by Gina Grosenick

Over the past year, various funding organizations including the McConnell Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) have introduced programs to encourage wide-spread adoption of the collective impact approach for addressing critical community problems and achieve large scale social change.

As identified in a seminal article written by John Kania and Mark Kramer, collective impact “is the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific problem, using a structured form of collaboration” (Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2011).

Collective impact is premised on the belief that deeply entrenched, complex social problems cannot be solved by individual organizations, or even sectors, acting alone.  Instead, a deep and broad collective of individuals and stakeholders working towards a common agenda and acting in concert can make meaningful and large-scale impact on important issues facing our society.

The theory of collective impact identifies five conditions for success.  The first is that there is a common agenda among all stakeholders, which includes a shared vision of what the problem is and what the vision for change should be.  The second condition is that data and results are collected and measured consistently among all stakeholders.  The third is that all activities of stakeholders are coordinated within a central plan of action.  The fourth is that there is consistent and open communication within the collective.  Finally, fifth, that there is a “backbone organization” and/or a core group serving as the coordinator of the collective and its activities.

The Broadening the Base (BtB) initiative was formed before and without knowledge of the theory and opportunities of collective impact. Yet, as an initiative it directly aligns with the values and characteristics of the approach to address the complex issue of the lack of affordable housing in Ottawa.  Recognizing that a solution would be untenable without widespread stakeholder support, the BtB founders actively pursued the “not the usual suspects” to contribute to the initiative. To date, BtB has been successful in engaging stakeholders from the business, non-profit, academia, government, affordable housing, social justice, housing development, finance, social impact financing, philanthropy, environment, communications, community engagement, grassroots advocacy, legal and religious sectors to the effort.  The shared vision and approach of the initiative was developed through active consultation in the form of open community meetings with stakeholders.  The central plan of action that emerged and that stakeholders are working towards is to identify new tools, mechanisms and partnership that will catalyze an increase and diversity of affordable housing options in the city.  BtB continues to model open and consistent communication through email newsletters, community meetings, and through our website (www.btbottawa.ca) and twitter account (@btbottawa).  The core team and coordinator act as the backbone support for the initiative, coordinating activities and sharing knowledge across the stakeholder group.

Since learning about the approach, BtB is proud to identify as a collective impact initiative and has undertaken activities to increase our knowledge of collective impact and revisit our vision, goals and approach to better position ourselves for success. We are thankful for the leadership of groups like McConnell and OTF in supporting and promoting the approach and for making resources and programs available to help in the funding and coordination of collective impact activities.

BtB is making lasting and meaningful impact on the affordable housing crisis in Ottawa through the power of collective impact.  If you are interested in getting involved, please send us an email at coordinator@btbottawa.ca