Coming Together to Give Schools a Boost
An interesting collaborative in Cincinnati:
Leaders in the Cincinnati area are uniting to help students from 'cradle to career.'
This week, I'm focusing on a new strategy for addressing large-scale social problems that has been dubbed "collective impact." The idea is to create a network that links numerous organizations — including those in government, civil society and the business sector — and helps them to systematically align and coordinate their efforts around a clearly defined goal, like improving education, combating childhood obesity, or cleaning up a river. It may strike some readers as obvious, but it represents a departure from business as usual — and it strikes me as one of the most important experiments occurring in the social sector today.
One of the leading examples of collective impact is the Strive Together partnership, which focuses on helping young people in Cincinnati and two neighboring cities in Kentucky achieve success from "cradle to career." The partners include early childhood educators, school superintendents, college presidents, business leaders, foundation directors and a range of civil society executives. They came together in 2006 after a report noted that Ohio and Kentucky were lagging behind other states in college attainment rates. Community leaders were concerned about remaining competitive in a global economy.
The first meetings focused on boosting college readiness, but the focus soon expanded. Robert Reifsnyder, the president of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, recalled: "Someone said, 'We're focusing on the ninth grade, but these problems really start in middle school. Someone else said, 'Truth be told, it starts in grade school.' Someone else said, 'Listen folks if we don't get started by kindergarten, the battle's half over.' And finally we said, 'This is a pre-school issue — it's about kindergarten readiness.' " That set the tone for an effort that focused on the full education continuum.
Since the launch of the network, the partners have reported gains in several areas on Strive's annual "report cards" (pdf
). Among students in the Cincinnati Public Schools, for example, over the past three years, kindergarten readiness has jumped 9 percent; fourth grade reading and math have increased 7 percent and 14 percent, respectively; and the high school graduation rate is up 11 percent. At the University of Cincinnati graduation rates for students from local urban high schools jumped by 7 percent; at Northern Kentucky University, by 10 percent.
What distinguishes collective impact from run-of-the-mill collaboration is the quality of the partnership and the nature of the problem being addressed. Mark Kramer and John Kania, managing directors of a nonprofit consulting organization called FSG, which coined the term "collective impact," identified five conditions for "collective success" in a recent essay in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Above all, they say, partners must come together and agree not just on common goals, but shared ways to measure success towards those goals. They must communicate on a regular basis. And there must be a "backbone" organization that is focused full-time on managing the partnership.
March 7, 2011, 10:05 pm