Working in Concert: The Orchestra, The Jazz Band and the Festival Line Up

By Judy Gold and Jenny Riley

The Collective Impact framework has a lot to offer agencies seeking large-scale, systems-level change to complex problems.

However, it can sometimes be challenging to know where to start. That’s why we’ve written up some of the ways we think collective impact can be considered – do you want the orchestra, the jazz band or the festival line up approach?

In the Orchestra we have an agreed common agenda (the music piece being played), mutually reinforcing activities (the different instrument groups within the orchestra), backbone support (provided by the conductor and the orchestra administration), continuous communication between the different instrument groups, and shared measurement of progress towards the intended outcome.

An orchestra requires everyone to come together at the same time and place for rehearsals and concert across a whole season. And when successful, the resulting sound experience is more than the sum of the individual musicians and instrument groups. An example of the orchestra is the Strive Project in Cincinnati USA, a collaboration of over 300 organisations working to improve educational outcomes among 0-25 year olds.

However, in many cases this approach is simply unrealistic for agencies to implement within existing agency priorities, funding cycles and priorities, and collaborative capacity.

So, what’s a viable alternative? The Jazz Band is a small number of musicians that come together to play music for a particular period of time. Who plays in the Jazz Band, and what music they are playing, is frequently changing. There is no fixed plan or conductor, which allows for constant riffing (innovation) within the group.

The 90 homes for 90 lives project in Sydney, Australia is an example of a Jazz Band. The group came together for a short period of time and was innovative, agile and disruptive, trialling multiple approaches (including some ‘dead ends’) for two years, and ultimately resulting in secure housing for over 100 homeless people in the area.

The Jazz Band may play together for a short or long period of time, depending on what other music groups the musicians are also playing in, how much they are enjoying being part of the group, and how committed and proud they are of the sound being created. The band is judged together on the quality of the sound they produce, which in turn is dependent on the quality of both individual musicians and how they work together as a whole.

A third approach is the Festival Line Up. Multiple bands are on the same program, and generally playing a similar genre of music, whether that is folk, electronic or pop-rock. There is a common goal – a brilliant event! – however there are different ways to achieve this, for example by having a great chill out space, good food and drink and different sets and stages. All of those part of the festival share the common goal, but also want different things – bands want to gain new fans, patrons want to have a great day out with their friends and the organiser wants to make a profit and run the festival next year.

Over time, the festival itself may improve if there is a process to review how it worked one year and using that to improve the line-up and logistics for the next year (that is, a shared measurement and evaluation component that is used to inform future planning and implementation).

Examples of the Festival Line Up include some of the Children and Youth Area Partnerships (CYAP) currently operating in Victoria, Australia. The CYAP in the Outer East has several groups working on different ‘sets’ for example, one group on early years, another on kids leaving care and another on kids in out-of-home care attending education. Agencies involved see their agenda reflected within the Partnership and feel they can extend that agenda by being part of one or some of the sets, without being involved in all of them. The Festival Line Up allows agencies an opportunity to work together towards a common goal, and build cross-agency trust and relationships that may form the basis of future Jazz Bands and Orchestras.

These are just some ways of thinking about collective impact, and the borders between the approaches are fluid; collaborations may incorporate aspects of two or more within their structure and implementation. Furthermore, collaborations may evolve over time, so that the approach chosen at the outset – whether consciously or unconsciously – may not be the same approach used throughout the lifetime of the collaboration,

So which of these approaches is the right one? It depends on the circumstances – the problem the initiative is working on, the commitment of the players involved, the available resources (time, money, people, headspace) to commit to the collaboration, and what the agencies (and their funders) want to achieve, and by when.

What do you think?  Are the collaborations you are currently involved using more of an Orchestra, Jazz Band or Festival Line Up approach? Are these three approaches a helpful frame for thinking about establishing, implementing and reviewing collaborative efforts within the social sector? And are there additional approaches out there we should be considering?

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