Giving Compass' Take:

• Governing magazine explores how collective impact can be strengthened through becoming "system rich," or finding ways for many different community entities to coalesce around a common goal.

• Even independent stakeholders must have transparency, and there needs to be a broad understanding of what everyone's role looks like in a given mission. Are we all on the same page? And, if not, how can we get there?

• Here's more on what quality collective impact really looks like.

To make a difference on big community challenges like homelessness, drug addiction and economic development, disparate agencies and programs in government, business and the nonprofit sector have to work in concert with each other. If these individual entities do not work across sector and governmental lines — that is, if they do not form a system — then their collective impact will be greatly diminished.

This problem and its potential consequences are explored by Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, in his recent book Reclaiming the American Dream: Proven Solutions for Creating Economic Opportunity for All. Hecht quotes Cincinnati’s coroner, who articulates the issue in a powerful way:

We are program rich and system poor … and until we become system rich, we will not only continue to see low college graduation rates, but we will also keep seeing youth who have lost their lives on my tables.

How to become “system rich,” by bringing disparate entities together across sectors to focus on a collective goal, is one of the most profound challenges facing communities.

It seems to me that there are two things that could help both public officials and civic leaders move toward coherent systems capable of creating the community conditions they want. The first is an organizing principle employing the “loose-tight” concept as explained by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their 1982 management classic In Search of Excellence. That is, individual units operate autonomously but with a common goal and tight accountability for reporting progress toward it.

Second, there has to be a clear understanding of roles and capacities.

Read the full article about the power of collective impact by Mark Funkhouser at Governing magazine.