Q&A with CNM's Tari Hughes on Collective Impact (Part 1)

July 27, 2017

Q&A with CNM's Tari Hughes on Collective Impact (Part 1)

Before heading off to her next adventure, CNM's Opportunity NOW intern Soteria Reid sat down with CNM President and CEO Tari Hughes to talk about collective impact. What does collective impact mean exactly, and how can it transform our community?

This Q&A is part 1 in a two-part series.

Q: First of all, what exactly is collective impact?

A: Collective impact encourages groups from across sectors including nonprofit, business, and government to work together to solve complex problems in the community by changing the system that enables the problem. For example, if a community has a problem with students not meeting literacy standards by the end of 3rd grade, stakeholders might launch a grade level reading campaign. In order for that to be a successful, long-term initiative with measurable success outcomes, leaders from the school system, local government, nonprofit agencies and business would need to collaborate to create meaningful change. This group would agree on a common agenda, communicate with each other and participate in regular progress meetings and work groups, agree on some shared measurements to demonstrate progress, and have a backbone agency to support the group’s administrative and operational functions. The group would map the environment to understand where resources and gaps exist. They would map stakeholders so they can engage the community in solving the problem. A problem like being on track for literacy by the end of third grade is not going to be solved in one year. Collective impact focuses on the long view – producing measureable results and change over time.


Q: What are those involved in a collective impact initiative responsible for?

A: The collective impact framework has five “conditions” – this is the framework that guides how participants work together.

The first is establishing a common agenda, which is another way of saying that all stakeholders have a shared understanding of the problem and a shared vision for how to approach the work to address that problem.

The second is common progress measurement meaning that stakeholders have agreed on what data to track, and that they track it and report it consistently.

The third is that participants engage in mutually reinforcing activities – this means that each organization involved is working in their area of expertise and strength, but that these activities are still coordinated with the rest of the group and align to the common agenda.

The fourth condition is that they are engaged in continuous communication – that part is self-explanatory!

And finally, the fifth condition is that there is a backbone organization. This is an organization that has capacity or can build its capacity to coordinate not only participation, but also, the other administrative and operational functions of the initiative. The backbone organization is also often the fiscal agent of the project. 


Q: How might the collective approach solve issues more effectively?

A: When we look at complex social problems like homelessness, hunger, mental health, education, the criminal justice system, etc., those problems are bigger than any one organization. This is also where we get back to the conversation about systems. Interventions by one organization usually don’t solve the root problem and that’s because they don’t change the system that allows the problem to persist. Collective impact seeks to solve the problem by changing the system. If we want to see change, we have to carefully examine the problem, listen to stakeholders, and engage them to make sure we are working together towards equitable outcomes for everyone. It’s important that these initiatives are inclusive and done with community stakeholders. Often, when talking about collective impact, we talk about “scaling what works.” This means we aren’t just investing more resources in interventions that are isolated and unproven – through careful measurement we know what works and what moves the dial and we can be more accountable to our community.


Q: Is the main goal of collective impact efficiency or effectiveness?

A: It’s both. The reality is resources are limited. We want to scale solutions that create efficiency and reduce the burden on resources. And, our community deserves outcomes that are effective, that improve quality of life, that are transparent and hopefully make the systems in our city more equitable and easier to access. I think efficiency and effectiveness are hand in glove; we can have both.


Q: How did CNM become a champion for collective impact?

CNM was a partner with Lipscomb University and HCA on the first Collaboration College in 2012. Collaboration College was designed to help nonprofits work together to solve problems outside the borders of their own agencies. When we offered Collaboration College 2.0 in 2014, The Healing Trust became a partner.

With each offering of Collaboration College we learned what worked and what could improve the experience. A lot has changed in the landscape since we offered Collaboration College 2.0. The partners who presented Collaboration College were committed to creating more of a permanent home for programs and resources that would help nonprofits collaborate, year round. What would have been Collaboration College 3.0 is now the Collective Impact Catalyst – one of the programs of the Collective Impact Accelerator here at CNM. We believe that if agencies have the resources they need to collaborate, they can go beyond their borders and work across sectors to solve big problems.


Q: What is the Collective Impact Accelerator?

A: The Collective Impact Accelerator is home to three programs designed to help anyone engage in collective impact – whether you are new to the framework or an experienced practitioner. Through the accelerator we hope to create a culture where it’s easier for nonprofit, government, business and philanthropy to work together using the collective impact framework and tools.

The first program is the Nashville Collective Impact Forum which is being held at Lipscomb University on August 9. This will be a full day of learning from local and national thought leaders in collective impact including FSG. [Spots are still available – register here soon if you’d like to attend!]

The second program is the Collective Impact Learning Community and is designed for any individual from novice to experienced practitioner. The application for the program will open in September with an orientation to follow in December and then quarterly meetings throughout 2018. Look for an application link coming soon.

The third program is the Collective Impact Catalyst, where we will help existing collective impact initiatives assess where they are currently, help them inventory their needs, and bring resources in the form of tailored consulting and access to local and national collective impact thought leaders. The goal is to help these initiatives get over their biggest hurdles so they can make progress. Over an 8-10 month period, we hope these tailored resources will help accelerate progress for these initiatives and our community, by extension.


Q: What is the key difference between Collaboration College and the Collective Impact Catalyst?

A: I think the key difference is tailored solutions that meet individuals and groups where they are. Collaboration College was truly like a college academic experience. Cohorts accepted into Collaboration College went through a curriculum; there were classes and workshops everyone took and pre-work to prepare for them. We learned, through feedback from participants, that a cohort curriculum didn’t accommodate the variety of needs among organizations. With the programs of the Collective Impact Accelerator, in particular the Collective Impact Catalyst, we will help existing collective impact initiatives assess where they are and where they can go.


Watch for part 2 of this Q&A next week.

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