The Role of Collective Impact in the Sport for Development Sector 

The Sport for Development (S4D) sector is a part of the wider social good sector which uses sport and physical activity as a tool to create social change/development outcomes. I know from personal experience of founding and running Steet League for 10 years, about the influence that well run sport for development programs can have on individuals’ lives. Street League continues to this day supporting young disadvantaged adults in the UK in finding the right education, training and job opportunities, where other more traditional interventions have failed. In a similar vein, the global S4D sector aspires to help solve problems ranging from extreme poverty, the HIV and AIDS epidemic, peace and conflict resolution in war-torn countries and communities, and to empowering women and girls to realise better futures.

The unifying feature of all these problems is their inherent complexity i.e. there is no one simple solution that fits all situations and contexts. These issues, that often small NGO’s operating in the field seek to address, are usually influenced by large, complex and interdependent systems, which involve many different players including governments, for-profit corporations, and large foundations.

The S4D sector has traditionally worked in a fragmented way, driven by funders who focus their efforts upon selecting individual grantees; therefore non-profits have traditionally worked separately and compete for the limited resources available. This subsequently drives the evaluation attempts of the sector to specifically isolate a single organization’s impact. Funders usually grant with the hope of finding THE one ‘magic bullet’ which can then be scaled up in future to create sufficient impact to solve the problem in question. All this effort is also usually disconnected from corporate and government sectors. The RESULT….an elusive ‘magic bullet’, with only isolated examples of impact, where individual success stories and case studies prevail (which, don’t get me wrong, are a good thing in themselves!), but there is no conversion of this success to the general population or community-wide level.

Alison Carney

Members of the S4D sector need to have a new model of thinking and acting on complex problems. Collective Impact has emerged in recent years as a model the social sector can look toward to create change. According to FSG Collective Impact Model 2013, collective impact is the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem However, just to be clear, collaboration efforts across the social sector are nothing new. Collective Impact coalitions, however, are much more structured and intentional in aligning everyone’s respective efforts, learning from what works and driving interdependence amongst actors, by applying a set of key principles and processes designed to make collaboration much more effective. For example, through a common goal orientation and a commonly agreed strategic approach, a group of actors gradually become more aware of their dependence upon the success of others in their environment to achieve their long-term social goals. The process raises everyone’s collective awareness of ‘the fundamental underlying problems’ that exist at the ‘systems level’, and in the same instance, the awareness offers a collective solution to them, instead of working in the individual bubble that has been the case in the past.

To this extent Collective Impact is more of a ‘problem solving approach’ to situations of social complexity than a ‘one size fits all’ solution in itself. This raises the game for everyone concerned, as well as increases the long-term likelihood of actually eradicating a complex social issue!

One of the most important tools to enable such an inter-dependence to exist in practice is the development of shared measurement practices across a collective. Shared Measurement involves organisations who are working on similar issues, developing a common understanding of what to measure and developing the tools that can be used by many NGO’s, social enterprises and funders working towards these same goals. This means coordinating how different sport for development organizations measure their results and coordinating the learning from the evidence base that subsequently emerges. Such efforts are now underway through Laureus Sport for Good Foundation’s USA Model City Initiative in New Orleans. Through this initiative, Laureus USA is acting as a backbone organization to facilitate the New Orleans Sport for Community Coalition (NOSCC). This work is supported by the inFocus evaluation team and its’ associated tools designed to support shared measurement practices.

Through NOSCC, we are not only driving the ability of many non-profits working on the ground across New Orleans to identify and learn from their peers’ most successful practises, but also we are looking to support the various funders’ efforts to make more informed choices about the deployment of resources.

The most fundamental and exciting product of introducing shared measurement practices to a coalition of this type, is the subsequent ability of these collective initiatives, whether acting at the global, regional or local level, to fundamentally drive a ‘systems level’ approach to solving the many complex social issues the sector seeks to address. In order to fully realize the potential impact of sport for development as a sector, we need to collectively take a ‘systems level’ approach rather than continuing to create ‘isolated impact.’