Implementing Collective Impact for Food Systems Change: Reflections and Adaptations from Michigan

Authors: SFSI faculty affiliate Lesli Hoey, SFSI Program Manager Lilly Fink Shapiro and Kathryn Colasanti and Rich Pirog at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
Published March 2017 in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development

As Collective Impact (CI) gains popularity across food systems change efforts, few scholars and practitioners have evaluated whether this collaborative social-change framework is well suited to food systems work. We begin to answer this question based on our own experience applying a CI model to support statewide goals established in the Michigan Good Food Charter. Our reflections are based on the project’s evaluation findings, internal staff discussions about their CI-based efforts, discussions with other food systems practitioners using CI, and a review of emerging literature where scholars and practitioners evaluate or reflect on facilitating a CI initiative. The Michigan experience largely corroborates what is emerging in the broader criticisms of CI: that limited guidance exists about how to implement various elements of the model, that CI is relatively silent on policy advocacy, and that, unless intentionally integrated, it has the potential to exacerbate, rather than address, inequities. However, our experience and that of other food systems practitioners also suggest that it is possible to transcend these limitations. We argue that groups expecting to make significant improve­ments to food systems can turn to CI as one of many social-change models that can guide their work, but only if lead organizations have the capacity to build trust and relationships between stakeholders and if they can thoughtfully integrate strategies for ensuring policy- and equity-based change.