Collective Impact Literature Review

Collective Impact Literature Review

A comprehensive overview of the current topics covered within collective impact literature, and the trends and gaps in the collective impact field.


As we continuously test the principles of collective impact and learn from our site partners and colleagues in the field, we are committed to sharing what we are learning along the way. We recently conducted a literature review on collective impact sources with the goals of (1), to create a comprehensive overview of the current topics covered within collective impact, and (2) to identify the trends and gaps in the collective impact field to help inform our work. We wanted to publish this literature review to make it easily accessible to our partners and peers in the field with the hopes it would be a useful knowledge resource and also provide insights to how Living Cities gathers data to drive internal priorities and decisions.

The main sources for this data are comprised from collective impact field leaders that we identified as having the highest volume of collective impact content and also the highest traffic of collective impact practitioners. They are: the Collective Impact Forum (CIF), FSG, Living Cities, the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), and StriveTogether. We then identified 13 topics to categorize each entry to further analyze the data.

Major takeaways from our research

Trends: “Profile(s) of a Collective Impact Initiative” and “Principles of Collective Impact” were the Largest Topic Categories

  • Many practitioners want real examples of how other initiatives have been successful within the collective impact framework. The topic “Profile(s) of a collective impact initiative” gives practitioners just that, illustrating how an initiative used the principles for their cross-sector partnership and how they overcame obstacles to reach their shared result.
  • Collective impact is a relatively new framework. “Principles of collective impact” was another popular topic, and these resources give practitioners a broad overview of the structure for an initiative and also clarify methodology.

Living Cities’ Unique Niche: “Community Engagement” & “Racial Equity”

  • Out of the five sources for resources we analyzed, Living Cities provided 35% of the content in the “community engagement” topic. Our e-course, “The Why and How of Working with Communities through Collective Impact: An E-Course”, was a large driver of this content.
  • In the last two years, Living Cities has started to operationalize a racial equity lens in our work and we have just begun documenting our successes and challenges along the way as it relates to collective impact. This is reflected in the literature: 58% of “racial equity” content in the collective impact field came from Living Cities.

Gaps: “Public Sector Engagement” and “Private Sector Engagement” were the Smallest Topic Categories

  • We see public and private sector engagement as great growth topics for our future knowledge work at Living Cities and the field at large. Not only are they some of the least covered topics currently in the collective impact field, but our partners on the ground have been hungry for resources on engaging the public and private sectors at their cross-sector tables.
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