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Tried and True Tools for Collaborative Work

By Pam Kinzie, HC Link Consultant

Those of us who have worked in partnerships, coalitions and other forms of community collaboratives, have seen many frameworks for collaborative work come and go over the years. Sometimes, I believe that the baby does truly get “thrown out with the bathwater” when excellent tools are abandoned for the next new thing. I suggest that we examine ways in which well-founded, widely used, evidence-based tools can be integrated into collaborative work. I’d like to make a case for one such tool - Results-based Accountability (RBA). No doubt many of you have other tools that have components for planning and implementation that you still find useful after many years.

hands 565602 1280Currently there is widespread use of the Collective Impact framework in Ontario amongst community groups. Developed by John Kania and Mark Kramer in 2011, it requires the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific complex social problem. Issues suited to collective impact are those that are not easy to resolve, have persisted over time, and cannot be solved in isolation.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation offers grants to support collective impact through strategy and transformative action to achieve a lasting change. It funds projects in three phases in order to assist collaboratives in defining, organizing and delivering impact initiatives.

The idea of working together to produce community “impact” is at the heart of both RBA and Collective Impact. Collective Impact literature sets out conditions for the success of community change efforts, and RBA provides specific methods to help partners meet those conditions. RBA is being used widely in North America, including by some groups in Ontario, and in more than a dozen countries around the world to create measurable change in people’s lives, communities and organizations. For complete information about RBA and how to use it I encourage you to read the book Trying Hard is Not Good Enough by Mark Friedman.

In her 2011 paper Achieving “Collective Impact” with Results-based Accountability Deitre Epps examines how application of the core RBA components enables community groups to operationalize each of the five collective impact conditions. She examines the seven population accountability questions in RBA that guide community partnerships and coalitions in their work to improve the quality of life conditions for children and families and draws parallels with how they can be used as practical tools to create common agendas, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities and continuous communication amongst partners. Mark Friedman the creator of RBA also demonstrates how RBA and Collective Impact fit together in his online article from 2014.

The strength of RBA is that it starts with ends and works backward, towards means. The “end”, “result” or difference you are trying to make looks slightly different if you are working on a broad community level or are focusing on your specific program or organization, but the two perspectives are always aligned. RBA makes the critical distinction between population and performance-level initiatives. It is what separates RBA from all other frameworks. It is a significant distinction because it determines who is responsible for what. Population accountability organizes work with co-equal partners to promote community well-being. In contrast, Performance Accountability organizes work to have the greatest impact on the customers of specific agencies – those whose lives are touched in the delivery of programs and services. What is done for customers is the contribution to the larger community impact.

Dan Duncan describes how RBA and a number of additional tools are important components of collective impact in his 2016 article The Effective Components of Collective Impact . He also describes the importance of community engagement and relationship-building, stressing that “organizations do not collaborate; people collaborate, based on common purpose and trust”. This article reinforced how many tools there are that can be employed to enhance collective impact work.

HC Link can support you to use RBA and other tools for collaborative work through workshops, webinars and customized consultations. Materials from previous workshops and webinars can be found in the “Resources” section of our website. For more information about how we can assist you in your collaborative initiatives please go to www.hclinkontario.ca or give us a call at 1-855-847-1575.

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