Collective impact is an approach that is winning strong support internationally for its potential to address complex social problems that cannot be resolved by a single organisation or program, to create lasting large-scale change. It has particular relevance to mental health and wellbeing challenges at a community level, especially when these are associated with social disadvantage.

Collective impact is distinguished from other types of collaboration when the following five key conditions are present:

  • A common agenda: a shared vision for change including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed actions. Facilitation of relationships may be needed because of prevailing power imbalances across agencies and organisations, and support will be needed for the development and maintenance of governance structures.
  • Shared measurement systems: consistent data collection and measurement of results to ensure alignment of activities and accountability of all involved. Support will be required to allow agencies and community organisations to share data, subject to appropriate privacy protocols. This will allow for the development of local reform plans, based on an understanding of the population’s needs and the resources available.
  • Mutually reinforcing activities: separate and distinct activities that are co-ordinated through a plan of action. Support may be required for local managers to exercise their discretion and authority under this approach. Community-managed organisations will benefit from the support of government as they become partners in reform, beyond the scope and scale of their usual practice.
  • Continuous communication: consistent and open communication among all participants to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation. This should include transparent accountability mechanisms including evaluation of services and programs, benchmarking, and knowledge sharing within and among districts.
  • The presence of a backbone organisation: separate organisation(s) that operates as the backbone for the entire initiative and co-ordinates activity.

The Northern Sydney district of the Department of Family and Community Services, in partnership with other government agencies, adopted Collective Impact to define social issues, create solutions and deliver actions. It created The Collective NSW, a social impact model which aims to protect the most vulnerable people through cross-sector and community collaboration and innovation. It aims to reduce government’s prescriptive role in solving problems of disadvantage, and clears the path for communities themselves to lead the way in finding solutions to their difficulties, with the support of large and small businesses and government.

The text on this page is an extract from Living Well: A Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW: 2014-2024, developed by the Mental Health Commission of NSW.