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Rowing together to reach our goals: collective impact

Many partners gathered in May to break ground at 81st and Troost where KC Water Services will begin installing a stormwater detention basin. Pictured, left to right are: Jill Erickson, Heartland Conservation Alliance; Terry Leeds, KC Water Services Director; Cindy Circo, former KC City Council; Alissia Canady, 5th District City Council; and to the far right, Brenda Thomas, Marlborough Community Coalition President.

Imagine a rowing crew of eight. Now imagine each crew member rowing to their own rhythm and direction. Needless to say, the racing shell would not get very far. It seems so obvious and yet, too often in our community there are many conservation organizations working in isolation from one another. Collective impact brings people together, in a structured way, to achieve social change. Heartland Conservation Alliance was founded on this principle and has been using collective impact to protect places people love in the Kansas City metropolitan area. We are serving as a backbone to a common agenda among many diverse partners because this is how we believe we will most effectively make a difference in our community. The Stanford Social Innovation Review states that the key components of collective impact are a common agenda, having shared measurements, supporting mutually reinforcing activities, engaging in continuous communication, and a having strong backbone agency. The Collective Impact Forum further explains that this “means coming together to collectively define the problem and create a shared vision to solve it. It establishes shared measurement. That means agreeing to track progress in the same way, which allows for continuous improvement. It fosters mutually reinforcing activities. That means coordinating collective efforts to maximize the end result. It encourages continuous communication. That means building trust and relationships among all participants. And it has a strong backbone. That means having a team dedicated to orchestrating the work of the group.” One exciting example of collective impact in action is the Renew the Blue campaign launched this past April. Partners had a common goal, and that was to solve the question: how do we tell people that the Blue River is an amazing asset in our community? Many partners are actively restoring habitat along the river and many partners are teaching people about the importance of the river’s water quality like Blue River Watershed Association and Mid-America Regional Council. Many partners are actively managing and caring for the river like Kansas City, Missouri, Water Department and Lakeside Nature Center’s Stream Team #175. But we all had a different story to tell and are working on different parts of the river. It is reminiscent of the fable of the six blind men asked to describe an elephant. Each one of course describes the part he feels and they miss the opportunity to share their stories and accurately describe the animal. Working together, partners recognized that we could come together under one campaign and talk to our individual audiences with a unified message. We could all co-brand our efforts as Renew the Blue and help the general public, policy makers, funders, and new partners see how all of our efforts together are making this beautiful urban river more visible and healthier and more loved. This is the power of collective impact. Now imagine again that rowing team of eight. Instead of moving in different directions, they are coordinated and rowing together in unison, and together they win the race. Heartland Conservation Alliance relies on the strength of its outstanding partners to accomplish great things for conservation, and together we are protecting places we love in our metro area.

Partners spoke at a dedication ceremony in April hosted by Kansas City Water Services celebrating the completion of its 40-year channel project and as part of Renew the Blue. Pictured from left to right: Troy Schulte, KC City Manager; Lynda Hoffman, KC Water Services; Col. Andrew D. Sexton, US Army Corps of Engineers; Jill Erickson, Urban Waters Ambassador; Mark Hague, EPA Regional Administrator; and Ron Borst, Blue Valley Stakeholder.

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