Impact: How do we know?

Contributed by Melissa Jaggers, Associate Executive Director of Alignment Nashville

Last month, I observed the Alignment Rockford Pathways Alignment Team as they engaged in Tactical Planning, the first step of the Alignment Process. They spent more than an hour creating outcomes for their work, and they identified that the long-term outcome they are seeking is an increase the high school graduation rates for Rockford Public Schools.

But I wasn’t surprised at all when they came to the same question that most Alignment Teams do:

“How do we prove that our work is increasing high school graduation rates?”

The simple answer is, we can’t. There is no control group when your work is focused on systemic change. And the very nature of collective impact means that there are multiple perspectives and multiple solutions being applied to the same outcome. So how do we know that our work is having an impact?


1) Identify short- and mid-term outcomes

It takes a long time to see improvements in outcomes like high school graduation, college readiness, and others. So identifying short- and mid-term outcomes is important for Alignment Teams, as it creates an “outcome chain” that links the work they are doing today with the outcome they want to see in the long run.  For example, the Pathways Team could have constructed an outcome chain that looked something like this:





50% of participating students report an increase in engagement and relevance in high school experience

25% increase in daily attendance rates

Increase in high school graduation rates




2) Document resource alignment

It’s also important to document the increased collaboration and resource alignment that happens through the Alignment process, so that when we DO see an increase in the high school graduation rate or another long-term outcome, we can look back and see how we got there. When an Alignment Team releases an Invitation to Participate ™ (ITP™) and partners respond, we have a record of the resources that they are aligning.


Complex issues like high school graduation rates, children’s health and wellness, and college/career readiness are not solved overnight. The community has to be ready to be patient and let the process work.


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