Chapter 4 Sociological Views of Delinquency
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1 Chapter 4 Sociological Views of Delinquency
Juvenile Delinquency Chapter 4 Sociological Views of Delinquency
2 Chapter Objectives Be familiar with the association between social conditions and crime. Discuss the effect of racial disparity on delinquency. Describe the principles of social disorganization theory. Discuss the work of social ecologists. Define the concept of anomie and how it impacts on delinquent behavior. Be familiar with recent developments in strain theory.
3 Chapter Objectives Know what is meant by the term cultural deviance and be familiar with theories of cultural deviance. Discuss the concept of social process and socialization. Be familiar with the concept of social learning and social learning theories. Discuss the elements of social control theory. Explain how the labeling process is related to delinquent careers.
4 Case Profile: Jay’s Story
Jay Simmons entered the juvenile justice system when he was living with his family Around age 11 his problems were becoming more evident Many people saw great potential in him but his criminal activity continued Jay began to see his own potential and the need to make changes in his life Successfully completed his court-ordered programs and received a full athletic scholarship
5 Broader Picture of Youth
Unlike Jay, many troubled youths aren’t able to turn around their lives Most delinquents are indigent and desperate, not calculating or evil Delinquents often live in tough urban environments in families torn apart and in stress
6 Social Factors and Delinquency
Critical social factors believed to cause or affect delinquent behaviors: Interpersonal Interactions In American society today, there has been a reduction in the influence of the family and an increased emphasis on individuality, independence and isolation These weakened family ties have been linked to crime and delinquency
7 Social Factors and Delinquency
Critical social factors believed to cause or affect delinquent behaviors: Community Ecological Conditions Living in a deteriorated inner-city area that is wracked by poverty, decay, fear and decay causes harm ranging from poor health to criminal victimization, and many believe influences delinquent behavior These areas are the home of delinquent gangs and groups
8 Social Factors and Delinquency
Critical social factors believed to cause or affect delinquent behaviors: Social Change Political unrest and mistrust, economic stress, and family disintegration are social changes that have been found to precede sharp increases in crime rate Inversely, stable traditional social institutions typically precedes crime rate declines
9 Social Factors and Delinquency
Critical social factors believed to cause or affect delinquent behaviors: Socioeconomic Status 37 Million Americans living in poverty People on the lowest rung of the economic ladder will have the greatest incentive to commit crimes Logical, because they may be enraged by their lack of economic success, financially desperate and disillusioned
10 Social Factors and Delinquency
Minority Poverty Racial Disparity The consequences of inequities in employment, education and incarceration takes a toll upon youth 25% Black and 22% Hispanics live in poverty About 6% of white, 11% of black and 22% of Hispanics drop out of high school each year 1 in 30 men (20-34) is behind bars, for black males in the same group the figure is 1 in 9
11 Prominent Social Theories
The most prominent social theories of delinquency are based on the effects of social problems and social relations They are divided into three main groups: Social Structure Theories that hold delinquency is a function of a person’s place in the economic structure Social Process Theories view delinquency as the result of a person’s interaction with critical elements of socialization Critical Theories consider delinquent behavior to be a result of economic deprivation caused by the inequities of the capitalistic system of production
12 Social Structure Theories
In 1966 Lewis used the term “Culture of Poverty” to describe the crushing burden faced by the urban poor The “Culture of Poverty” is a view that lower class people form a separate culture with their own values and norms, which are sometimes in conflict with conventional society
13 Social Structure Theories
The “Culture of Poverty” is marked by apathy, cynicism, helplessness and mistrust of institutions, including police and government The result is a permanent underclass whose members have little chance of upward mobility or improvement This group also suffer from low self-esteem, depression and loneliness
14 Social Structure Theories
The more affluent residents move out of the inner city to more stable neighborhoods in the suburbs Those who remain are forced to live in communities outside the economic mainstream, with poorly organized social networks, alienated populations and high crime
15 Social Structure Theories
Members of the urban underclass are called the “Truly Disadvantaged” by Wilson They suffer from much more than financial hardships: They attend poor schools They have substandard housing They lack adequate health care They have family stress factors that include 50% lacking fathers Many are supported entirely by government aid
16 Social Structure Theories
The Social Structure Theories tie delinquency rates to socioeconomic structural conditions (poverty, chronic unemployment, neighborhood decay) and cultural values that form in inner-city areas (gang culture) Areas that experience high levels of poverty and social disorganization will also have high delinquency rates
17 Social Structure Theories
Social Disorganization The concept of Social Disorganization was first recognized in 1920s by Shaw and McKay They found that delinquency rates were high in what they called Transitional Neighborhoods Transitional Neighborhoods areas that had changed from affluence to decay, factories and commercial establishments were interspersed with private residences
18 Social Structure Theories
Social Disorganization In these Transitional Neighborhoods, gangs developed as a means of survival, defense and friendship Gang leaders recruit younger members, passing on the delinquent traditions and ensuring survival of the gangs from one generation to the next, called Cultural Transmission The next slide illustrates the findings of the mapping of delinquency conducted by Shaw and McKay
19 Inner-City Zones Taken from Shaw and McKay’s Concentric Zones Map of Chicago (See Figure 4.1) They found the areas of heaviest delinquency concentration within the poverty-stricken, transitional, inner-city zones These rates of male delinquency were found to be a stable pattern over a 65 year period
20 Social Structure Theories
According to the Social Disorganization Theory, a healthy, organized community has the ability to regulate itself so that common goals can be achieved, this is called Social Control Those neighborhoods that become disorganized are incapable of Social Control because they are wracked by deterioration and economic failure; they are most at risk for delinquent behavior
21 Social Structure Theories
Social Disorganization Social institutions like schools and churches cannot work effectively where there is alienation and mistrust This lack of political power limits access to external funding and protection Without these outside resources and financial aid, the neighborhood cannot get back on its feet
22 Social Structure Theories
Social Disorganization Relative Deprivation Relative Deprivation is a condition that exists when the wealthy and poor live in close proximity to each other Those who feel less well off than others begin to form negative self-feelings and hostility which motivates them to engage in delinquent and antisocial behavior
23 Social Structure Theories
Social Disorganization Community Change As communities deteriorate, there is an increase in the number of single parent families, renter occupied houses, commercial properties, loss of jobs, and discouraged, unemployed workers who are not longer seeking jobs
24 Social Structure Theories
Social Disorganization Community Fear Disorganized neighborhoods suffer social incivility, a term which, among other things, includes trash, litter, graffiti, burned out buildings, drunks, vagabonds, loitering, prostitutes, noise and congestion This convinces residents that their neighborhood is dangerous and in decline They become fearful and try not to leave their homes
25 Social Structure Theories
Social Disorganization Community Change So, how do we change these neighborhoods? Gentrification is the term given to transforming lower class areas into middle class through property rehabilitation into stable, residential, stable and affluent areas
26 Social Structure Theories
Social Disorganization Collective Efficacy – process in which mutual trust and a willingness to intervene in the supervision of children and help maintain public order create a sense of well-being
27 Social Structure Theories
Anomie/Strain Strain is defined as a condition caused by the failure to achieve one’s social goals…feelings of isolation, frustration, ostracized from the economic mainstream, hopeless, and eventually angry To relieve strain, the poor may achieve their goals through deviate methods or they may reject socially accepted goals and substitute more deviant goals
28 Social Structure Theories
Anomie/Strain Strain theorists see crime as a direct result of lower-class frustration and anger There is less strain in the wealthy areas because educational and vocational opportunities are available In disorganized areas strain occurs because legitimate avenues for success are blocked
29 Social Structure Theories
Anomie/Strain Merton said although most people share common values and goals, the means for legitimate economic and social success are stratified by socioeconomic class Upper class kids have ready access to a good education and good jobs Lower class kids rarely have these opportunities
30 Social Structure Theories
Anomie/Strain Without acceptable means for obtaining success, they feel social and psychological strain, which Merton called Anomie Youths use deviate methods to achieve their goals Youths reject socially accepted goals and substitute deviate ones
31 Social Structure Theories
General Strain Theory Agnew argued that there are more sources of Strain than recognized by Merton Strain caused by failure to achieve positively valued goals: Youths aspire to wealth and fame but assume such goals are impossible to achieve Individuals who compare themselves to others who are perceived to be doing better (Relative Deprivation)
32 Social Structure Theories
General Strain Theory Agnew argued that there are more sources of Strain than recognized by Merton Strain as the loss of a positively valued stimulus Loss of a girlfriend, death of a loved one, moving to a new neighborhood, divorce or separation Delinquents seek to somehow replace the loss, seek substitutes or revenge
33 Social Structure Theories
General Strain Theory Agnew argued that there are more sources of Strain than recognized by Merton Strain as the presentation of negative stimuli Pain inducing social interactions, child abuse, criminal victimization, school failure, stressful events Delinquents take out their rage on younger children or by committing violent acts
34 Social Structure Theories
Anomie/Strain Agnew believes that adolescents engage in delinquency as a result of Negative Affective States: Adverse emotions that are derived from strain (Anger, Frustration, Fear, Etc) The greater the intensity and frequency of strain, the greater impact, and more likely to cause delinquency
35 Social Structure Theories
Cultural Deviance Theory Cultural Deviance Theory says that delinquency is a result of a youth’s desire to conform to lower class neighborhood cultural values that conflict with those of the larger society Lower class values include being tough, never showing fear, living for today and disrespecting authority
36 Social Structure Theories
Cultural Deviance By joining gangs and committing crimes, lower class youths are rejecting the culture that has already rejected them They may be failures in conventional society, however, they are the kings of the neighborhood
37 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Socialization is the process of learning the values and norms of the society or the subculture to which the individual belongs This is accomplished by: Information Approval Rewards and punishments Learning the techniques needed to function in society Family, peers, neighborhoods, teachers all play a role
38 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Early socialization experiences have a lifelong influence on self-image, values and behavior More than 14 million youths live in poverty, but the majority do not become chronic offenders Simply living in a violent neighborhood does not produce violent children Only those who experience improper socialization are at risk for crime
39 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Socialization – Family The primary influence is the family When parenting is inadequate, a child’s maturational processes will be interrupted and damaged Parents who are supportive and effectively control their children in a non-coercive fashion are more likely to raise children who refrain form delinquency (Referred to as Parental Efficacy)
40 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Socialization – School Youths who feel that teachers do not care, who consider themselves failures and drop out of school are more likely to become involved in delinquency
41 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Socialization – Peers Involvement with peers who engage in antisocial behaviors or hold antisocial attitudes may be deeply influenced by negative peer pressure In contrast, having prosocial friends committed to conventional success may help prevent delinquency
42 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
The Socialization Process affects delinquency in 3 different ways: Learning Control Reaction
43 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
The Socialization Process affects delinquency in 3 different ways: Learning Kids learn the techniques and attitudes necessary to support delinquency They learn to commit crimes, they are born good and learn to be bad
44 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Control Delinquency may result when life situations weaken the attachment a child has to family, peers, school and society Once these bonds are broken, youths feel free to commit delinquent behavior Youths are born bad and must be taught to control themselves by parents and teachers
45 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Reaction Some kids considered winners are admired by others Other kids are labeled as troublemakers or losers, shunned by society they turn to a delinquent lifestyle Kids are born neither good nor bad, but become what they are though the reactions of others
46 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Learning Theory Social Learning Theory says that children living in even the most deteriorated areas can resist crime, if they have learned proper values and behaviors Delinquency develops by learning the values and behaviors associated with criminal activity Delinquents learn how to commit the crime and then how to deal with it psychologically
47 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Learning Theory Sutherland’s Theory of Differential Association Children learn pro-social and antisocial behaviors from friends, relatives and parents If the children put more weight on the antisocial behaviors they will learn those and become delinquent The weight comes from who they learn it from, significant others, (parents and peers) and are frequent and intense
48 Social Learning Theory
Deviant values are condoned by significant others Learning of norms and values From Figure 4.5 Youths are exposed to deviant norms Youths learn techniques and attitudes
49 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Control Theory Social Control Theory says that the cause of delinquency lies in the strength of the relationships a child forms with conventional individuals and groups They develop a strong commitment to conformity that enables them to resist pressures to violate the law
50 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Control Theory Control Theory by Hirschi All people have the potential to commit crimes (Underage Drinking = Pleasurable) People are kept in check by their social bonds or attachments to society If the social bonds are weakened, kids are able to engage in antisocial, but personally desirable behaviors
51 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Hirschi’s 4 Elements of the Social Bond: Attachment to parents, peers, schools Commitment to the pursuit of conventional activities (getting an education, saving for the future) Involvement in conventional activities schools, sports religion Belief in values rights of others and respect for the legal code If any or all of the elements of the social bond weaken, kids are free to violate the law
52 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Hirschi’s Social Bonds According to Hirschi, kids who are involved in conventional activities will enhance their social bonds and resist delinquent temptations Those children who do not have a bond or attachment to parents are not concerned with what their parents or teachers think about their behavior, or how it will affect their future, and they feel free to engage in unconventional activities such as shoplifting, substance abuse and sex It doesn’t matter if they are caught, they feel that they have little to lose
53 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Control Theory Support for Hirschi’s Social Bonds Positive social attachments helps control delinquency Kids detached from school are at risk of delinquency, whereas kids who are committed to school have less delinquency Kids who are attached to their families are less likely to get involved in deviant peer groups and less likely to engage in delinquency Kids involved in conventional leisure activities, such as supervised social activities and sports are less likely to engage in delinquency
54 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Reaction Theory Social Reaction Theory is concerned with the way society reacts to individuals and the way individuals react to society determines individual behavior Becoming stigmatized (labeled) by official social control agents, (police & courts) and unofficial social control agents (parents and neighbors) is what creates and sustains delinquent careers This view is also known as Labeling Theory
55 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Reaction Theory These labels are likely to have important consequences The degree they are perceived as deviants may affect their treatment at home and at school They may be perceived as bad influences on siblings, friends or classmates by official and non official social control agents
56 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Reaction Theory As the negative feedback of law enforcement, teachers strengthen and promote the label, delinquents see themselves as troublemakers, and form a bond to new deviant peers Through a process of identification and sanctioning, re-identification and increased sanctioning, young offenders are transformed No longer children in trouble, they are delinquents and accept it as a personal label (Self-labeling)
57 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Reaction Theory Labeling Ceremonies Court trials and expulsion hearings at school are designed to redefine the deviant’s identity Because this label is official, few question the accuracy or assessment There is also Retrospective Interpretation This seems to happen worldwide
58 Social Process Theories: Socialization and Delinquency
Social Reaction Theory The labeling process helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy If children continually receive negative feedback from teachers, parents and others opinions they take to heart, they will interpret this rejection as accurate Their behavior will begin to conform to the negative expectations, they will become the person that others perceive them to be
59 Social Conflict Theories
Critical Theory According to Critical Theory, society is in a constant state of internal conflict, and different groups strive to impose their will on others The groups conflict, because of the unequal distribution of wealth and power is the root cause of delinquency Those with money and power succeed in shaping the law to meet their needs and to maintain their interests Those whose behavior cannot conform to the needs of the powerful are defined as delinquents
60 Social Conflict Theories
Law and Justice The law and the justice system are the vehicles the “Haves” use for controlling the “Have-not” members of society The legal institutions help the rich and powerful to impose their standards of “Good” behavior on the entire society The law protects the property and safety of the “Haves” from attacks by the “Have-nots” who would upset the status quo
61 Social Conflict Theories
The Cause of Delinquency Critical Theorists view delinquency as a normal response to the conditions created by capitalism. Remember the Child Savers, Platt believed that the “Child Savers” movement real goal was to maintain order and control while preserving the existing class system
62 Social Structure Theories and Delinquency Prevention
Social Structure Theory and Delinquency Prevention Operation Weed and Seed attempted to revitalize communities Social services and law enforcement must work together within the community to be effective: Law Enforcement Community Policing Prevention, intervention and treatment Neighborhood restoration
63 Social Process Theories and Delinquency Prevention
Education programs including preschool and afterschool programs, developing curricula relevant to students’ lives, teacher development Prevention programs strengthening families in crisis, (remember attachment is a cornerstone of all social process theories) assisting in helping children develop positive images
64 Social Reaction Theories and Delinquency Prevention
Social Process Theories and Delinquency Prevention Reducing Stigma & Labeling Divert youths from official processing at the time of their initial contact with police Youths are referred to treatment facilities rather than juvenile court Restitution rather than treatment or detention The philosophy was called “Non-intervention”
65 Social Conflict Theories and Delinquency Prevention
Critical Theories and Delinquency Prevention Restorative Justice relies on non-punitive strategies for delinquency control Believes that the justice system should be a healing process, not one of retribution Most people involved in offender-victim relationships actually know each other or are related Restorative justice attempts to address the issues that produced conflict between these people, rather than to treat one as a victim deserving sympathy and the other as a delinquent deserving punishment
Evaluation of the New Britain Weed and – Central Connecticut State .
Evaluation of the New Britain Weed and – Central Connecticut State .
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<strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>New</strong> <strong>Britain</strong> <strong>Weed</strong> <strong>and</strong> Seed Program December, 2007 DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINOLOGY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF CRIME & JUSTICE <strong>Central</strong> <strong>Connecticut</strong> <strong>State</strong> University
Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.
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Essentials of Social Innovation
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The scale and complexity of the US public education system has thwarted attempted reforms for decades. Major funders, such as the Annenberg Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts have abandoned many of their efforts in frustration after acknowledging their lack of progress. Once the global leader—after World War II the United States had the highest high school graduation rate in the world—the country now ranks 18th among the top 24 industrialized nations, with more than 1 million secondary school students dropping out every year. The heroic efforts of countless teachers, administrators, and nonprofits, together with billions of dollars in charitable contributions, may have led to important improvements in individual schools and classrooms, yet system-wide progress has seemed virtually unobtainable.
Against these daunting odds, a remarkable exception seems to be emerging in Cincinnati. Strive, a nonprofit subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, has brought together local leaders to tackle the student achievement crisis and improve education throughout greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. In the four years since the group was launched, Strive partners have improved student success in dozens of key areas across three large public school districts. Despite the recession and budget cuts, 34 of the 53 success indicators that Strive tracks have shown positive trends, including high school graduation rates, fourth-grade reading and math scores, and the number of preschool children prepared for kindergarten.
Why has Strive made progress when so many other efforts have failed? It is because a core group of community leaders decided to abandon their individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to improving student achievement. More than 300 leaders of local organizations agreed to participate, including the heads of influential private and corporate foundations, city government officials, school district representatives, the presidents of eight universities and community colleges, and the executive directors of hundreds of education-related nonprofit and advocacy groups.
These leaders realized that fixing one point on the educational continuum—such as better after-school programs—wouldn’t make much difference unless all parts of the continuum improved at the same time. No single organization, however innovative or powerful, could accomplish this alone. Instead, their ambitious mission became to coordinate improvements at every stage of a young person’s life, from “cradle to career.”
Strive didn’t try to create a new educational program or attempt to convince donors to spend more money. Instead, through a carefully structured process, Strive focused the entire educational community on a single set of goals, measured in the same way. Participating organizations are grouped into 15 different Student Success Networks (SSNs) by type of activity, such as early childhood education or tutoring. Each SSN has been meeting with coaches and facilitators for two hours every two weeks for the past three years, developing shared performance indicators, discussing their progress, and most important, learning from each other and aligning their efforts to support each other.
Strive, both the organization and the process it helps facilitate, is an example of collective impact, the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.
Although rare, other successful examples of collective impact are addressing social issues that, like education, require many different players to change their behavior in order to solve a complex problem. In 1993, Marjorie Mayfield Jackson helped found the Elizabeth River Project with a mission of cleaning up the Elizabeth River in southeastern Virginia, which for decades had been a dumping ground for industrial waste. They engaged more than 100 stakeholders, including the city governments of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach, Va., the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Navy, and dozens of local businesses, schools, community groups, environmental organizations, and universities, in developing an 18-point plan to restore the watershed. Fifteen years later, more than 1,000 acres of watershed land have been conserved or restored, pollution has been reduced by more than 215 million pounds, concentrations of the most severe carcinogen have been cut sixfold, and water quality has significantly improved. Much remains to be done before the river is fully restored, but already 27 species of fish and oysters are thriving in the restored wetlands, and bald eagles have returned to nest on the shores.
Or consider Shape up Somerville, a citywide effort to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in elementary school children in Somerville, Mass. Led by Christina Economos, an associate professor at Tufts University’s Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, the program engaged government officials, educators, businesses, nonprofits, and citizens in collectively defining wellness and weight gain prevention practices. Schools agreed to offer healthier foods, teach nutrition, and promote physical activity. Local restaurants received a certification if they served low-fat, high nutritional food. The city organized a farmers’ market and provided healthy lifestyle incentives such as reduced-price gym memberships for city employees. Even sidewalks were modified and crosswalks repainted to encourage more children to walk to school. The result was a statistically significant decrease in body mass index among the community’s young children between 2002 and 2005.
Even companies are beginning to explore collective impact to tackle social problems. Mars, a manufacturer of chocolate brands such as M&M’s, Snickers, and Dove, is working with NGOs, local governments, and even direct competitors to improve the lives of more than 500,000 impoverished cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire, where Mars sources a large portion of its cocoa. Research suggests that better farming practices and improved plant stocks could triple the yield per hectare, dramatically increasing farmer incomes and improving the sustainability of Mars’s supply chain. To accomplish this, Mars must enlist the coordinated efforts of multiple organizations: the Cote d’Ivoire government needs to provide more agricultural extension workers, the World Bank needs to finance new roads, and bilateral donors need to support NGOs in improving health care, nutrition, and education in cocoa growing communities. And Mars must find ways to work with its direct competitors on pre-competitive issues to reach farmers outside its supply chain.
These varied examples all have a common theme: that large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations. Evidence of the effectiveness of this approach is still limited, but these examples suggest that substantially greater progress could be made in alleviating many of our most serious and complex social problems if nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact. It doesn’t happen often, not because it is impossible, but because it is so rarely attempted. Funders and nonprofits alike overlook the potential for collective impact because they are used to focusing on independent action as the primary vehicle for social change.
Most funders, faced with the task of choosing a few grantees from many applicants, try to ascertain which organizations make the greatest contribution toward solving a social problem. Grantees, in turn, compete to be chosen by emphasizing how their individual activities produce the greatest effect. Each organization is judged on its own potential to achieve impact, independent of the numerous other organizations that may also influence the issue. And when a grantee is asked to evaluate the impact of its work, every attempt is made to isolate that grantee’s individual influence from all other variables.
The Next Chapter: Centering Equity
In the Winter 2022 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review, the authors of this article published a follow-up essay reflecting on a decade of applying the collective impact approach and arguing that the framework must be redefined to make equity central to the work. Read “Centering Equity in Collective Impact” here.
In short, the nonprofit sector most frequently operates using an approach that we call isolated impact. It is an approach oriented toward finding and funding a solution embodied within a single organization, combined with the hope that the most effective organizations will grow or replicate to extend their impact more widely. Funders search for more effective interventions as if there were a cure for failing schools that only needs to be discovered, in the way that medical cures are discovered in laboratories. As a result of this process, nearly 1.4 million nonprofits try to invent independent solutions to major social problems, often working at odds with each other and exponentially increasing the perceived resources required to make meaningful progress. Recent trends have only reinforced this perspective. The growing interest in venture philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, for example, has greatly benefited the social sector by identifying and accelerating the growth of many high-performing nonprofits, yet it has also accentuated an emphasis on scaling up a few select organizations as the key to social progress.
Despite the dominance of this approach, there is scant evidence that isolated initiatives are the best way to solve many social problems in today’s complex and interdependent world. No single organization is responsible for any major social problem, nor can any single organization cure it. In the field of education, even the most highly respected nonprofits—such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Teach for America, and the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)—have taken decades to reach tens of thousands of children, a remarkable achievement that deserves praise, but one that is three orders of magnitude short of the tens of millions of U.S. children that need help.
The problem with relying on the isolated impact of individual organizations is further compounded by the isolation of the nonprofit sector. Social problems arise from the interplay of governmental and commercial activities, not only from the behavior of social sector organizations. As a result, complex problems can be solved only by cross-sector coalitions that engage those outside the nonprofit sector.
We don’t want to imply that all social problems require collective impact. In fact, some problems are best solved by individual organizations. In “Leading Boldly,” an article we wrote with Ron Heifetz for the winter 2004 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, we described the difference between technical problems and adaptive problems. Some social problems are technical in that the problem is well defined, the answer is known in advance, and one or a few organizations have the ability to implement the solution. Examples include funding college scholarships, building a hospital, or installing inventory controls in a food bank. Adaptive problems, by contrast, are complex, the answer is not known, and even if it were, no single entity has the resources or authority to bring about the necessary change. Reforming public education, restoring wetland environments, and improving community health are all adaptive problems. In these cases, reaching an effective solution requires learning by the stakeholders involved in the problem, who must then change their own behavior in order to create a solution.
Shifting from isolated impact to collective impact is not merely a matter of encouraging more collaboration or public-private partnerships. It requires a systemic approach to social impact that focuses on the relationships between organizations and the progress toward shared objectives. And it requires the creation of a new set of nonprofit management organizations that have the skills and resources to assemble and coordinate the specific elements necessary for collective action to succeed.
The Five Conditions of Collective Success
Our research shows that successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together produce true alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.
1. Common Agenda | Collective impact requires all participants to have a shared vision for change, one that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions. Take a close look at any group of funders and nonprofits that believe they are working on the same social issue, and you quickly find that it is often not the same issue at all. Each organization often has a slightly different definition of the problem and the ultimate goal. These differences are easily ignored when organizations work independently on isolated initiatives, yet these differences splinter the efforts and undermine the impact of the field as a whole. Collective impact requires that these differences be discussed and resolved. Every participant need not agree with every other participant on all dimensions of the problem. In fact, disagreements continue to divide participants in all of our examples of collective impact. All participants must agree, however, on the primary goals for the collective impact initiative as a whole. The Elizabeth River Project, for example, had to find common ground among the different objectives of corporations, governments, community groups, and local citizens in order to establish workable cross-sector initiatives.
Funders can play an important role in getting organizations to act in concert. In the case of Strive, rather than fueling hundreds of strategies and nonprofits, many funders have aligned to support Strive’s central goals. The Greater Cincinnati Foundation realigned its education goals to be more compatible with Strive, adopting Strive’s annual report card as the foundation’s own measures for progress in education. Every time an organization applied to Duke Energy for a grant, Duke asked, “Are you part of the [Strive] network?” And when a new funder, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, expressed interest in education, they were encouraged by virtually every major education leader in Cincinnati to join Strive if they wanted to have an impact in local education. 1
2. Shared Measurement Systems | Developing a shared measurement system is essential to collective impact. Agreement on a common agenda is illusory without agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported. Collecting data and measuring results consistently on a short list of indicators at the community level and across all participating organizations not only ensures that all efforts remain aligned, it also enables the participants to hold each other accountable and learn from each other’s successes and failures.
It may seem impossible to evaluate hundreds of different organizations on the same set of measures. Yet recent advances in Web-based technologies have enabled common systems for reporting performance and measuring outcomes. These systems increase efficiency and reduce cost. They can also improve the quality and credibility of the data collected, increase effectiveness by enabling grantees to learn from each other’s performance, and document the progress of the field as a whole. 2
All of the preschool programs in Strive, for example, have agreed to measure their results on the same criteria and use only evidence-based decision making. Each type of activity requires a different set of measures, but all organizations engaged in the same type of activity report on the same measures. Looking at results across multiple organizations enables the participants to spot patterns, find solutions, and implement them rapidly. The preschool programs discovered that children regress during the summer break before kindergarten. By launching an innovative “summer bridge” session, a technique more often used in middle school, and implementing it simultaneously in all preschool programs, they increased the average kindergarten readiness scores throughout the region by an average of 10 percent in a single year. 3
3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities | Collective impact initiatives depend on a diverse group of stakeholders working together, not by requiring that all participants do the same thing, but by encouraging each participant to undertake the specific set of activities at which it excels in a way that supports and is coordinated with the actions of others.
The power of collective action comes not from the sheer number of participants or the uniformity of their efforts, but from the coordination of their differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action. Each stakeholder’s efforts must fit into an overarching plan if their combined efforts are to succeed. The multiple causes of social problems, and the components of their solutions, are interdependent. They cannot be addressed by uncoordinated actions among isolated organizations.
All participants in the Elizabeth River Project, for example, agreed on the 18-point watershed restoration plan, but each is playing a different role based on its particular capabilities. One group of organizations works on creating grassroots support and engagement among citizens, a second provides peer review and recruitment for industrial participants who voluntarily reduce pollution, and a third coordinates and reviews scientific research.
The 15 SSNs in Strive each undertake different types of activities at different stages of the educational continuum. Strive does not prescribe what practices each of the 300 participating organizations should pursue. Each organization and network is free to chart its own course consistent with the common agenda, and informed by the shared measurement of results.
4. Continuous Communication | Developing trust among nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies is a monumental challenge. Participants need several years of regular meetings to build up enough experience with each other to recognize and appreciate the common motivation behind their different efforts. They need time to see that their own interests will be treated fairly, and that decisions will be made on the basis of objective evidence and the best possible solution to the problem, not to favor the priorities of one organization over another.
Even the process of creating a common vocabulary takes time, and it is an essential prerequisite to developing shared measurement systems. All the collective impact initiatives we have studied held monthly or even biweekly in-person meetings among the organizations’ CEO-level leaders. Skipping meetings or sending lower-level delegates was not acceptable. Most of the meetings were supported by external facilitators and followed a structured agenda.
The Strive networks, for example, have been meeting regularly for more than three years. Communication happens between meetings too: Strive uses Web-based tools, such as Google Groups, to keep communication flowing among and within the networks. At first, many of the leaders showed up because they hoped that their participation would bring their organizations additional funding, but they soon learned that was not the meetings’ purpose. What they discovered instead were the rewards of learning and solving problems together with others who shared their same deep knowledge and passion about the issue.
5. Backbone Support Organizations | Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization and staff with a very specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative. Coordination takes time, and none of the participating organizations has any to spare. The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails.
The backbone organization requires a dedicated staff separate from the participating organizations who can plan, manage, and support the initiative through ongoing facilitation, technology and communications support, data collection and reporting, and handling the myriad logistical and administrative details needed for the initiative to function smoothly. Strive has simplified the initial staffing requirements for a backbone organization to three roles: project manager, data manager, and facilitator.
Collective impact also requires a highly structured process that leads to effective decision making. In the case of Strive, staff worked with General Electric (GE) to adapt for the social sector the Six Sigma process that GE uses for its own continuous quality improvement. The Strive Six Sigma process includes training, tools, and resources that each SSN uses to define its common agenda, shared measures, and plan of action, supported by Strive facilitators to guide the process.
In the best of circumstances, these backbone organizations embody the principles of adaptive leadership: the ability to focus people’s attention and create a sense of urgency, the skill to apply pressure to stakeholders without overwhelming them, the competence to frame issues in a way that presents opportunities as well as difficulties, and the strength to mediate conflict among stakeholders.
Funding Collective Impact
Creating a successful collective impact initiative requires a significant financial investment: the time participating organizations must dedicate to the work, the development and monitoring of shared measurement systems, and the staff of the backbone organization needed to lead and support the initiative’s ongoing work.
As successful as Strive has been, it has struggled to raise money, confronting funders’ reluctance to pay for infrastructure and preference for short-term solutions. Collective impact requires instead that funders support a long-term process of social change without identifying any particular solution in advance. They must be willing to let grantees steer the work and have the patience to stay with an initiative for years, recognizing that social change can come from the gradual improvement of an entire system over time, not just from a single breakthrough by an individual organization.
This requires a fundamental change in how funders see their role, from funding organizations to leading a long-term process of social change. It is no longer enough to fund an innovative solution created by a single nonprofit or to build that organization’s capacity. Instead, funders must help create and sustain the collective processes, measurement reporting systems, and community leadership that enable cross-sector coalitions to arise and thrive.
This is a shift that we foreshadowed in both “Leading Boldly” and our more recent article, “Catalytic Philanthropy,” in the fall 2009 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the former, we suggested that the most powerful role for funders to play in addressing adaptive problems is to focus attention on the issue and help to create a process that mobilizes the organizations involved to find a solution themselves. In “Catalytic Philanthropy,” we wrote: “Mobilizing and coordinating stakeholders is far messier and slower work than funding a compelling grant request from a single organization. Systemic change, however, ultimately depends on a sustained campaign to increase the capacity and coordination of an entire field.” We recommended that funders who want to create large-scale change follow four practices: take responsibility for assembling the elements of a solution; create a movement for change; include solutions from outside the nonprofit sector; and use actionable knowledge to influence behavior and improve performance.
These same four principles are embodied in collective impact initiatives. The organizers of Strive abandoned the conventional approach of funding specific programs at education nonprofits and took responsibility for advancing education reform themselves. They built a movement, engaging hundreds of organizations in a drive toward shared goals. They used tools outside the nonprofit sector, adapting GE’s Six Sigma planning process for the social sector. And through the community report card and the biweekly meetings of the SSNs they created actionable knowledge that motivated the community and improved performance among the participants.
Funding collective impact initiatives costs money, but it can be a highly leveraged investment. A backbone organization with a modest annual budget can support a collective impact initiative of several hundred organizations, magnifying the impact of millions or even billions of dollars in existing funding. Strive, for example, has a $1.5 million annual budget but is coordinating the efforts and increasing the effectiveness of organizations with combined budgets of $7 billion. The social sector, however, has not yet changed its funding practices to enable the shift to collective impact. Until funders are willing to embrace this new approach and invest sufficient resources in the necessary facilitation, coordination, and measurement that enable organizations to work in concert, the requisite infrastructure will not evolve.
What might social change look like if funders, nonprofits, government officials, civic leaders, and business executives embraced collective impact? Recent events at Strive provide an exciting indication of what might be possible.
Strive has begun to codify what it has learned so that other communities can achieve collective impact more rapidly. The organization is working with nine other communities to establish similar cradle to career initiatives. 4 Importantly, although Strive is broadening its impact to a national level, the organization is not scaling up its own operations by opening branches in other cities. Instead, Strive is promulgating a flexible process for change, offering each community a set of tools for collective impact, drawn from Strive’s experience but adaptable to the community’s own needs and resources. As a result, the new communities take true ownership of their own collective impact initiatives, but they don’t need to start the process from scratch. Activities such as developing a collective educational reform mission and vision or creating specific community-level educational indicators are expedited through the use of Strive materials and assistance from Strive staff. Processes that took Strive several years to develop are being adapted and modified by other communities in significantly less time.
These nine communities plus Cincinnati have formed a community of practice in which representatives from each effort connect regularly to share what they are learning. Because of the number and diversity of the communities, Strive and its partners can quickly determine what processes are universal and which require adaptation to a local context. As learning accumulates, Strive staff will incorporate new findings into an Internet-based knowledge portal that will be available to any community wishing to create a collective impact initiative based on Strive’s model.
This exciting evolution of the Strive collective impact initiative is far removed from the isolated impact approach that now dominates the social sector and that inhibits any major effort at comprehensive, large-scale change. If successful, it presages the spread of a new approach that will enable us to solve today’s most serious social problems with the resources we already have at our disposal. It would be a shock to the system. But it’s a form of shock therapy that’s badly needed.
1. Interview with Kathy Merchant, CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, 1 April 10, 2010.
2. See Mark Kramer, Marcie Parkhurst, and Lalitha Vaidyanathan, Breakthroughs in
Shared Measurement and Social Impact, FSG Social Impact Advisors, 2009.
3. “Successful Starts,” United Way of Greater Cincinnati, second edition, fall 2009.
4. Indianapolis, Houston, Richmond, Va., and Hayward, Calif., are the first four communities
to implement Strive’s process for educational reform. Portland, Ore., Fresno,
Calif., Mesa, Ariz., Albuquerque, and Memphis are just beginning their efforts.
John Kania is a managing director at FSG, where he oversees the firm’s consulting practice. Before joining FSG, he was a consultant at Mercer Management Consulting and Corporate Decisions Inc. This is Kania’s third article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Mark Kramer is the co-founder and a managing director of FSG. He is also the co-founder and the initial board chair of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, and a senior fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. This is Kramer’s fifth article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.