How Public Policy Can Support Collective Impact

Take a look at any set of youth issues that you hear people complain about in the news: youth mental health, youth violence, youth homelessness, you name it. Each of those issues is not squarely in the hands of any one federal, state or local agency to tackle. But because our government agencies aren’t set up to work together very well, they don’t typically tackle these issues very well.

If government is going to more effectively take on such complex social problems, somebody has to connect the dots among these different agencies. Somebody like José Esquibel.

Jose has spent the past several years guiding the coordination of children and youth programs managed by state agencies in Colorado. Spurred by a legislative mandate, these government agencies now routinely work to align their objectives, processes and decisions with each other and with local governments.

Colorado is one of several states that are leading the way in bringing collective impact strategies to policymaking. I hope that everyone who’s involved in public policy for children and youth reads about those efforts in this new report, How Public Policy Can Support Collective Impact.

The report, which the Forum for Youth Investment wrote in partnership with FSG, provides examples of and recommendations for local, state and federal policies that help communities use collective impact strategies to take on social problems. Published by the Collective Impact Forum, the report draws on interviews with policymakers, extensive secondary research and our experiences in the policy world.

The report shows how government agencies are seeing that the collective impact approach can make public programs and policies more efficient and effective. Because when policy leaders ask, “Are we getting the outcomes we want for our young people?”, the answer is almost always “no.” And one reason is almost always that government agencies haven’t come together sufficiently to tackle the issues.

Sure, there’s lots of ad hoc collaboration and partnering among policymakers – but collective impact requires a significant, structural and transparent process. If policymakers and stakeholders haven’t come together to agree on the common outcomes they’re driving for, that has a huge impact on how policy gets shaped, how data gets tracked and what gets funded.  Without shared outcomes and an agreement on how to reach them, you end up with lots of well-intentioned policies that veer off in different directions.

Governors, mayors and county executives can play a crucial role by acting as the holders of that big vision and by setting expectations that their cabinets will work toward common outcomes in this more formal way.

The report explains how policymakers can begin or enhance their collective impact efforts, with sections on “How to Enhance Public Policy Through Government Structure and Practice,” “How Philanthropy Can Incentivize Smarter Public Policy” and “Three Mindsets to Sustain Shifts in Policy and Practice.” After you read about the experiences of others, we’d be happy to hear about your experiences. Contact me at