Collective impact for big problems

Collective impact for big problems

Collective impact is a social change model that brings people together to define problems and solutions for change on large-scale issues like poverty, climate change, homelessness, and gaps in education.

Earlier this spring I was at the Tamarack Institute’s Collective Impact training. I learned the model is an evolving approach based on five core conditions.

  1. Common agenda
  2. Shared measurement
  3. Mutually reinforcing activities
  4. Continuous communication
  5. Backbone support

Collective impact draws on examples where not-for-profits were already working collaboratively with several stakeholders. The theory continues to evolve as more and more organizations adopt the framework and contribute their learning and experience to the field.

When I’m learning about a new idea, I find the information sticks best when there is an interactive component. This is probably why my favourite parts of the Collective Impact training were the breakout sessions in small groups. Putting theories into action helps me to understand why they are important and how I might apply them in my life and work.

In one breakout session, we combined two activities — a persona exercise and an empathy exercise. The persona exercise asked us to create a realistic description of a youth. We had to decide on their age, gender, level of education, interests, abilities, race, religious background — the more details the better. Using this persona of a youth, in the empathy exercise we had to consider what this youth was thinking, feeling, seeing, saying and hearing.

This started us thinking about ‘youth’ not as a monolith, but as a collection of diverse individuals with a range of opinions and needs. In the context of collective impact, this activity gave us a chance to put aside our own perspective and consider questions from a different viewpoint. In the context of collective impact, this activity is a way of getting people from a variety of backgrounds to set aside their differences and see an issue from the same perspective, at least for a moment.   

At the NWT Literacy Council, we often collaborate with other organizations. I work with recreation departments, libraries, youth centers, language coordinators, Indigenous governments, and more! We all want to provide youth in the NWT with opportunities to build skills, but the way we approach this varies.

My new tools to encourage collaborative work in a more structured way will help me continue to strengthen the Skill Builders for Youth program.  For more information on collective impact, explore the Tamarack Institute resource library at

— Emily Smith, Youth and Adult Services Coordinator

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