Considering Collective Impact

In a recent blog posting in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Gabriela Gandel and Tatiana Glad outline the fundamental principles that underly effective collective social innovation projects, and describe how three specific actions can maximum their social and economic impacts.

You can read the whole blog posting here: They take a business-oriented perspective, but as an educator I draw additional links to both teaching/learning practises and evaluation.

The four principles mentioned in the posting are as follows:

  • democratizing decision-making
  • enabling peer-to-peer structures
  • nurturing a collaborative culture
  • emphasizing the “why”

Together, these actions help create, nourish and sustain collaborative ventures even through difficult times. By moving away from a top-down model of interacting, and thereby allowing the generation of new learning and the acquisition of new skills at all levels of a community, the benefit derived for all from an action or initiative grows exponentially. Relationships and understanding are strengthened, and shared values emerge to move the collective forward. Change grows more organically out of a collective direction expressed in the guiding theory of change than out of a singular (often imposed) vision, and the resulting community bonds support the community itself as change occurs. Think sourdough instead of manufacturing line!

This approach very much reflects inquiry-based learning and true learner-centred instruction, and in effect mirrors the process of inductive or experiential learning, which doesn’t require an authority figure to define the process and outcomes to the same degree as deductive learning (“teaching”). The most effective classrooms for encouraging transformation are those where the learners can participate fully on a variety of levels and where the forward momentum is allowed to grow out of the collective energy in the group. Much greater innovation becomes possible when creativity is supported and unexpected outcomes are welcomed. If we want to foster an environment  – not just in elementary schools but also in adult learning – where not just linear, formal learning but indeed all learning is valued, we need to keep as much decision-making power with individual actors as possible without losing sight of the unifying aims.

This is why Social Return on Investment is such a valuable methodology: it allows us to identify, inventory, and potentially monetize the much greater social impacts that arise from collective activity and the capacity-building that results. It forces us to look at materiality, to consider “what matters” not to an external observer but to the community involved in the analysis. To do that reinforces the subjectivity of the concept of worth; it allows stakeholders themselves to define “situated” value, and expects external evaluators to use the currency of the community as well as defining value in the more universal dollars-and-sense arguments. This in turn requires full stakeholder engagement, and considers a community in a given space and time, as well as stretching beyond those boundaries to assess impacts in the geographic, social and temporal periphery.

Collective impact activities: planned, mutually beneficial value creation.










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