Collective impact and climate change

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most complex and pressing issue for those in behaviour change. There are a range of opinions about what change theory is the most effective for something as multifaceted as climate change. One of those is collective impact, an emerging theory in Australia and overseas. 

What is collective impact

Collective impact is an emerging framework that utilises collaborative problem-solving and distilling of information to influence change among a wide population. It usually involves integrating actions and goals among communities, organisations and institutions.  The term was coined in 2011 and is in the early stages of development into an official framework. For now, collective impact involves five conditions: 

  • Common agenda  
  • Continuous communication 
  • Shared measurement system  
  • Mutually reinforcing activities 
  • Backbone function 

Climate change can be analysed with these five conditions. 

Common agenda 

There needs to be a clear vision of the goal for action to be taken. Over the last few years, there has been a massive push on educating the public and corporations about the impact climate change will have. This has led to an increase in the amount of people who believe there needs to be action. The common agenda around climate change is much clearer now that there is joint understanding of the issue and what steps are to be taken next.  

Continuous communication 

There needs to be continuous communication to remind stakeholders of the motivation and goals. Australians are continuously reminded of climate change through floods, fires and storms, but it is communicators job to reinforce the cause of these natural disasters.    

Backbone support organisations 

The backbone support organisations are the supportive infrastructure of impact. This controls the essential functions such as overseeing strategy and monitoring data collection. Climate change behaviour is managed by multiple organisations, such as government bodies, NGOs and welfare groups. The key for collective impact is that the goal is the same across all these bodies. This is an area that can be improved for more successful communication. 

Mutually reinforcing activities 

Collective impact requires stakeholders to be undertaking coordinated but differentiated actions. Small everyday changes that the public take such as shutting off lights when they aren’t in the room, bringing their own reusable cup to cafes and taking public transport over driving are all actions that are contributing to the overall goal of reducing their personal carbon footprint. Encouraging these actions that advance the overarching plan increase the overall impact.  

Shared measurement

It is impossible to tell how successful actions are if there is not a standard set of shared indicators to measure progress. Within climate change, the United Nations has set scale to the ‘CO2 equivalent emissions’ which standardised carbon emission with the formula Mi× Ei= CO2 eqi. This allows every country to measure their emissions in a way that is understandable to the rest of the world. 

How collective impact and climate change work together

These elements all work together to deliver concise strategy and results, which is necessary to tackle the behaviour change needed to reduce the impacts of climate change. But, collective impact needs to undergo more research before it can be applied. The lack of consideration towards equity is one criticism in the framework. There is no consideration to systematic inequality in collective impact as it views everyone’s impact as equal. This is not true as not everyone is in a position to take action based on their socio-economic status. It also does not consider that these people are most likely to be affected by the aftermath of the issues collective impact tries to solve.  

There also is not enough community engagement written into the framework. Facilitation of public forms are necessary in identifying root issues, realistic next steps and general attitude. Criticism of collective impact feel this piece is missing in the conditions. 

The valuable aspects of collective impact can be utilised in the fight against climate change, and other frameworks can supplement the ideas in order to create an equitable and effective communication strategy to shift behaviour.  

Written by Arden Lunay
Arden has a passion for combining creative communication skills with social justice knowledge to create change. She is bringing a fresh outlook to the industry and excited to share her ideas.