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Collective impact has resonated with practitioners and been rapidly adopted in Australia and overseas. This paper explores the collective impact framework and its ability to create population-level change on complex social issues. It describes the history and development of collective impact, with a focus on Australia, and includes two case studies to examine how collective impact is currently being practised in Australia.

Key messages:

The complex or "wicked" social problems in Australian communities cannot be solved through traditional models of service-based program delivery.

Collective impact is a collaborative approach to addressing complex social issues, consisting of five conditions: a common agenda; continuous communication; mutually reinforcing activities; backbone support; and shared measurement.

Collective impact is in the early stages of development as a framework for change. As a result there has been limited evaluation and there is not yet a rigorous evidence base to support its effectiveness.

Collective impact has been criticised for its failure to adequately address equity, include the voices of community members and to seek policy and systemic change.

Collective impact projects are likely to be more effective if they research the issue and context, include community members in decision-making, and examine the evidence for effective strategies.

For the effective implementation of collective impact, practitioners and leaders require a skill set different to that required for organisational management or traditional program delivery.

Collective impact corresponds with our current knowledge of the most effective way to address complex social issues, and theory and evidence from related fields suggests that it may be a promising approach.

To implement collective impact effectively, practitioners must engage with the resources and literature of the broader collective impact field and supplement this with theory and practice from other areas such as community development and public health.

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