Collective impact: Evidence and implications for practice

Collective impact: Evidence and implications for practice

Jessica Smart

CFCA Paper No. 45 — November 2017

There is a long history of collaborative community-based projects in Australia and internationally; however, the term "collective impact" is relatively new. It was first applied to collaborative projects in 2011 in an article that described the five conditions necessary to achieve collective impact on complex social issues. 

Key messages

The complex or "wicked" social problems in Australian communities cannot be solved through traditional models of service-based program delivery.

Collective impact is a collaborative approach to addressing complex social issues, consisting of five conditions: a common agenda; continuous communication; mutually reinforcing activities; backbone support; and shared measurement.

Collective impact is in the early stages of development as a framework for change. As a result there has been limited evaluation and there is not yet a rigorous evidence base to support its effectiveness.

Collective impact has been criticised for its failure to adequately address equity, include the voices of community members and to seek policy and systemic change.

Collective impact projects are likely to be more effective if they research the issue and context, include community members in decision-making, and examine the evidence for effective strategies.

For the effective implementation of collective impact, practitioners and leaders require a skill set different to that required for organisational management or traditional program delivery.

Collective impact corresponds with our current knowledge of the most effective way to address complex social issues, and theory and evidence from related fields suggests that it may be a promising approach.

To implement collective impact effectively, practitioners must engage with the resources and literature of the broader collective impact field and supplement this with theory and practice from other areas such as community development and public health.


Collective impact has resonated with practitioners and been rapidly adopted in Australia and overseas. This paper explores the collective impact framework and its ability to create population-level change on complex social issues. It describes the history and development of collective impact, with a focus on Australia, and includes two case studies to examine how collective impact is currently being practised in Australia.

Authors and Acknowledgements

About the author

Jessica Smart is a Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange.


The author would like to thank those who contributed their time to this paper through discussion and peer review: Matthew Cox, Kerry Thomas, Kerry Graham, Kris Newton, Sue West, Ross Homel and Tim Moore.

Feature image: © istockphoto/monkeybusinessimages

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 45
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, November 2017.
24 pp.

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