Addressing Complex Societal Problems: Enabling Multiple Dimensions of Proximity to Sustain Partnerships for Collective Impact in Quebec


Nii Addy and Laurette Dubé

Authors: Nii Addy and Laurette Dubé

Publication: Sustainability, Vol. 10, No. 4, April 2018


Sustainable solutions for complex societal problems, like poverty, require informing stakeholders about progress and changes needed as they collaborate. Yet, inter-organizational collaboration researchers highlight monumental challenges in measuring seemingly intangible factors during collective impact processes. We grapple with the question: How can decision-makers coherently conceptualize and measure seemingly intangible factors to sustain partnerships for the emergence of collective impact? We conducted an inductive process case study to address this question, analyzing data from documents, observations, and interviews of 24 philanthropy leaders and multiple stakeholders in a decades-long partnership involving Canada’s largest private family foundation, government and community networks, and during which a “collective impact project” emerged in Quebec Province, Canada. The multidimensional proximity framework provided an analytical lens. During the first phase of the partnership studied, there was a lack of baseline measurement of largely qualitative factors—conceptualized as cognitive, social, and institutional proximity between stakeholders—which evaluations suggested were important for explaining which community networks successfully brought about desired outcomes. Non-measurement of these factors was a problem in providing evidence for sustained engagement of stakeholders, such as government and local businesses. We develop a multidimensional proximity model that coherently conceptualizes qualitative proximity factors, for measuring their change over time.