Funders and practitioners are increasingly acknowledging that scaling individual organizations is insufficient to solve complex, evolving social problems. Achieving population-level change also often requires meaningful, intentional coordination across a field’s actors—known as “building the field” to elevate and sustain its collective practice.

Despite this growing agreement, few efforts of this sort are achieving impact at scale. In reality, field-building work is extremely challenging—and not just due to the complexity of social problems and the dynamic context in which field builders operate. A lack of shared understanding about what it takes to advance fields and mismatches between fields’ needs and common philanthropic practices are leading factors that thwart such efforts.

The Bridgespan Group spent six months studying the successes and struggles surrounding field building, in hopes of better understanding the chasm that often exists between its potential and its reality. Our research included an extensive literature review, analysis of more than 35 fields, and conversations with over 30 field leaders—all building on our direct experience working with funders and practitioners. This resultant report is intended to help equip all of us who believe that collaboration is key to solving our most pressing social problems with the common language, tools, and mindsets needed to achieve breakthrough results. Since relatively few fields have progressed to impact at scale, we also hope this work expands and emboldens perceptions of what field building is and can achieve.

Read the full article about population-level change by Lija Farnham, Emma Nothmann, Zoe Tamaki, and Cora Daniels at The Bridgespan Group.