Guest post by Peter Drury, development director, Splash
Is "impact" simply quantifying your efforts to report to donors -- or is impact something far more? This is the question posed in the Impact Master Class session, fielded by Ellen Alberding, president of The Joyce Foundation, Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, John Van Camp, president of Southwest Solutions, and John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises.
Jeff Edmondson, the 2012 AmericanExpress NGEN Leadership Award recipient, launched this session passionately warning leaders not to let "collective impact" become watered down and confused with "collaboration." For example, Edmondson taught:
- In collaboration, people come together for the sake of doing something. In collective impact, people come together to create an outcome…to move a dial.
- With collaboration, we use data to prove things. With collective impact, we use data to improve things.
- Functionally, collaboration is that one more thing that is added to somebody's list. By contrast, collective impact is the main thing that drives organizational activities each day.
This discussion led to a variety of insightful questions, such as:
- How do philanthropic foundations create (either knowingly or unknowingly) incentives making "collective impact" possible (or probable) versus impossible (or improbable)? Notably, this question was raised not as a pot shot from orgs to funders, but as a self-reflective question among philanthropy leaders.
- How risk-friendly (read: the flip side of risk-averse) are philanthropies in supporting long-range big-bets that might (or might not) eventually bring about grand social change?
- What is the appropriate role of grant-making institutions (to drive particular directions for organizations, or to support organizations in identifying these directions)?
- What failures have been experienced? How can we learn from them?
Participants then broke into groups and were asked to discuss:
- What is the nature of "collaboration" in the on-the-ground experience of the participants?
- What are elements of the "secret sauce" of collective impact (as discussed in this session) that are missing, or incorrect, in the view of the participants?
- How can risk-taking be encouraged (and its results not punished, but valued)?
- How do we bring successful efforts to scale?
As animated dialogue burst forth around the room, this blogger enjoyed listening to one particular, vigorous conversation. It happened to be comprised largely of people working in philanthropies and/or philanthropic consulting practices. Listening (which, worthy of note, was uplifted in this session as a key leadership ingredient within the model) led me to wonder: Instead of setting "collaboration" and "collective impact" at odds, is it not actually the case that they exist in succession? Might the appropriateness of each be a contextual, life-stage question? If so, then, could risk-averse funders engage in supporting early stage collaborative projects such that conditions might be created for risk-friendly funders to engage in funding more aggressive collective impact models going forward?
People seemed to leave the room inspired by the collective impact model -- but it appeared to be their collaborative conversations that created the conditions for this to be so.