Data can often be the missing link in a collective impact initiative. However, data plays a substantial role in informing the collective. It has a significant role in the initial planning and determination of focus for collective initiatives, enabling the approach to be greater than simply collaboration. An area that many collectives find challenging is the role that data plays; often caused by stereotyping the use of data as being ‘intimidating’. In fact, using data can be ‘liberating’ – providing freedom in the process of analysis and improvement, enabling collective impact initiatives to clearly demonstrate the impact that the mutually reinforcing activities are having on the community.

What role does data play in the initial phases of a collective?

Anecdotally, collectives can have an idea about the key issues that are impacting their community. However, without the evidence that data provides, the collective is limited in their ability to analyse the forces at work influencing what is occurring. Data helps collectives drive the process of results. It is a continuous improvement process through the use of data to drive the focus over time. To commence this process, collectives need to:

  • Identify data that is available: What data exists that tells us how we are going as a community in a particular area? For example, if the agreed result is ‘children are ready for school’, then it would be important to determine accessibility of data that will demonstrate what is happening for children in the community based on the key determinants of school readiness. Data can be difficult to access, so partnerships with departments, data sources, and key contributors who collect data relating to your collective is important and improves the accessibility of data on a regular basis.
  • Be Data Prepared: Some of the data work needs to be done prior to inviting and engaging all partners in the process of analysing the data. This is an important foundation of the governance process. This data work includes the following steps:
    • Access to data that relates to your agreed result.
    • Does the data have more than two data points? For example, has it been collected over a period of time that can demonstrate a trend in a baseline (baseline data has a history and provides you with the opportunity to forecast its trend if nothing changes).
    • Apply the criteria for ‘selecting indicators’ to determine how strong the data is in relation to other data available, by asking the following questions:
      • Does the data have communication power? (Does a broad audience understand the data?)
      • Does it have proxy power? (Does it say something of central importance about the agreed result)
      • Does it have data power? (Is it available on a timely basis?)

(Mark Friedman 2005)

  • What is the data telling us? Commence this process initially within your backbone/governance structure to gain some initial analysis of the compounding issues.  This enables the backbone to determine if there are additional partners who need to be engaged in the collective and will be crucial in the data analysis process. This process is called ‘the story behind the baseline’ (Friedman, M. 2005). The story allows you to engage stakeholders, the community and identified partners in the process. This is the community voice and local expertise that is crucial to understanding and analysing what is influencing the result in the community. There are many tools that can be used to ensure a deep analysis of the compounding influences. The deeper the analysis, the greater the opportunity to determine approaches that are multifaceted and mutually reinforcing.
  • Is there other data needed? Through this process, often there are questions raised that require additional data to tell the story. This data may not be available and may need to be developed – this forms a ‘data development agenda’ and is a crucial part of the process. The collective might determine that it is a vital investment to develop this data and will assist them in their initiative.
  • How are we going to track and improve this data over time? This is where the process of a shared measurement system discussed strongly within the conditions of collective impact is reinforced. Providing a system that can track the changes in the community indicators (data), enables the collective initiative to demonstrate the influence and contribution of the mutually reinforcing activities on the community change. Without data, it is impossible to clearly demonstrate the impact that the collective initiative is having towards the agreed result.

The Benefits of Using Data from the Beginning

  • Provides the opportunity for deeper analysis of the forces at work within a community related to the result.
  • Enables collectives to interpret data and identify if additional data is required to provide a deeper understanding of what is occurring.
  • Enables discussion and provides a process to engage the community and partners gaining local understanding.
  • Allows collectives to start from a strong position of understanding the baseline data so as to commence the tracking and evaluation of change at the community level.
  • Evidence of the work that is being achieved through the collective – leverage of the data through a results driven focus.
  • Identification of the influence on other data – ‘data runs in herds’ premise – positive movement on one data source often impacts others.


This blog post was written by Kate Tye, Capacity Building Consultant at Clear Impact Australia.

Don’t miss Kate at the RBA Australia Summit:

RBA AU SummitCollective Impact is gaining momentum in Australia with many communities joining together for positive change. In the “Collective Impact Masterclass” session at this year’s RBA Australia Summit, Kate, along with colleague Kerry Graham,  will provide an overview of what is happening in Australia in terms of Collective Impact. JaNay Queen, Head of Collective Impact at Living Cities (USA), will then provide two international case studies demonstrating the use of RBA and Collective Impact. In conclusion, participants will have the opportunity to ask questions of the panel which includes: JaNay Queen, Kerry Graham and Kate Tye.

Learn more and register at

References: ‘Trying Hard is Not Good Enough, How to Produce Measureable Improvements for Customers and Communities.’ Mark Friedman, 2005.