Skip to main content

Capacity for Collective Impact

Boyea-Robinson, T. (2015, March 23). In a pickle: How to strengthen your capacity for collective impact [Blog post]. Available at

The author writes that collective impact requires capacity and support in three areas: process, content, and leadership. First, leaders and partners must learn and commit to the norms and practices of collective impact. Collective impact is different from other types of collaboration and those involved may need to develop certain skills to engage in the process. Second, participants must develop their content knowledge of and expertise in the problem the group is trying to solve. Third, sustainability requires an effective leader, and this demands capacity of the individuals who are driving the work forward. 

Senge, P., Hamilton, H., & Kania, J. (2015). The dawn of system leadership. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter. Available at

The authors of this piece suggest that “systems leadership”—having leaders who are skilled at working across systems—may be key to solving some of the world’s most complex problems. System leaders must be good listeners, reflective, and empathetic; these skills allow them to understand differences and move beyond them. They also must be able to redefine problem statements and the spaces other systems occupy in relation to the problem so that everyone is accountable and has something to contribute. The piece also includes examples of system leaders and tools for building their capacity. The authors believe that systems leaders need to be developed and recognized so that innovative, collective problem solving can be successful.

Bartczak, L. (2014). The role of grantmakers in collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall. Available at

This piece encourages funders to take on a more substantial role in collective impact work, and to consider their capabilities in order to carve out a contributing role that is suitable and meaningful for them. Collective impact relies on the assumption that every partner has something worthwhile to contribute, and funders need to be able to communicate what they can offer within the parameters of their vision, needs, and limits. The author highlights a collective impact effort in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia that created a network among their multiple funders. While funders’ varying priorities can present challenges to navigate, the network allows them to be aware of what each of them brings to the table and where important gaps remain. The author also discusses a common challenge with funding collective impact: being flexible to changes in the needs and goals of the work while holding grantees accountable to promises made to the funder. Having a more substantial role in collective impact may help funders’ clarify how much they are willing to be flexible in this regard..

White, E., Bockstette, V., Ferber, T., Gaines, E., & Pittman, K. (n.d.). How public policy can support collective impact. (pp. 4-13, 24-29). Available at [registration required].

This paper examines the way public policy has often been an obstacle to collective impact efforts and suggests several ways for policy makers to incentivize collective strategies. For instance, to align with collective impact’s common agenda setting, requests for proposals can encourage planning and require participation of partners from multiple sectors. This would differ from a more traditional siloed approach that awards grants to organizations for independent projects. To facilitate shared measurement, governments can (1) create data sharing agreements to give grantees greater access to data and (2) require that grantees across organizations use the same measures. The authors suggest that in order to foster the use of mutually reinforcing activities, grantees should be able to blend and report on all funds used to towards a goal rather than write as if each funding source and associated activities happen in isolation. Further, grant requirements should steer clear of bureaucratic overregulation, and instead be written in such a way that they allow for grantees to adapt them to the local context. In order to foster continuous communication, grants may require that grantees document their collaborations. Lastly, to support the creation of supporting backbone structures, policy makers can allow for a greater percentage of funds to be used for overhead. In an appendix, the authors offer specific policy recommendations based on collective impact research.