Framework for Collective Impact in Peacebuilding: Revised Version

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Peter Woodrow


Why Collective Impact?

This framework aims to achieve a clear goal: greater impact from collective efforts toward peace. That is, even if peace practitioners improve the effectiveness of their individual programmatic actions, collectively they may not achieve significant impacts at a systemic level, which must involve changing the fundamental causes of conflict and the cycles of violence and injustice that sustain it. Hence the need for a framework for collective impact.

The underlying premise (theory of change) of collective impact is that increased coherent action and mutual support by multiple dedicated actors can create effective synergies to accelerate and sustain progress toward durable peace.

This is not to suggest that collective impact efforts are the only means for achieving durable peace. Certainly, we have seen, for many years, that many attempts to make progress do eventually succeed, even if they are sometimes chaotic, even disorganized. The idea is, rather, that progress can be more efficient, faster, and perhaps more sustained, if individuals and organizations dedicated to peace work together more self-consciously and deliberately. Despite the needed investment of organizational time and resources, the costs of continued conflict and violence are too high to depend on processes that creep slowly toward peace or stumble upon it accidentally. Harnessing the collective resources, energy, and imagination of multiple peace actors has the potential for gaining greater coherence and impact in the search for peace.

This Framework is intended for a broad audience, including a wide range of civil society organizations, government and intergovernmental entities, donors, and, potentially, the business community. Collective impact efforts also represent a wide range of forms and structures; the most common include networks, consortia, coalitions, alliances, and platforms. CDA has conducted case studies of several collective impact efforts, some of them involving all types of groups, others composed of a narrower range. The Framework benefits from this wide experience and intends to support all groups that are interested in promoting peace.

A Framework, Not a Model

Models can be dangerous. If misused or misinterpreted, they can suggest that there is a formula or set series of steps that, if followed faithfully, will lead to predictable results. In the peacebuilding and conflict prevention arena, this is a meaningless notion. Conflict contexts are extremely varied and dynamic, requiring constant renewal of analyses, ongoing learning, and adaptive management in response to changing conditions and feedback. The overall approach to effective peacebuilding should embody adaptive management in response to constantly updated and systemic analysis of the key drivers of conflict, as well as information about the effects of peace efforts. We suggest that the concept of a “framework” implies greater flexibility than a “model” — and have used that language in this paper, which is intended as the basis for field testing and refinement.

Origins and Development of the Framework

In developing this Framework for Collective Impact in Peacebuilding, we started with the Collective Impact model provided by FSG in a series of articles in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In doing so, we recognized that the FSG approach benefits from many years of experience among networks dedicated to justice and peace in many dimensions, mostly within the United States context plus a few international examples. Nevertheless, the FSG model has certain limitations, and some experienced experts in coalition building and networking have offered critiques of the Collective Impact model. We have attempted to account for those critiques in offering this Framework.

As we shall see below, the FSG Collective Impact model needs significant modification to make it applicable to the peacebuilding context, as even the minimum criteria or preconditions for collective impact, as suggested by FSG, are rarely entirely met in conflict zones. For the initial draft of this Framework, we completed a literature review to identify other possible approaches to collective action and/or coordination that could complement (or contradict) the FSG framework. While the available research and commentaries were neither extensive nor deep, some useful ideas and cautions emerged — and these have been incorporated into the Framework.

As a key step in developing this Framework, we shared a preliminary draft with a range of colleagues and convened a one-day consultation in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 and incorporated the feedback into a subsequent draft that was used for further development. Subsequently, with support from a grant from Humanity United, CDA undertook field testing of the Framework through a series of three case studies regarding existing networks in the Philippines, Kenya, and a country dubbed “Boendoe” (anonymized due to risks to the network and its members). At the same time, CDA provided technical support and documented two efforts by Search for Common Ground in Sri Lanka and Nigeria to launch new collective impact networks. These case studies provided raw material for a consultation in October 2018, bringing together the case authors as well as representatives of the organizations involved and other interested colleagues. The helpful reflections of that group have been incorporated into this revised version of the Framework. While the Framework is complete for now, we fully expect to refine it through ongoing learning.

Who Might Use This Framework?

A range of entities might use this Framework, including:

  • An emerging coalition or network of local organizations wishing to increase the results of their peace efforts

  • An international peacebuilding NGO, a private foundation, or a coalition/consortium intending to support local actors and organizations to undertake complementary actions and/ or to supplement official peace processes

  • A donor or group of donors wishing to increase the effectiveness of their grant making and/ or the impacts of grant recipients

  • A U.N. official, U.N. agency, or regional intergovernmental organization (e.g., a Special Representative of the Secretary General, a U.N. Resident Coordinator or a U.N. Peacebuilding Fund/Commission) wishing to (a) improve the impacts of the U.N. “family” itself, and/ or (b) increase effectiveness of the international community as a whole, or regional initiatives in relation to a peace process or post-violence peacebuilding efforts

  • A government peace commission or ministry tasked with consolidating peace or preventing future violent conflict

These entities face a common challenge: how to harness the energies and initiatives of multiple groups and individuals to achieve the shared goal of durable peace. While applications of the Framework by these different groups must differ in important respects, the fundamental tasks remain similar.

What This Document Covers and How to Use This Framework

This Framework is not a recipe for successful collective impact efforts in peacebuilding. Rather, it presents a series of questions and considerations that have been found to be helpful as groups have tried to achieve greater progress. Section II discusses a set of principles that must inform any collective impact effort in the peacebuilding realm. Section III presents five conditions for collective impact — adapted from the FSG model to fit the realities of conflict areas. Finally, Section IV presents a series of preliminary steps and key questions that need to be asked in preparation for a collective impact effort.

Because the Framework is not a step-by-step guide, we suggest that groups and individuals use it to prompt careful thinking about whether and how to build the trust and mutual understanding necessary for successful joint efforts.