Networked approaches to tackling complex social challenges are not new, yet practitioners and researchers are continually working to share frameworks for how to support, fund, and sustain work that cuts across sectors. One powerful contribution to this field of knowledge came by way of John Kania and Mark Kramer’s landmark 2011 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that offered “collective impact” as a new model for understanding the conditions under which multisector groups can come together to help confront complex, “adaptive” challenges in communities that no one organization or entity can solve on their own.
While collective impact literature describes how efforts can be better coordinated to achieve a range of systems-level changes at scale, others (including Nemours Children’s Health System and the Rippel Foundation’s “ReThink Health” initiative) theorize about, and test, approaches that can help member organizations navigate the unique challenges that exist for networks that have a specific emphasis on population health. In researching and understanding the structure, function, and impact of these networks, the field is grappling with some of the challenges to collective impact that have been raised by those working in this space, including:
- A model with one “backbone,” “quarterback,” “anchor,” or “integrator” that disproportionately holds resources and steers the vision of a multi-sector network is difficult to sustain long-term.
- The voices of those most impacted by issues in a community can be drowned out such that a network’s proposed solutions do not correspond to their lived reality.
- The model may underestimate the long-term commitment needed to achieve structural changes that influence the wellness of residents.