Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education: A Nationwide Scan

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Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education: A Nationwide Scan

This report describes developments in the new generation of cross-sector collaborations for education and presents findings from a scan of such initiatives across the United States. We describe the broad ecology of cross-sector collaborations for educational improvement and examine various rationales for the current interest in collaboration. We explore the prominent new model of collaboration known as "collective impact," review the history of cross-sector collaborations for education, and revisit some reasons for cautious optimism about the changing context for collaboration. Then, using information from public websites, we describe characteristics of the national array of current collaborations. We report an additional analysis, based on multiple data sources, of factors that seem to position some cities to develop cross-sector collaborations while others are less likely to do so. To conclude, we revisit some trends and considerations that are worth watching, acknowledging that new efforts are often layered on the foundation of previous collaborations but also take place in an altered context with new possibilities and challenges.

Attention to local cross-sector collaboration has surged in recent years, with much of that attention attributable to the singular impact of John Kania and Mark Kramer's article "Collective Impact," published in fall 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Kania and Kramer described a model for collaborative efforts to address public needs that was distilled from their work over previous years with several initiatives coordinating education and other services for children (the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati and the Road Map Project in Seattle), several natural resources projects, and a citywide health drive. Despite the intense interest in collective impact, there has been little effort to understand how the contemporary collective impact movement relates to the historical tradition of collaborative efforts to address urban problems, and almost no systematic analysis of its form, extent, and distribution.

Our national scan of cross-sector collaborations yields information on 182 collaborations that, as of January 2015, met our inclusion criteria of being placed-based, multi-sector, collaborative leadership efforts focused on educational outcomes. Identifying these collaborations was a challenge; we made special efforts to include initiatives affiliated with national networks and those located in or working with the 100 largest cities and school districts across the country. Most of the information on the collaborations comes from their publicly available websites.

Our findings include a number of trends worth considering about the origins, governance, and emphases of the existing array of local cross-sector collaborations for education:

  • A substantial number of the cross-sector collaborations for education predate the contemporary collective impact movement and are still operational, offering encouragement that the general idea of collaboration is indeed viable. Nearly 60% of the 182 initiatives in the scan were launched before 2011 and nearly 20% before 2000. Of the collaborations begun after the publication of the Kania and Kramer article in SSIR in 2011, nearly two-thirds employed the term "collective impact." Of the collaborations established prior to 2011, more than one in four now use the term somewhere on their websites.
  • Collaborations are found in many of the nation's largest cities and throughout all regions of the nation. The distribution of cross-sector collaborations for education across U.S. Census-defined regions is roughly proportional to the distribution of population across those regions. However, there are concentrations of initiatives in certain areas within regions, such as Florida and the states that border the Great Lakes.
  • Cross-sector collaborations vary in the geographic scale of their target areas and in whether their efforts are situated primarily within school-specific governance arenas-like school districts-or general-purpose governments, like counties and municipalities. Most collaborations (55%) identified their target jurisdiction at the county or regional/multi-county level. Fourteen percent appeared to focus on a subcity level such as a single school or neighborhood. Only about one in ten identified their target primarily as the school district itself.
  • The number of local collaborations that are initiated with the support of a national network, or that seek out such support at some point in their development, appears to be growing. Slightly fewer than half of the collaborations have some national network affiliation. StriveTogether is the largest network.
  • Over half of the 182 collaborations in the nationwide scan operate in places with at least one other cross-sector education collaboration, and 12% are in places with four or more.
  • Collaborations vary in the breadth and depth of their membership and in their governance and operational structures. Most commonly represented on high-level leadership boards or committees are business leaders, with 91% of collaborations in the scan having at least one business leader on their board. School district representatives are included on 91% of the boards. Higher education (87%) and social service agencies (79%) are the next most common organizations represented. Only 12% of collaborations have a member of a teachers union on their governing board.
  • Many initiatives have mounted efforts to collect and track shared measurements of need, services, and outcomes. Seventy-two (40%) of the initiatives have a portion of their website dedicated to data, statistics, or outcomes. The most common indicators on initiatives' websites are student performance on standardized tests (43%) and high school graduation rates (35%). Just 25% of websites track data over time; 17% present data disaggregated by race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status, and only 14% include data on comparison groups of students.
  • Many collaborations take a "cradle to career" orientation, and a significant portion of initiatives track indicators that precede or follow the K-12 years: 24% track kindergarten readiness and 8% track pre-K enrollment; 20% track post-secondary enrollment and 18% track college completion. Other indicators of student experiences and well-being are more sparsely presented: 13% of the initiatives track parent engagement and 8% present data on safety; only 5% track some kind of indicator for social and emotional development.

We used census data about the 100 largest cities in the country to explore the differences among cities with and without cross-sector collaborations for education. Of the 100 largest cities in the United States, 58 had at least one collaborative initiative identified by the scan.

  • Compared with other large cities that lack them, cities with collaborations often have higher levels of poverty, greater income disparities between blacks and whites as well as between Hispanics and whites, and more economic inequality overall.
  • Cities with collaborations tend to have larger total populations and larger proportions of black residents. They seem to have a more settled and stable demography and longer experience with racial and ethnic diversity.
  • Cities without collaborations have been growing at a far greater pace than their counterparts with collaborations, posting a 67% versus a 23% increase in total population from 1990 to 2010. Furthermore, the black population has, on average, nearly tripled in cities without collaborations. In cities with collaborations, recent racial change has occurred more slowly, with just under a 30% increase in the black population over the same time period.
  • Cities with at least one local cross-sector collaboration have greater relative fiscal capacity than those without. The 58 cities have higher locally generated revenues per capita as well as higher total revenues per capita (including state and federal dollars).
  • On the other hand, cities with collaborations have been slowly losing fiscal ground to their counterparts without collaborations. The revenues-both total and local- of cities without collaborations have been increasing at a faster rate than cities with collaborations. Also, whereas the percentage of revenues from federal sources has, on average, remained flat from 2000 to 2010 for cities with collaborations, cities without collaborations have seen a relative increase in federal dollars over the same time period.
  • Both the relative decline in local revenue and federal revenue are suggestive of a somewhat similar pattern of relative deprivation, with slowing revenue and slowing federal support rather than absolute low levels of either, possibly triggering local mobilization for collaboration.

Overall, the results of our nationwide scan provide a clearer picture of the characteristics of cross-sector collaborations for education. While many trends require further exploration, the information presented in this report will help inform future examinations of the extent and means through which collective impact and other contemporary cross-sector collaborations achieve their mission.

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