Author: John Kania and Mark Kramer
Year: 2013
Full Citation: Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2013). Embracing emergence: How collective impact addresses complexity. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Stanford, CA: Leland Stanford Jr. University.
Associated Resource Tool(s):
Overview: Kania and Kramer (Stanford Social Innovation Lab) propose a design model they call “Collective Impact” as a new and more effective process for social change.” Emphasizing “the rapid learning that comes from continuous feedback loops,” five key elements of collective impact are described:
  1. All stakeholders develop/agree on a common agenda
  2. Agreement on shared measurement of [meaningful] results
  3. Mutually reinforcing but differentiated activities coordinated through a plan of action
  4. Continuous communication building trust, reinforcing mutual objectives and creating common motivation
  5. Backbone support: management, coordination and facilitation for these activities.
The authors advocate a shifting of mindsets of both practitioners and donors to embrace the “paradox of combining intentionality (that comes with the development of a common agenda) and emergence (that unfolds through collective seeing, learning, and doing)”. The paper cites case examples of community initiatives in USA and Canada that use the collective impact model. They advocate a shift from beginning project design with solutions which are then monitored and evaluated, to a process of collective agreement to determine common understanding of the problem, agreeing to joint goals to address the problem, and arriving at common indicators to which the collective set of involved actors will hold themselves accountable in making progress. This process uncovers solutions and resources that are collectively agreed upon and taken up. These are often not known in advance, but are emergent, arising from collective vigilance, learning and action. The evidence is that this approach, although very challenging, works (the paper cites program examples and supporting research).
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