Over the last five months of organizing Frontier 2018, a k-12 cross-sector education conference, I have thought deeply about how and why I want to implement a collective impact approach to address school reform. I first learned about collective impact from a popular article published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In it, the authors described collective impact as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.” In other words, collective impact requires the collaboration of individuals from different sectors—for example: education, policy and technology—to work together towards a common goal. Though simple enough to understand and support, executing collective impact proves extremely challenging, especially in education. That’s why I’ve been reflecting on three critical questions that have helped me incorporate characteristics of collective impact into Frontier 2018:
What is required of stakeholders to successfully execute collective impact?
Collaboration is key. But, collaboration is more than working in the same room, discussing best practices or sharing networks. In order for collective impact to be successful, those involved must create a shared language to describe their work, learn how to work through differences and most importantly, define a common goal. The first step in attempting collective impact is ensuring that everyone at the table is there for the same purpose. With this in mind, I’m thinking to experiment at the conference by asking attendees to define a common goal for the event among one another.
What are the barriers to collective impact?
I see two major barriers to collective impact efforts in education. The first one is the ability of ed reformers to effectively communicate their vision, why it matters and how it can be achieved. This is difficult partially because many of us haven’t deeply reflected on these questions. However, once we do find the words to articulate this thinking, it is another challenge to discuss our thoughts in a way that is actionable, measurable and can be understood (and supported!) by professionals in other sectors. The second barrier I see is the difficulty of schools to open up their doors for cross sector partnerships—school staff members are constantly hustling to stay sane each day while offering quality instruction and creating a safe environment for their students. Therefore, taking the time to develop cross-sector partnerships and investing significant effort in collaboration beyond the regular school day operations feels like an impossible task for school leaders.
Why am I interested in collective impact?
Education exists within a larger web of social and political institutions and cultural and economic forces; schools themselves cannot be solely responsible for improving education. Each child walks into their school building carrying life experiences that impact their learning and teachers are not equipped to address all these challenges. On a more personal level, I’ve found that learning how to work through challenges and conflict, how to communicate ideas and feelings and how to understand and listen to the expertise of others is crucial for anyone seeking to make social change. These are all areas that I need to work on myself.
Collaboration is key, and it is extremely difficult. “Collaboration” is a buzzword that many organizations and individuals lightly throw around, however, the dedication, patience and understanding required to successfully collaborate with others comes first from our own ability and desire to cultivate those skills within ourselves. Ironically, though collective impact focuses on our work with others, perhaps the very first place to start is within ourselves.
I look forward to attempting this work with you all at Frontier 2018!