Striving toward collective impact

Many of us have heard the parable of the long spoons, which figures in the folklore of numerous nations and faiths.

As a quick refresher, the story tells us that in hell, people are perpetually starving because they can’t use the unwieldy cutlery to feed themselves. But in heaven, residents use the long spoons to reach across the table to feed each other, and therefore are nourished.

It’s a parable about kindness, of course. But it also suggests people must work together and be wise in using what they have to meet their goals. That’s exactly the philosophy of collective impact, which sounds like a buzzword but is actually focused on a clear, simple method that gets results.

We at DCPSS brandish the banner of collective impact because it has worked in other communities. By following a framework already in place, Douglas County leaders can achieve similar results through a cradle to career continuum that really makes a difference in the lives of our children.

Here’s a video of how one group uses collective impact.

Collective impact is not the same as collaboration. It doesn’t create extra work for its partners. Participants come together, not to create a new process, but to agree what must be done to move the dial closer to an outcome partners have identified together. Instead of setting more tasks for partners, it allows them to improve what they already are doing, and to learn how to evaluate what is and isn’t working in the shared objective of serving our children.

So many agencies, businesses, civic organizations and educational groups already are doing fine work here in Douglas County to help children take the steps they need to plan healthy, successful futures. DCPSS is determined to build on that work, showing others how their efforts can fit easily into the tailwind created by the momentum.

A great example comes from Chris Guastaferro, Area Health Education Center of Southwest Oregon executive director and DCPSS co-chairman. AHEC’s Bright Works Healthcare Team is serving as bridge between Douglas County students and health care careers in rural medicine. Students log volunteer hours, build professional portfolios, work with mentors and attend hands-on career days.

As the pilot program seeks to expand more opportunities throughout the county, Guastaferro says administrators are happy to share information with others. Similar student groups could spin off the Bright Works model in other industries, such as engineering, natural resources, media and computer technology.

Here, as in other places where the collective impact approach has been harnessed, the intent is to get all partners to agree to a limited, achievable set of goals and to build an action plan. Components of that plan shouldn’t reflect what we think kids need to help them be successful, but what we know gets results in propelling them down educational paths to thriving careers. And we need to get the community involved in whatever it is that actually helps our kids – and in helping them, strengthens our towns, cities, county and region.

Let’s use those long spoons wisely and well.

Our call to action is coming into focus with our social marketing campaign, Education Matters: Your Choice, Your Future, Act Now! We’ll be releasing more information about the Education Matters campaign in the coming months. In the meantime, if you’re interested in catching this tailwind, wander around our website, visit our Facebook page, and leave a comment or email us at Let us know what you’re interested in being involved in or what and who we’re missing.