At the most recent Champions for Change workshop for backbone leaders, I was asked to develop a workshop which focused on the challenge facing many collective impact efforts – how to build a sustainable approach.
This is a challenging conundrum for collective impact efforts which are designed purposefully to move the needle of vexing community issues, work with an eye to complexity and exist in an ever changing community context. The variables inherent in collective impact efforts lead to many more questions:
- What needs to be sustained?
- How long does this element need to be sustained?
- How do we balance the constructs of sustainability and adaptability?
The US Centre for Disease Controls have published A Sustainability Planning Guide for Healthy Communities which is worth reading. The guide provides 10 steps to sustainability including creating a shared understanding of sustainability, developing a plan, looking at the current and future environmental factors which will impact the effort, prioritizing options, implementing and evaluating results and outcomes.
Developing a shared understanding of sustainability is a critical step. The Guide advices leaders to do the following:
- Be clear about what sustainability means in the context of the effort
- Agree (earlier rather than later) that planning for sustainability is valuable
- Include multiple community stakeholders in the sustainability planning process
This is wise advice for healthy community initiatives and equally wise advice for collective impact efforts. It is important to identify early on the elements that are important to sustain: funding, leadership, momentum, the common agenda, shared measurement approaches, etc.
A Sustainability Planning Guide for Healthy Communities also contains many practice examples of tools that help the planning process including a decision flow chart and a sustainability plan template.
Another useful tool to consider is Building Sustainable Change Capability by Change First. This resource identifies seven factors to focus on. These factors are relevant and adaptable to the collective impact context and are worthwhile when considering what to sustain:
- Factor 1: Leadership Competence – activities that contribute to high-quality CI activities that are the responsibility of leaders
- Factor 2: Effective Collaboration – involves identifying relevant stakeholders who actively support the CI common agenda and have clearly identified roles and responsibilities
- Factor 3: Understanding the Community – entails having knowledge of community needs and resources, having respect fro community members and involving community members in the CI effort
- Factor 4: Demonstrating Results – includes evaluating process and outcomes using acceptable research methods and informing stakeholders of results
- Factor 5: Strategic Funding – includes having plans and resources in place to support current and prospective requirements
- Factor 6: Staff involvement and integration – identifies the need for committed, qualified staff included in design, implementation, evaluation and decision making
- Factor 7: Community Responsivity – is the ability of the CI initiative to adapt its approach to meet changes in community needs
These seven factors provide a great framework for considering what to sustain in collective impact efforts. Together, the two resources are useful in building a sustainability approach which is both planned and purposeful but also responsive and adaptive.