opportunities.”1 As partners learn each other’s strengths they will more successfully reinforce each other’s activities.
Benefits of Mutually Reinforcing Activities
“Learning happens nearly simultaneously among all relevant stakeholders and, as a result, many organizations develop and respond to new knowledge at the same time.
This has two important consequences: new solutions are discovered that bridge the needs of multiple organizations or are only feasible when organizations work together, and all participating organizations adopt the new solution at the same time.”1
“The rules for interaction… ensured that all participants were able to see each other’s needs and act together, simultaneously agreeing on a pair of emergent solutions that serves the community far better than existing approaches implemented by any one organization or individual.”1
As participants convene and share measurements and strategies, new learnings and processes will emerge allowing the collective impact to better address the common problem.
As organizations come together, they can more easily join forces and develop complementary strategies to achieve outcomes.