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With the buzz about “collective impact” over the last few years, a quick Google search will yield a wealth of tools, resources, forums and organizations dedicated to helping ignite a group of local leaders from various community sectors toward a common agenda to resolve a complex social problem using a specific framework. However, weeding through this abundance of resources to identify rural collective impact models proves to be a bit like searching for a four-leaf clover in a grassy field.

Although rural collective impact models may be more difficult to identify, they are beginning to take their place on the stage as rural communities are identifying the intrinsic value of using this framework to improve community outcomes amidst the scarcity of resources that often exist in their rural economies. As rural communities embrace a collective impact framework as a way of authentically collaborating for social change, one critical question leaders should consider is how collective impact implementation must be adapted for a rural setting versus an urban setting to achieve the maximum output.

If I have learned anything working in rural communities for more than 20 years, it is the power of people and relationships. The rich heritage of Appalachian Kentucky is chocked-full of people who persevered, finding strength in some of the most challenging circumstances while also calling on their network of people to help them overcome the challenge at hand. It is this fabric of tight-knit relationships that must be woven into the rural collective impact tapestry. As we strive to align contributions around a shared result, it may mean utilizing personal one-to-one communication to engage stakeholders. It may also require relying on another community member with a personal relationship to activate another stakeholder. My experience is that it does not mean creating new community groups, but meeting people where they are in their existing community networks and helping them to see themselves in the data and recognize that they all have a contribution to the solution.

Implementing collective impact in a rural community is not without risk. With the lack of available resources and educational supports in many rural communities, carrying out new strategies or approaches may be perceived as hazardous. We are often asking leaders to risk the marginal footing they currently hold for nothing more than a possibility – a possibility of standing on a mountain of results. As we ask stakeholders to join us in the cause, we must remain transparent about the potential risks.

As a transformational leader, I have often found myself utilizing my passion to petition leaders, but was then left wondering why I was standing alone in the trenches of the work. Charisma and passion may have seemed to work on the surface, but in reality stakeholders were left with more questions than answers as they weighed their potential losses against the possible outcomes. When I employed the tool of transparency and helped leaders identify their potential losses while also helping them see a new vision, they were far more likely to join those in the trenches working toward a common result for their community.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention the importance of acknowledging time as a resource that is often scarce in our rural Appalachian Kentucky communities. It is the lack of people resources that lead many stakeholders to wear more proverbial hats than they can count. As such, it is imperative to remain transparent about the time obligations required while also allowing leaders sufficient time to consider and process their commitments.

In a recent community leadership meeting, I recognized that the group was struggling to align because they had not been given ample time to consider all the factors and implications, individually or collectively. I recognized through the conflict that the group was crying out for one thing – time. Rather than moving the group to a decision within the confines of the meeting, I gave them time to dialogue outside of the meeting, connect with their networks, and reflect on the information provided.

Within a one-week time frame, leaders had very thoughtfully reviewed the data, engaged additional stakeholders, and all aligned around a common result for the next year. Without the additional time, I can tell with you with complete confidence that today we would not have a group of local leaders willing to take a risk in service of the results they want for their community.

Using the collective impact framework, informed by local context while utilizing the power of relationships and naming the risks, are what I believe to be the fundamental elements to achieving the most impactful cradle-to-career results in a rural setting.

To learn more about the “Pipelines to Success in Rural Communities – From Community Vision to Creating Cradle-to-Career Results,” join me at the Indiana Youth Institute’s College and Career Conference on June 5 and 6 in Indianapolis. Register here: http://bit.ly/IYICollegeAndCareer

About Sherry L. Scott

Sherry Scott serves as the organizational results and data officer for Partners for Education. Scott has more than twenty-five years leadership experience working in the non-profit and education sectors. She has extensive experience directing federal grant programs, developing partnerships and key coalitions, designing data-driven continuous improvement systems and leading cradle-to-career, place-based initiatives in Appalachia Kentucky. A first-generation graduate, Scott earned both her bachelor’s degree of business administration in marketing and her master’s degree in corrections and juvenile services from Eastern Kentucky University.

Additional Resources

Learn more about Partners for Education at Berea College: https://www.berea.edu/pfe/

Click here for more information on Results CountTM and the Annie E. Casey Foundation: https://www.aecf.org/work/leadership-development/results-count/