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

The education landscape in the United States is dotted with collaboration. Partnerships can be found in cities, counties, and rural areas as foundations, government offices, nonprofit social service agencies, community organizations, and private companies have come together to work with early childhood providers, school systems, and postsecondary institutions to improve outcomes for children and youth. Many of these collaborations are relatively recent in origin, though some are stable and long-standing. Many have adopted the term "collective impact" to describe the work they do and the aspirations they hold.

These initiatives reflect a pattern of newfound investment in local, place-based strategies to support young people and their families. Their goals are both small and large, specific and diffuse: to increase rates of childhood immunization and improve readiness for school, to improve third-grade reading proficiency, to keep students on track for high school graduation, to ensure college access and retention, and to advance employment opportunities and economic development across the regions they serve.

Although they are based locally, these collaborative efforts are not isolated. Often, two or more collaborations serve the same community. Many initiatives across the country are linked together via national support networks through which they can communicate and share ideas and resources. Some are connected through federal, state, or philanthropic funding streams.

This report describes developments in the new generation of cross-sector collaborations for education and presents findings from a scan of initiatives across the United States. It is the first overview of its kind. To begin, we describe the broad ecology of cross-sector collaborations for educational improvement and examine various rationales for the current interest in collaboration. We then discuss the prominent new model of collaboration known as "collective impact," briefly review the history of cross-sector collaborations for education, and present some reasons for cautious optimism about the changing context for collaboration.

Then, using information gleaned from public websites, we describe characteristics of the current national array of 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.

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