Collective Action for Community Development

By John Moon

It’s not surprising that the idea of collective action has gained rapid interest and followers recently. The framework, which seeks to produce true alignment of purpose across related sectors working on social, economic, and environmental challenges, offers a great deal of promise for making significant improvements in the life chances for disadvantaged populations. 

While it may seem intuitive that a collective approach is a good bet for addressing interrelated challenges facing the communities we work in, it is not a natural model for most stakeholders who undertake it. In many ways collective action goes against the grain of institutional, cultural, and economic norms: moving from competing for resources to sharing them; shifting from outputs to outcomes with heightened accountability; shifting from technical approaches to adaptive and evolving ones; and funding a process or new infrastructure rather than individual programs. Quickly, participants enter uncharted waters and look for a map to navigate their initiative successfully. As vision and momentum are built, these initiatives take off and promptly the notion of “building the plane as you’re flying it” becomes a reality. 

Collective Action for Community Development (Community Investments Volume 26, Issue 1) explores this emerging approach and lifts up early learnings from pioneers in the field. We find out how government can be a catalyst for creating a wide stakeholder table on sustainable and equitable development goals. We learn from organizations that have assisted with the formation of these initiatives and draw out insightful principles to organize and implement these initiatives. We spend some time understanding the critical role of data and measurement and how they help to define and refine the initiative. While these initiatives are still taking shape across the country, we welcome the potential of collective action as a bold approach to bringing about innovation and wide-scale systems change in and for low-income communities. 

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Federal Reserve System.

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