Collective Impact

OSU Extension’s prime concern is for people, improving their daily lives, and creating vibrant communities in which they live. In spite of our good intentions, our work sometimes resembles attending meetings repeatedly without real purpose, unclear plans of action, and limited ways to measure results consistently. In 2019 I introduced Collective Impact, widely adopted as an effective form of cross-sector collaboration to address complex social problems, to Marion County.  OSU Extension-FCS was selected among many organizations to be the backbone organization to the initiative because of our position as a neutral convener, a subject matter expert on several issue areas, our ability to marshal sufficient financial resources, and our experience in group facilitation, data analysis, and community advocacy. FCS guided the overall vision and strategy, co-created a shared measurement system, built public will for the framework, mobilized funding from the university, and facilitated community engagement to ensure the initiative reflected the diversity of the community. United Way played an equally important role. As a funder, they used their convening power to attract cross-sector stakeholders to the framework, aligned grantee funding to a collaborative model, and financially supported trainings to increase community knowledge of Collective Impact principles. Meanwhile, OSU’s Center of Public Health Practice conducted assessments to evaluate current collaborative relationships and organizations’ readiness and response to Collective Impact concepts such as a common agenda, leadership support, mutually reinforcing activities, communication, shared measurement systems, equity, and policy and systems change.

In response to their evaluation, the project team developed goals that would be met by August 31 2019: (1) Develop a shared measurement system for Collective Impact; (2) Align the United Way grant application to the Results Based Accountability (RBA) framework; (3) Pilot the Collective Impact framework on a priority identified by the survey; and (4) Host a statewide event to reinforce the principles of Collective Impact.

Develop a shared measurement system for Collective Impact

A key condition for Collective Impact is the use of a shared measurement system for multiple organizations to evaluate performance and track progress toward goals. Before 2019, many nonprofit organizations were not tracking their outcomes let alone using a common set of measures with other organization working on the same issues. This started to change when FCS offered to cover the purchase of Clear Impact software using funds from the university’s Connect and Collaborate Grants program. Beginning in January 2019, United Way used Clear Impact scorecards to help effectively manage and aggregate performance measures across all of their funded programs. Using the scorecard supported greater alignment among the goals of different organizations, more collaborative problem solving, and the formation of an ongoing learning community that increased the effectiveness of all participants. In some cases, simply the process of defining shared measures has led to significant changes in the way that organizations do their work.

Align the United Way grant application to the Results Based Accountability

The Results-Based Accountability™ (RBA) framework is used by community, state, national and foreign organizations working towards Collective Impact.  The RBA framework, the theory in which the Clear Impact software is based, has fostered a data-driven, decision making progress to help organizations work toward a common agenda or “end result”. Integrating this framework with the United Way application has helped partners systematically implement Collective Impact principles and understand how RBA’s disciplined Turn the Curve process can support community-wide strategies. During the most recent funding cycle, United Way required applicants use the scorecard template to receive funding and the advisory committee used Clear Impact to score applicants for potential investments. This requirement is intentional, not just to help partners report on funding outcomes, but if the application matches the RBA Framework and Clear Impact, then funded partners will start to use a simple, common language during local community partnership meetings with greater transparency, trust, action, and alignment.

Pilot the Collective Impact framework on a priority identified by the survey

As development of a shared measurement system was been underway, FCS has convened government agencies, elected officials, nonprofits, businesses, and ordinary residents to develop a common agenda around affordable housing, an issue identified from CPHP’s survey. Like many Ohio’s cities, Marion is facing challenges of sustained population and job loss and subsequent abandonment and tax-delinquent properties. A report by the Marion County Auditor’s Office estimated over 7 million dollars in tax delinquencies from over 2,000 parcels. In response, FCS identified and brought together key stakeholders in Marion and initiated the Collective Impact framework to define housing problems and deploy effective policies and programs to address its community impacts.

Host a statewide event to reinforce the principles of Collective Impact. 

To showcase the success of the project statewide and beyond, FCS and United Way organized a statewide Impact Assembly. The first annual event featured national subject matter experts including the eXtension Foundation, the Collective Impact Forum, and Clear Impact.  With theirs and OSU Extension’s expertise, over 100 people from 24 counties were provided technical assistance to the five principles of Collective Impact as well as results-based accountability, equity and diversity in coalitions, and the role land grant universities can have in Collective Impact. An evaluation tool was developed by the University of Michigan who confidentially reported a summary of feedback and scores ranging from 1-5. Participants ranked clarity of info a 4.5, improved understanding of collective impact, 4.3, identified Actions to take: 3.9, Overall Satisfaction: 4.3, and Would Attend Again: 4.2.

One fair criticism of the framework of the assembly and framework is the lack of representation from people who are most impacted by our work. In reponse, FCS has partnered with NC A&T University Extension to explore how grassroots leadership can provide tools and strategies to supplement the framework and empower everyday residents to tackle the issues faced in their neighborhood. In ours and in other communities where Community Voices has been implemented, the program has proven successful. During community events many residents, for the first time, spoke before large audiences telling their lived experiences and ideas for solutions. One resident described the validated from Extension’s inclusion efforts “Whitney is listening and hearing our concerns. She’s presenting possible solutions and best practices and is actively listening to our ideas. She is also providing residents opportunities to have conversations about affordable housing, giving us a chance to ask questions, and to express concerns in our very community.”

The motivation to continue work in 2020 and beyond is great. Universities are feeling pressure to more clearly demonstrate their social value to their host cities. For too long we have “co-existed alongside communities rather than collaborated with them” and given priority to “knowledge creation over solving social problems”. Collective Impact is a paradigm shift.

FCS in Marion County seeks to be a case study for land grant universities nationwide to increase their intentionality through Collective Impact and tackle complex, social issues to improve lives of the individual, the family, and community.