Collective Action– while newly popular – is not a new theory of changing community norms. In fact, it was first written about in 1965 by Mancur Olsen. His theory was about how groups can work collaboratively to achieve community change around important and pressing issues. He hypothesized that by bringing everyone together that was concerned about a key issue, grounding the work in data analysis, and prioritizing a single set of actions to “turn the curve” on the issue – the group could make and see change in the prioritized issue that would reenforce their alignment.
I’m Kristin duBay Horton and I’ve done public health, social justice and community planning work since the early ‘90s. The work I did relied on grant funding from the federal, state, and sometimes even local governments. On rare occasions, the work would be supplemented by fundraising or foundations.
The bulk of public health work in the U.S. has been driven by the federal government – which invests heavily in the science – grounded public health approaches to solving problems in what has been proven. I also live in a world where sometimes, science isn’t invested in or even believed! 2020 has demonstrated to our entire planet that science is real, science is powerful, and we can overcome it no easier than an apple can resist falling from a tree in a windstorm. The apple will be shaken by the breeze and must fall to the ground. Science is real and undeniable.
What science has demonstrated is that evolution is a continual process. The world is constantly changing. Coronavirus is a part of that evolution, and because it’s a virus (and not a species), we can see evolution happening at a frighteningly fast speed. As we get better at wearing masks and washing our hands, some version of the virus that was erroneously copied and happens to last longer in the air, or is able to survive hand sanitizer, becomes a larger percentage of all the virus around – because it spreads more easily. So, in the past year, we see new variants of COVID-19 that have adapted to survive. We can’t ignore the science.
Social science tells us that we as human beings have very short attention spans. One year into COVID-19, we are tired of social distancing, tired of masks, and tired, frankly, of sharing the kitchen table with my 14-year-old, who can’t stay on task to get homework done online after a whole day of distance learning. We are all exhausted. Simultaneously, we hear there is a vaccine that few of us can seem to get, but its mere existence lessens the fear of the virus – and all of a sudden, it’s Spring Break. 6th Street bars were crowded on St Patrick’s Day, I can predict through my scientific knowledge of the virus that Travis County will enter yet another rise in new cases and hospitalizations just as Easter approaches.
So, why has Mission Capital’s Aligned Impact work changed its name to Collective Impact and why is there a woman who has dedicated her entire life to public health and social justice running it?
The Collective Action that Mancur Olsen talked about before I was born is not the same Collective Impact we talk about today. I am an African-American woman and enormously grateful for how far this nation has come since 1965. I am simultaneously enormously pained by the reality I’m feeling at the one-year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s death, that a beautiful young woman who looks like she could have been my own child – with a bright future that was stolen from her just as I send my own children out into this world.
Aligned Impact looked a lot more like the 1965 version of Collective Action because it relied on aligned leadership to make community norms change. The Collective Impact of today embraces an important ethos – one of social justice and community empowerment as its core. The Collective Impact of today continues to rely on data-driven decision-making but replaces elected and/or nonprofit leaders with a partnership of established leaders, and the organic leaders within communities they are serving. It is like if Paolo Friere and Mancur Olsen’s theories had a baby – and Collective Action joined Pedagogy of the Oppressed and began to work together.
A lot of this shift in the use of Collective Impact raises what I call “community voice,” – and over the next year, you will hear us use that term a lot. We will often ask: “Who is the community and how are we engaging them in the design and decision-making of what they need?” For Mission Capital, our community is the non-profit community of Central Texas, and I would add that in times of social distancing, our reach has grown far beyond that area as we see more and more nonprofits take advantage of the wide range of programs we offer at reasonable costs.
You will notice strategic changes in longstanding programs – like the fact that the Data Leaders Academy (DLA) participants will be chosen through an equitable application system that utilizes DLA alumni to select the next participants. We are giving our community of nonprofits a role in designing and implementing future programs. We are also using the data we have to shape and change the nonprofit community.
In collaboration with the Building Movement Project, the Race to Lead work became public in the midst of the pandemic, so it may not have gotten the press it deserved. But you will see us work to challenge our community – that of nonprofits – to recognize and work together to close the racial leadership gap in Central Texas. The data tells us that people of color do not receive adequate support, mentorship, or funding and we are working with our nonprofit partners to think about what that means and launching new programs such as BIPOC executive coaching sessions and BIPOC mentoring efforts to change this reality. You will see changes in Collective Impact evaluation efforts and community engagement.
So, I am Kristin duBay Horton, MPH. I am an advocate committed to social justice and I am Mission Capital’s new Director of Collective Impact. I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you and enlisting you in our efforts to raise community voice. Let’s build a nonprofit community that looks like the people it serves, and that has those communities leading its work in Central Texas.