Networks and collective impact



Most ambitious systems change goals lie beyond the capacity of any one organization to achieve.  More and more experts and practitioners have come to embrace the power of networks and collaborative processes to achieve more substantive, systems- or population-level change.  These processes have the ability to leverage diverse sources of knowledge and influence and to align multiple actors around a common set of goals.

I can help your group to assess which form of network or collaborative process is best suited to your needs.   It can sometimes be tricky to strike the right balance between process and content in a collaborative initiative with its many different players, interests and moving parts.  I can also help your group/collaborative to navigate the challenges of balancing the necessary pieces:

  • attention to relationship-building, engagement and communication;

  • governance arrangements and issues of power and trust;

  • establishing realistic aims and actionable strategies;

  • setting up “light-touch” coordination and tracking mechanisms

I offer hands-on guidance, facilitation and advisory services geared to:

  • map the issue landscape and surface the knowledge within the system;

  • facilitate common agenda-setting, collaborative planning and implementation;

  • help to set up responsive governance mechanisms and communications for collaboratives and backbones;

  • support the design of meaningful stakeholder and citizen engagement processes;

  • help grantmaking organizations to design and implement collective impact granting streams.


In recent years, collective impact has come to describe a particular type of collaborative effort that has a strong focus on the shared outcomes that the effort seeks to achieve, and brings together 5 conditions: a common agenda, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, a shared approach to measuring progress,, and a “backbone support” organization that coordinates the work.

Like many thought leaders in the field, I am of the view that collective impact should not be used as shorthand to describe all collaborations.  Instead, collective impact is a particularly demanding form of collaboration that is best suited to cross-sector collaboratives focused on a complex community need - that also promises to yield tremendous rewards.  

As Tanya Boyea-Robinson of Living Cities states, collective impact is demanding because:

  • it requires its participant organizations to commit to changing their own behaviour to align with collectively-defined strategies;

  • it requires investment in a genuine “feedback culture” that allows open, honest and continuous communication among members.

I have deep, experience-based understanding of how collective impact initiatives actually work to tackle complex challenges, and have worked to support and build capacity for this approach in Greater Montreal’s community change arena and elsewhere.