By: Linda Xiong
In a previous post, I discussed how coordinated entry is an example of systems change in the context of ending homelessness. But where does someone start? What does it take to “do” systems change? For complex social problems like homelessness, collective impact can be a great starting point! I like to think of systems change as “what” we’re going to do and collective impact as “how” we’re going to do systems change.
So what exactly is collective impact? Collective impact is about bringing people together in a structured way to achieve social change. This concept first appeared in an article written by John Kania and Mark Kramer for the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2011. Through their research, Kania and Kramer found that the social sector relied on and often perpetuated isolated impact. This means funders and agencies tended to focus on funding and addressing a solution within a single organization. Each organization is then “judged on its own potential to achieve impact, independent of the numerous other organizations that may impact the issue.”
Complex social problems are complex for a reason and addressing them through isolated impact may not be the most effective towards social change. This is where collective impact comes into play. At the same time, Kania and Kramer did state that not all social problems require collective impact. For instance, building a hospital is much different than improving community health. In addition, collective impact does not mean that organizations have not collaborated before. Instead, collective impact means that organizations have to structure their relationships to each other differently than they have in the past. Like the definition says, bringing people together in a structured way to achieve social change.
What does this structure look like? Kania and Kramer found five conditions of collective success through their research on successful collective impact initiatives. These include:
More detail into each of these conditions can be found in the article, and there are many ways that coordinated entry demonstrates collective impact work.
Coordinated entry describes the streamlined process through which people at risk of or experiencing homelessness are connected to housing and supportive services in their community. And this definition can be thought of as the desired “end result” of collective impact. From my perspective, coordinated entry is collective impact because it’s not just about the end result; it’s also about the process of getting there. Coordinated entry asks all involved in a continuum of care to organize their systems of care so that it fits together intentionally and efficiently. This organizing effort requires not only the participation of all who are involved but also backbone support to keep the work going and steered in the right direction.
I can see aspects of the five conditions for collective success in coordinated entry. For instance, an example of shared measurement systems is the use of the Homeless Management Information System for coordinated entry in the Texas Balance of State. Agencies involved in the day-to-day process of coordinated entry enter data into HMIS, and we are able to review the data at a system-level to see how the process is working, especially in housing those experiencing homelessness.
Another example is the mutually reinforcing activity of Coordinated Entry Planning Entities in the Texas Balance of State. These entities work in 17 different regions, and the agencies involved vary from region to region. Together, these entities collaborate, plan, and operate the local CE process, discuss and share resources, and reinforce each other’s strengths to address their community’s unique needs and context.
Coordinated entry, when viewed through the lens of collective impact, is more than an end itself. It provides a structure to create social change, a worthwhile effort in the goal to end homelessness.
Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/collective_impact
Collective Impact Forum. Retrieved from https://www.collectiveimpactforum.org/