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New Study Highlights Power of Community Collaboratives to Tackle Social Ills, Catalyze Change
Bridgespan Group

February, 2012

A newly released study undertaken by the Bridgespan Group at the request of the White House Council for Community Solutions (the Council) examines community collaboratives from across the country that are successfully tackling some of society’s most intractable problems by uniting local leaders, organizations, and their services around a single-minded goal. The research focused on multi-stakeholder partnerships that have achieved “needle moving” change (at least 10% change in a community-wide metric, such as high school graduation), to set a clear standard for success. 

According to Michele Jolin, a member of the Council and co-author of the study, “Bridgespan’s work provides practical information that we hope will empower communities to pursue a new kind of cross-sector collaborative to solve their most pressing problems, especially how to change the trajectory of youth who are disconnected from education and employment.We need the collective efforts of people in business, nonprofit and government working together to leverage their resources in pursuit of a common goal.”

Willa Seldon, Bridgespan partner and co-author of the study said, “This research underscores the potential of community collaboratives to help communities do more with the same or fewer resources. Partners in community collaboratives are forging a path to investing limited resources in what works to transform lives and neighborhoods.”

The study found 12 examples of community collaboration that had effected significant change against a community-wide goal. In addition, it identified at least 80-100 collaborations across the country that are actively working toward this goal, and at least another 500 in the planning stages. “We sought to understand better how these collaboratives have been working, what they have achieved and what lessons their experience holds for other communities,” said Seldon.

The study surfaced four common operating principles among the collaboratives:

·        Commit to long-term involvement

·        Involve key stakeholders across sectors

·        Use data to set the agenda and improve over time, and

·        Engage community members as substantive partners

It also surfaced five key characteristics of success:

·        Shared vision and agenda: Establishing a quantifiable goal, though challenging, acts as a catalyzing force to build support and momentum.

·        Effective leadership and governance: The leaders in a collaborative play the role of lead convener, as opposed to the individual everyone follows. It is critical that this person be viewed as a neutral, honest broker.

·        Alignment of resources, programs and advocacy toward what works: Regardless of their breadth, successful collaboratives pursue a logical link between the goals they seek, the interventions they support, and what they measure to assess progress.

·        Dedicated staff capacity and appropriate structure: Staff is essential to convene and facilitate meetings, collect, aggregate and analyze data, manage internal and external communications, and provide critical administration.

·        Sufficient funding: Sustaining funding itself becomes one of the collaborative’s key objectives.

Finally, when asked how those outside the community could support the success of community collaboratives, these local leaders suggested that they could use help “getting the word out” about what’s distinctive about these new approaches to collaboration to give them added credibility, encouraging donors and government to support the staffing and resource needs of collaborative efforts, and by increasing access to technical assistance and information sharing among groups doing similar work.

The Bridgespan Group developed this analysis in collaboration with leaders of community collabortives, and created a Community Collaboratives Toolbox for the Council to help local leaders develop the long-term, cross-sector partnerships critical for addressing their most pressing problems, including the underlying barriers that keep young adults out of school and jobs. A study done for the Council by Columbia University and CUNY/Queens College titled, “The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth,”shows that at least one in six young people (ages 16-24) are disconnected from education and the workforce. And while more than half of these young adults are actively looking for full-time work, additional research from the America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research Associates spotlights the range of barriers impeding their ability to make long-term commitments to learning and employment, including: family responsibilities (39%); lack of transportation (37%); and not knowing how to prepare a resume or interview (32%).

To arrange an interview,please contact Liz London,, 646-562-8906.


About The Bridgespan Group

Founded in 2000, The Bridgespan Group ( is a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. We collaborate with social sector leaders to help scale impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning. We work on issues related to society’s most important challenges in three primary areas: pathways to opportunity for disadvantaged populations, environmental sustainability, and civic engagement. Our services include strategy consulting, executive search, leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights.

About The White House Council for Community Solutions

Created by an executive order of President Barack Obama in December 2010, the White House Council for Community Solutions works to identify effective community solutions and catalyze cross-sector collaborations to help our nation’s most at-risk youth succeed. By investing in what’s working and spreading those innovative solutions to more communities, we can connect more young adults to a brighter future. For more information, visit:


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