Collective Impact: Fayetteville’s Heading in the Right Direction

The term Collective Impact has surfaced in various conversations about crime reduction and quality of life throughout Fayetteville and Cumberland County. I’m happy that it is being discussed. Collective Impact (with capital “C” and “I”) is a set of specific conditions that if properly done, can make significant positive differences where implemented. It includes a formal set of tools and strategies and is not a feel-good process-only outcome. I am a believer in Collective Impact based on conclusions drawn from decades of community-based intervention research, collaborative initiatives as well as my own experiences in many locations. Research from the Collective Impact literature is promising (see the Stanford Social Innovation Review for example). Major philanthropic organizations (Ford, Annenberg, Pew among others) and other philanthropy groups have invested in Collective Impact efforts and endorse the approach with confidence. Collective Impact is outcome driven, its five essential conditions are well documented, and the success that comes from well-implemented projects can be enduring and sustainable (when support and resources remain in the system).

The secret sauce of Collective Impact includes much of what Bill Bowman, publisher of Up & Coming Weekly, noted in his Jan. 29 Publisher’s Notes column — strong and enduring political support, creativity and innovation so that cross-agency and cross-community solutions can be implemented; but most importantly, the backbone organization (or organizations) must be created within a safe zone of work so that politics and ideologies do not erode the mission or the staff in place to do the work. Collective Impact is transparent. Backbone organizations build forward-facing dashboards filled with reports and outcome data on each participating entity. The management and board members of the Collective Impact project hold each element of the project accountable for its portions (including themselves and the backbone organizations). The results are posted for all to see. Efforts are data-driven and outcome focused. All voices are at the table and the governance structure of a Collective Impact project is set up to neutralize the typical problems that often confront community and/or grassroots initiatives. Collective Impact initiatives find innovative and cost-effective ways to solve problems such as the use of community service banks, shared services and bartering, blended funding streams and strategies, innovative trade and educational strategies AND civic crime fighting tools among other ideas.

If the political, civic, business, faith and “grassroots” communities get behind a Collective Impact effort, support will be needed from the greater Fayetteville-Cumberland County area. What really drives the work is the backbone structure itself to enable an effective and high impact initiative fostered through Collective Impact strategies. The backbone organization(s) do not sit within existing government entities. They should be built as expansions or evolutions of existing nonprofits, university or college departments, collaborative philanthropic entities, or innovative twists on these types of agencies/organizations and should not duplicate existing programs. They should be resourced for 4-6 years minimally and should have clearly defined goals, objectives, strategies, tools, measures and outcomes reported routinely to all participants and the general public. Most of all, stakeholders within the governance structure must be empowered and able to make tough decisions. And the public must be willing to support them. Budgets may change, organizations may evolve (some may come, some may go). People’s lives will surely change.

I applaud Up & Coming Weekly, Mayor Nat Robertson, Chief Medlock, Sheriff Butler, the faith and business community folks, Fayetteville Publishing Company, and many others that are considering this dialogue. There are a myriad of ways to engage folks that have not been tried before here in Cumberland County. Collective Impact can be a highly effective pathway for our community to dramatically improve the quality of life for its citizens.

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