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Collective Action Framework

Collective action is the action taken together by a group of people who share knowledge, resources, and effort to achieve a common purpose.

Collective Action is an approach to systems change that brings together grantmakers, nonprofit service providers, public agencies, and the business community in the pursuit of a common purpose for improving people’s lives.  

Collective action aims to improve lives across a community by aligning philanthropic resources, direct social services, public institutions, and community efforts to reduce barriers to success, such as those connected to race, class, gender, and geography. 

Root Cause helps partners design, implement, and measure the performance of collective action initiatives.  We apply a holistic Collective Action Framework that is grounded in relationships to guide networks in designing strategy, facilitating partnerships, coordinating service delivery, and sharing responsibility for outcomes.  Each component of our Collective Action framework is interconnected and mutually reinforcing. 

Core Elements of Collective Action

Common Purpose

A common purpose is the organizing principle at the center of any collective effort to improve people’s lives.  The common purpose is grounded in the needs of the community, emphasizes equity, and aims to reduce disparities.  It shapes the design of the network, activities of its partners, and measures of success. 

Cross-Sector Partnerships

Collective action initiatives are co-created with a cross-sector of local partners to ensure the network is positioned to influence the broader systems that help or hinder people’s success in the community.  When a diverse network of partners brings to bear its collective expertise and resources, and designs its activities to be synergistic with the efforts of key stakeholders and institutions  (i.e. school districts and public agencies), the network can affect greater change than if it consists of a limited set of partners.

Mutually-Reinforcing Activities

Partners in collective action align and coordinate their efforts – including service delivery, fundraising, and communication.  Network members collaboratively shape their work to maximize their collective reach so that more people access and participate in the services they need to thrive.  In designing collective strategy, service providers work to minimize redundancy, build referral pathways, and fill gaps in service delivery so that people can advance from one resource to the next to help them succeed at each stage in life.

Collective Performance Measurement

Partners use data to continuously learn, adapt, and improve their individual services as well as their collective action approach.  Network members define common outcomes that align with and advance the common purpose.  Each partner measures progress against their individual goals, while the network’s performance data is managed centrally and shared transparently with all stakeholders.

Shared Accountability for Outcomes

Partners in collective action initiatives are invested in and hold themselves and fellow stakeholders accountable for achieving outcomes agreed upon during the design of the initiative.  Accountability to shared goals strengthens as stakeholders trust and value each other and their respective contributions to the common purpose.

Backbone Support

Backbone organizations are an independent coordinating organization that ensures highly effective and adaptive networks by managing the logistical aspects of the project and ensuring all partners are equally represented while maintaining focus on a common purpose.  Backbone organizations ensure that decision-making is shared, strategic, and reflective of the network’s needs while promoting a culture of trust and accountability among stakeholders.

Continuous Communication

Networks foster strong formal and informal communication channels to build a culture that fosters relationships, trust, respect, collaboration, and shared accountability.  Backbone organizations design forums and protocols for regular, transparent communication that often includes network convenings, working group meetings, and the use of online platforms (email, Slack, etc.).

Funding for Collaboration

Funding is allocated for partners to invest the time and energy needed to develop strong relationships and create and maintain tools, processes, and systems to work together.  While collective action may happen without philanthropic investments, it is  more likely to succeed with designated funding so participating organizations have the capacity to fully participate in and sustain their contributions to the common purpose.

Download this Collective Action Framework.

Root Cause helps partners to collect, understand, and use data to deepen and expand their impact on people and families.

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