From the "Guest" Director"

Mary Marlino


Collective Impact and UCP

UCP programs are core, community-based, boundary-spanning organizations. We facilitate community capacity-building, education, and scientific support services, and we are important and integral connectors in the complex ecosystem that is the UCAR community. As UCP embarks on its new strategic plan, there are a number of drivers that are influencing our thinking. The first is the acknowledgement that the complexity, diversity, and richness of our individual programs and our various communities present both significant opportunities and significant challenges. A second driver is the mounting pressure by our sponsors to demonstrate our impact, and a new emphasis on effectiveness, efficiently, and accountability. This can be seen most readily in the shifting trend from “outputs” (qualitative reports that capture mostly numbers) to “outcomes” (behavioral, scientific, or societal benefit–based results) as substantive measures of impact. A third driver is the recognition that the 21st century educational needs of our community, and how those needs are being met, is vastly different  from previous generations. A fourth driver, and one that is foremost in our minds, is the upcoming re-competition of UCAR’s management of NCAR. Each of these drivers is a key motivator as we discuss the future of UCP and how to move beyond individual program effectiveness to foster multi-organizational collaboration, drive systemic change, and optimize our collective effectiveness. A pressing question before us is “How does UCP, as a whole, make a difference to UCAR and to our community?”

A Collective Impact Framework can be a useful lens to employ as we move forward. Collective Impact is an innovative organizational framework that provides a disciplined cross-sector approach to solving complex social challenges on a large scale (Kania and Kramer, 2011). It brings together actors and stakeholders from various sectors, including government, non-profits, educational institutions, and businesses, to create and commit to a common agenda. The central assumption of this approach is that no actor can effectively address a complex social issue on their own and that this collective approach is needed for an impactful change. The approach is being applied to a range of thorny issues, including health care, the environment, and education ( The use of a Collective Impact Framework has been significantly funded by major foundations, including the Gates and MacArthur foundations, and can ensure that the collective results of a particular effort work in concert, rather than at odds, with each other.

There are five conditions for effective Collective Impact:

  1. A Common Agenda: Critical stakeholders share a vision for change, with a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving the problem through agreed-upon actions.
  2. Shared Measures: Participating stakeholders agree on the ways success will be measured and reported, with a short list of common indicators identified and used for learning and improvement.
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: A diverse set of stakeholders coordinate a set of differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action. In the case of UCP, this would mean that we coordinate our efforts through a mutually reinforcing plan of action, with each organization undertaking a specific set of activities based on what each excels at in order to support the entire strategic effort.
  4. Continuous Communication: All stakeholders engage in frequent, structured, open communication to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation.
  5. Backbone Support: An independent staff dedicated to the initiative provides ongoing support by guiding the initiative’s vision and strategy, supporting aligned activities, and establishing shared measurement practices.

Collective Impact will involve, to some degree, a mind shift in how we view our activities and our impacts, with our focus shifting from primarily individual programmatic impact to a more collective one. What might UCP look like if we embraced the principles of Collective Impact? In what new ways would our combined efforts serve our community?  And how might UCAR use these efforts to its strategic advantage in the re-competition for NCAR management?  The answers to these questions are not yet clear, but are certainly worth our very considered effort.


Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (Winter, 2011).  Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review.


About UCP

The UCAR Community Programs provide innovative resources, tools, and services in support of the research and education goals of the atmospheric and Earth system sciences community.

A major focus for UCP is making sure the science from NCAR and UCAR institutions is translated in novel ways to a variety of audiences and stakeholders.

UCAR Twitter Feed