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Amplifying University-Community Voices

Collective Impact

CCESL integrates a collective impact framework (Kania & Karmer, 2011) into our work as a way to guide the next stage of institutionalization of community-engaged practice. Collective impact is an approach to collaboration that has developed out of the nonprofit sector to ensure the broadest and deepest impact possible when groups come together to works towards a goal. A collective impact framework defines five pre-conditions to success:

  • 1) common agenda,
  • 2) shared measurement,
  • 3) mutually reinforcing activities,
  • 4) continuous communication,
  • 5) backbone support 

CCESL is posed to serve as the "backbone support" for the university's public good work. This backbone is considered a necessary pre-condition for success. 

Collective Impact


As illustrated in the figure above, the backbone support entity should bring together skills necessary to coordinate and communicate across the constituents involved in the project. Backbone organization staff are meant to be separate from the participating groups and provide support such as planning, managing and supporting the initiative through facilitation, communication, data collection, reporting and other logistical and administrative functions (Kania & Kramer, 2011). As Kania & Kramer point out, "the expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails" (p. 40).

Building on CCESL's long-standing success in supporting faculty, staff, and students from across campus to do public good work, we are developing the structures and processes to ensure CCESL can provide backbone support to the University. CCESL has an established track record in coordinating faculty, staff, and student efforts without commandeering them; chiefly to apply adaptive leadership to advance both individual and collective work. CCESL already functions as a separate entity that facilitates public good work across faculty, staff and students in their existing organizational structures (department, divisions, and centers). CCESL is experienced in training faculty, staff, and students in the skills necessary to do public good work using best practices in community engagement. CCESL has been piloting hub-and-spoke organizational structures this year to be responsive to the needs of diverse constituents across campus to pursue public good work, supporting faculty, administrators, and students working in inter- and multi-disciplinary ways across diverse issues. CCESL has been at the forefront of developing assessment instruments and procedures that can be used across diverse campus and community groups to assess impact. 

Importantly, CCESL's expertise in community engagement best practices will help ensure that community remains at the center of any change process and that principles of inclusivity are consistently applied as part of DU's public good vision. This focus will ensure not only that the impact of the work pursued is deep, but that communities views of the institution are not damaged, but rather enhanced. In Collective Impact 3.0, Cabaj & Weaver (2016) argue that there is a necessary evolution of the framework to ensure the most equitable and poignant collective change efforts. One of the most important shifts in this re-visioning of collective impact is a much stronger focus on the role of the community. Engaging authentically and with a sense of reciprocity and trust with the communities with whom we wish to partner and move the needle on important issues becomes core to the work.

The application of a collective impact framework to single organization such as DU (albeit with numerous departments, divisions, institutes and centers with various missions) is unique. Collective impact has traditionally been applied to multiple organizations across sectors participating around a common goal/desired impact for community change. CCESL has the opportunity to be pioneering in the application of collective impact in higher education and in community-university partnerships.