Collective Impact Aligned with Citizen Action

Topics: Community Partnerships

By Byron P. White, EdD.

“Collective impact” organizations are often criticized for failing to fully include the community in their efforts, which is why StrivePartnership has been changing its approach. We are seeking to advance an asset-based approach to community development, where we acknowledge, celebrate and build upon existing assets within our community.

Take, for example, Vince Morton. He was the longtime owner of a neighborhood carryout bearing his name that used to stand at a busy intersection in Cincinnati. Many people in the neighborhood referred me to Vince as a community leader. His contributions to the neighborhood children’s education included giving candy to students who received top grades and providing refreshments for school events. This local businessman was so influential that teachers awarded him with a small trophy to show their thanks and recognize his partnership.

When we try to do collective impact without really engaging with the community, we miss leaders like Vince. And when we do that, we’re doing everyone a disservice. Urban youth are surrounded by a network of influences that include family, friends, schools, neighborhood organizations and many more.

At StrivePartnership, we are exploring ways to have our work informed by the expertise within the community, expertise from people like Vince, and to be more inclusive and to co-create solutions to community challenges alongside community members. This type of community engagement has always been at the core of a collective impact approach, but, frankly, has gotten lost for too many of us.

In a recent issue of Connections: An Annual Journal of the Kettering Foundation, I shared three challenges that are guiding the work we do with partners today:

  1. How can the efforts of StrivePartnership provide citizens with greater capacity to design, lead and enhance the work that they determine to be most critical to their communities?
  2. How can the efforts of StrivePartnership create a legitimate vehicle for citizens who are working collectively in their communities to collaborate with institutions in a manner that does not diminish citizen authority?
  3. How can these experiences lead to fundamental, sustainable changes in the operational practices and organizational culture at StrivePartnership—and other institutions that might model us—that make them more beneficial to citizen work?

What we are doing in this urban ecosystem is not a dismantling of collective impact. It is a refocusing of our work that more closely aligns us with citizen action and which will, we believe, enable transformative, sustainable change.