Problem Solving and Collective Impact

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What problem are you trying to solve?

  • Baking a cake – it’s a simple problem with a simple solution. Expertise is helpful, but not required. I’m sure Martha Stewart can make a fancier one than I can, but if I follow a recipe exactly, I’m confident I can be successful.
  • Sending a rocket to the moon – that’s more complicated. High levels of expertise across multiple fields is necessary. Finding the right protocol to follow took years and everyone involved must amass a great deal of training and expertise. But, once you get the protocol established, if you follow it exactly – and control carefully to ensure no error – your outcome will likely be successful.
  • Raising a child – now that is complex. Anyone who has more than one child, or was raised with a sibling, knows that, regardless of the numbers of experts you consult, there is no single recipe or protocol that can be followed exactly and produce the same result. Raising one provides experience but no assurance of success with the next. The variables in the problem are just too great and very few of them can actually be controlled.

The majority of the complex issues facing our community are more like raising a child than baking a cake. Whether it’s eradicating food insecurity, ensuring permanent, safe and loving homes for children, or improving the health outcomes of community members, community problems are complex. There are so many factors that come together to create the situation that there is not a silver bullet, silver recipe or silver protocol that can be guaranteed to produce success every single time.

What is “collective impact?”

This is where the concept of Collective Impact comes into play. Collective Impact is a model of collaboration through which a group of people/organizations from different sectors come together in a structured way to solve a complex problem. Some of the key components of the model that make it effective are:

  • It is cross sector: Partners from across the system at issue come together (public, private, nonprofit, etc.) come together to define the problem/ challenge to be addressed
  • There is a shared goal: The collective establishes clear and shared goal(s) for change
  • Work is coordinated: Partners coordinate their collective efforts to maximize
    the end result
  • Data and ongoing evaluation are integral: Systems are established for collecting and analyzing data and opportunities are created to gain feedback and “making sense” of data
  • An emergent strategy is embraced: Partners realize that the solution emerges over time as the initial ideas and strategy must modify to accommodate a changing reality.

If you’re interested in learning more about collective impact initiatives in Austin, read about our work with the Travis County Collaborative for Children.


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