Effective backbone support is a critical condition for collective impact. In fact, it is the number one reason that collective impact initiatives fail. In this publication, we provide communities and organizations engaged in collective impact with guidance on the role of the backbone and how to understand and support its effectiveness.In the Greater Cincinnati region, collective impact has become the "new normal," and The Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) has made a commitment to support the infrastructure of collective impact - the backbone organization itself - in an effort to sustain and scale long-term systemic change and impact in the community. However, the role of the backbone organization in collective impact is complex and can be difficult to explain.In early 2012, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation and FSG began a partnership to define the value of backbone organizations and better understand back-bone effectiveness by working with six local backbone organizations and collective impact initiatives.
  • Backbone organizations essentially pursue six common activities to support and facilitate collective impact which distinguish this work from other collaborative efforts: guide vision and strategy; support aligned activities; establish shared measurement practices; build public will; advance policy; and mobilize funding.
  • Across organizations, the value of backbone support was commonly viewed as unmistakable; individual partners could not do the work of collective impact without it.
  • External communications, building public will, and advancing policy are common backbone challenges.
  • Backbone organizations’ partners need ongoing assistance with data. Although establishing shared measurement practices was seen broadly as a strength of many of the backbone organizations, building partners’ capacity to contribute and use data in a shared measurement system is a common area for improvement.
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