Leveraging Collective Impact in Your Collective Actions: Shared Measures

Post by
August 28, 2015

This blog is the third in a series. For context I encourage you to read Leveraging Collective Impact in Your Collective Actions: An Introduction and Leveraging Collective Impact in Your Collective Actions: The Common Agenda.

Shared Measures: Focusing Energy and Learning

During a recent leadership meeting at Strategy Arts, I told my business partner my next blog would be about shared measurement systems. After his long sigh, followed by silence and then a short statement about it sounding a little dry, I knew I had some work to do.  His reaction was typical of many, so I wondered why I was so energized by it. I’m certainly not a data geek or statistics nut (he is the engineer in the firm after all). As I considered further, I realized my enthusiasm comes from seeing how shared measures can turn partnership meetings into transformative learning dialogues.

I was recently working with a partnership that had plateaued. The partners had been meeting regularly to plan and share information about their collective project. Their meetings were well run, but most of the partners felt they were not making the progress they had hoped. Some partners were even beginning to voice opinions about how others were not pulling their weight.

The collective’s leadership asked Strategy Arts for help. Our job was to help reenergize the partnership and move their efforts forward. One objective of the project was to lead the partners through a process of identifying and monitoring metrics that were shared by all partners (shared metrics).

As the partners reviewed the first dashboard reflecting the current state of the metrics, statements such as “Is this true?” and “I assumed that …” highlighted some misaligned working assumptions. The conversation shifted dramatically as the partners quickly moved beyond their carefully crafted updates to probing questions and concrete suggestions using collective language. “Why aren’t we doing better in this area even with the changes we’ve put in place?” and “What if we tried (this)?” Suddenly, things were back on track.

What are shared measures?

Shared measurement stands as one of the five pillars of collective impact. Shared measures result from the process of defining metrics based on the common agenda (see Blog #1). A process is established for collecting measurement data and reporting back to the collective, and then implementation can truly happen. Leading the effort to determine the measures and setting up the infrastructure for ongoing measurement is one of the primary responsibilities of the backbone. Partners help provide perspective on the appropriate measures and also provide data for the goals where they are taking action.

Why are shared measures important for a collective impact initiative?

The common agenda sets the framework for the collective. Shared measures help track progress and guide action. They also provide a basis for learning. Using the shared measures, the collective impact partners can explore concrete questions:

• Are we making progress?
• Where do we need to put our attention?
• What are we learning?
• What is working? What should we keep doing? What should we change or stop doing?

What can a shared measurement system offer all collectives?

Any partnership, cooperative or coalition has a purpose that should be measured. Shared measurements move the conversation out of the conceptual and abstract and forces dialogue to get definitive and concrete.

People often hesitate because they are concerned they won’t get the “right” measures. But even if the initial set of measures is very rudimentary, you have to start somewhere .The best way to get to an effective set of measures is to step out of the conceptual and step forward to do something. Then the partners can react to a real set of measures and recommend improvements grounded on tangible metrics.

In our earlier example, the partners could see their conversations shift in five important ways:

• They became more collaborative, asking how to act collectively to have an impact vs. merely thinking about individual organizational action.
• They asked more analytical questions about root cause – what is really impacting each metric?
• They developed a shared and explicit set of assumptions about the current state of the collective.
• Their dialogue was much more action-oriented – How can we do better?
• Partners could communicate their role by articulating  which metrics their actions were intended to impact.

Creating a shared measurement system enables any collective to establish a path to progress. Continual review and refinement is the good maintenance that will keep them on their road to success.