Date of Award

Spring 2014

Degree Type

Professional Project

Degree Name

Master of Public Service


College of Professional Studies

First Advisor

Thomas Jablonsky


There is no question that large social problems like poverty and educational inequality are difficult to solve. Many groups throughout the nation and world are adopting the framework of collective impact in efforts to solve these problems together, as opposed to working in individual silos yielding only isolated impact. However, the framework that is used to align high-level leaders and resources has been criticized for being too “top down” and perhaps leaving out the actual people who are directly affected by the interventions. This report examines whether and how collective impact initiatives foster the participation and engagement of the very people that the initiatives purport to affect. It presents three case studies of initiatives that have had great success solving a social problem in their communities: Shape Up Somerville (childhood obesity and community health in Massachusetts); the Communities That Care Coalition of Franklin County and the North Quabbin (teen substance abuse in rural Massachusetts); and Vibrant Communities and the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (poverty reduction in Ontario, Canada). Analysis of these collective impact initiatives through the lens of community engagement and participation finds that not all groups have been intentional about creating structures that, from the beginning, meaningfully involve affected populations at the leadership level. However, some groups are moving toward greater inclusion, and do rely on community members for consultation and implementation of strategies. To do so, initiatives must consider that the deepest forms of engagement require considerable capacity building and support of new leaders, and that groups must take time to develop trusting relationships at all levels of engagement.