What Collective Impact Actually is in Relation to Opportunities for Youth

Kania and Kramer from their 2011 essay which drove the Collective Impact into the spotlight, define Collective Impact as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to {form} a common agenda for solving a specific social problem,” (p.3). Collective Impact acknowledges that silos do not solve wicked challenges—few problems can be solved single-handedly by individuals or individual programs. Instead, Collective impact asserts that wicked challenges are best solved through intentional collaboration by all partners affected by the issue. In other words, many hands make light work.

Kania and Kramer in their 2011 essay go on to name The Five Conditions of Collective Success. These are: common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations. These conditions serve as the North Star to guide Collective Impact; a checklist for determining whether the initiative is a Collective Impact model or not.

Common Agenda

A Collective Impact model needs a Common Agenda that everyone can unite behind. A common agenda “includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions” (Kania & Kramer, 2011, p.6).

How OFY Did This:

A diverse set of cross-sector stakeholders came together to agree that Maricopa County was experiencing a very specific challenge—a Measure of America report that determined that nearly 1 in every 5 youth 16-24 in the Phoenix metro area were disconnected from school and employment. The stakeholders then agreed that they had to have a common way to determine success. This is what led to the development of the common goal, “By 2020, we will achieve an 11 percent opportunity youth rate in Maricopa County.”

OFY’s joint approach to achieving this goal was designed around four action teams, each focused on a separate aspect of opportunity youth: reengagement centers, career connections, positive youth development, and educational momentum. The reengagement center action team’s focus is to create a system of centers that operate under common standards and implements a ‘no wrong door’ approach. Through these centers youth will be reengaged into school, work, and life. Career connections works to bridge the gap between employers, non-profits, and education to ensure that opportunity youth have access to and are ready for career pathways. Positive youth development focuses on addressing systemic barriers and biases that have hindered the successful reconnection and persistence of opportunity youth. Lastly, educational momentum works to design a system of educational networks that will help youth successful reengage into school.

Shared Measurement System

A Collective Impact model also needs a Shared Measurement System. Kania and Kramer (2011) explain that, “agreement on a common agenda is illusory without agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported” (p.7).

How OFY Did This:

Opportunities for Youth assembled a Shared Metrics work group that developed a set of common metrics that would need to be collectively captured to measure the success of the initiative. This same group determined that these metrics would be captured through the Valley of the Sun United Way’s E-CImpact shared measurement tool.  This data will assist OFY partners in identifying where our strengths and our areas of improvement lie with regard to serving opportunity youth. These shared metrics will help our community better serve opportunity youth by giving us the ability to make data informed decisions on where to allocate resources and time and where to build capacity.

Mutually Reinforcing Activities

Mutually Reinforcing Activities goes back to the idea that everyone has their gifts, resources, and talents to contribute to the collaborative mission and goals. For OFY to accomplish our goal, we need the power of the collective while still needing the collective to contribute by doing what they do best. We need reengagement centers to offer services to youth who come through their doors. We need education institutions equipped to provide youth with the necessary tools to complete high school and/ or gain post-secondary education. We need employers who are willing to take the chance on a ‘non-traditional hire’ and work with organizations that provide supports. We also need the work of faith communities, government entities, think tanks, private citizens, and philanthropists to succeed.

We don’t ask that employers become reengagement centers or that education institutions focused on dropout recovery efforts switch gears to prepare youth for careers as computer coders.  What is asked is that our stakeholders continue to do what they do best and work towards the goal of reengaging opportunity youth.

How OFY Did This:

A key piece of Opportunities for Youth is knowing our stakeholders’ capabilities, missions, and capacities to serve. This includes inviting to the table those with experience and understanding of specific aspects of serving opportunity youth. For example, in March 2017 OFY will launch the Manufacturing Apprenticeship Pilot (MAP) in partnership with Arizona@Work Maricopa County, Arizona Manufacturing Partnership, Hope College and Career Readiness Academy, TCI Solutions, and CSMLearns. This 6 month pre-apprenticeship program will train over 300 opportunity youth for entry level careers in manufacturing. MAP would not be possible without each stakeholder contributing to the mission by working within their distinct area of expertise whether it is supporting youth through personal challenges, training youth in soft and hard skills that employers demand, or working with area manufacturers to offer internships to youth. Thanks to their cross-sector collaboration, 300 opportunity youth are projected to have a real access to careers with sustainable wages.

Continuous Communication

Opportunities for Youth will fail without Continuous Communication. Without Continuous Communication, transparency can be lost and trust can diminish with stakeholders. Like most relationships, stakeholder buy-in is forged over time with parties gradually becoming more transparent with each other as trust is built. According to Kania and Kramer (2011) stakeholders “need time to see that their own interests will be treated fairly, and that decisions will be made on the basis of objective evidence and the best possible solution to the problem, not to favor the priorities of one organization over another”(p. 8).

Collective Impact, by its very nature is multi-faceted with each stakeholder having their own perspective, talents, and resources to bring. It also means that there is a lot of different activity among various stakeholders participating in a variety of projects, holding committees, sub-committees, and one-on-ones in addition to emails, field work, and community outreach. No one stakeholder can be involved in, or even be aware of, everything that goes on within the initiative. That said, the very nature of what we do necessitates a level of transparency and Continuous Communication in order to build and maintain trust and public will.

How OFY Did This:

OFY created a monthly newsletter, updates its website, and sends regular emails to members. Additionally, OFY has established regular meeting times for the Leadership Council, Executive Committee and Action Teams to continue to engage in the process and to learn about the progress of the initiative.


The Backbone is the last condition to collective success.  It is the initiative’s muscle; a staff dedicated to serving the initiative by providing project management support, data management and analysis, and ensuring that communication channels remain open within and between stakeholder groups. Kania and Kramer (2011) say that backbone organizations “embody the principles of adaptive leadership: the ability to focus people’s attention and create a sense of urgency, the skill to apply pressure to stakeholders without overwhelming them, the competence to frame issues in a way that presents opportunities as well as difficulties, and the strength to mediate conflict among stakeholders” (p.8).

How OFY Did This:

The OFY backbone is headed by a staff dedicated to serving the initiative full-time and between meetings, providing stakeholders with timely information, facilitating meetings, and assisting stakeholders with outreach, strategic and tactical planning, and other items relevant to accelerating the work of the initiative. The staff is made up of an Executive Director, Operations Manager, Executive Assistant, Communications Coordinator, and Data Analyst Coordinator.


There is a lot more to say about Collective Impact. A quick search on Google will reveal how this model has been used to affect wide-scale change that would have been virtually impossible without many stakeholders coming together to make a difference. As a majority of this readership is aware, Collective Impact has been the model of choice to combat the opportunity youth crisis in the United States. It has also been used in conservation and sustainability efforts, education reform, homelessness, and a plethora of other community efforts. What has continued to be demonstrated through successful efforts is that Collective Impact is not the fad of the day but a proven method to reduce the world’s complex social issues.

For more information about Opportunities for Youth please visit: www.opp4youth.org

For more information about Collective Impact and examples of best practices please visit FSG: http://www.fsg.org/ideas-in-action/collective-impact

To contact Opportunities for Youth’s backbone team:

Tamela Franks, MSW

Executive Director

Opportunities for Youth

4041 N. Central Ave. Suite 1100

Phoenix, AZ 85012

602-506-2294 (ofc)



Burd-Sharps, S. & Lewis K. (2012). One in seven ranking youth disconnection in the 25 largest metro       areas. Measure of America.

E-CImpact. Website. http://seabrooks.wpengine.com/make-an-impact/

Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Opportunity Youth: As Real as Autumn

In most of the United States, autumn is here. Our Midwestern and New England friends will soon struggle to free their cars from under the first snow fall while at the same time, Phoenicians are relishing in the sun with highs in the 60’s. It is our time to go outside and hike mountains, visit parks, and maybe drive up to Flagstaff to view the changing leaves. As Phoenicians, the distance in geography makes the dramatic shift in weather experienced by most of the country seem like an abstract reality.

Many of us serve opportunity youth in ways that do not provide many occasions to work with them directly. With our day-to-day operations, our back to back meetings, and ongoing discussions and brainstorming sessions, it can become easy to see the opportunity youth population just as remote and removed as the weather.

The danger of viewing opportunity youth abstractly through the lens of spreadsheets, reports, and even through the feedback received from our counterparts who work in direct service risks repeating practices that contributed to Phoenix’s high opportunity youth population.

Remember that just four years ago, the Phoenix Metro area was experiencing the after effects of the Great Recession. Our housing market was one of the worst hit in the country. Our construction industry, which just a few years before was one of our biggest economic engines, had buckled. Our communities were hurting and families were tightening budgets. Arizona, already among the lowest in per pupil spending, carried out some of the steepest cuts to public education of any state in the US.

The Great Recession had devastating effects and did not discriminate on who it affected. Everyone was hurt by it, especially some of our most vulnerable populations most removed from the policy and decision makers: our children, our poor, our immigrant families, and people of color.

In 2012, Measure of America and the Arizona Republic revealed to us the startling reality that resulted as a consequence of the contrast between our experiences and that of many of youth--the Phoenix metro took first place in having the highest rate of opportunity youth in the country. Our focus on economic survival led to an entire generation pushed into the shadows, and becoming abstract like our view of autumn with nearly 1 in 5 of our 16 to 24 year old population in Maricopa County being disconnected from school AND work. 

However, the Great Recession has ended. And by many measures, our country and the Phoenix metro area has recovered. The number of opportunity youth has declined as more companies are willing to hire, social services are once more being funded, and our schools are enabled to focus on dropout recovery efforts.

With the end of the Great Recession, our community has joined hands to pursue a collective solution to bringing continued hope to our valley.

In 2013, we organized with the intent to learn from recent history and change the system to work better for our youth who became invisible during the recession—we created the formation of the Opportunities for Youth initiative.

OFY has made great strides to ensure opportunity youth can return to school and work. Our partners have collaborated to host targeted opportunity youth job and resource fairs. We have created standards for reengagement centers that will serve to unite and network youth serving organizations and provide better accessibility to youth seeking to reconnect. Our business partnerships are expanding and supporting our collective efforts to develop education to career pipelines for opportunity youth.  

Through all these good things we are doing, it is important that we remember that opportunity youth, though elusive and in the shadows of society at times, are as real as that concept of autumn. Maybe we, ourselves, do not have contact with these youth every day, and maybe the only professional experience we have with these youth come through statistics, articles, and feedback from partners that are in direct service. There is nothing wrong with this. The analysts, administrators, and policy makers play a vital and meaningful role in this initiative. To that end, no matter how close or far removed we are from direct contact with opportunity youth, we must remember this one thing—their needs are as real as autumn.