From development to execution: Spotlight on Kingston’s collective impact journey

May 18, 2016

After launching a year and a half ago, Youth CI is now actively supporting 25 collaboratives through their collective impact journeys. There has been fascinating learning as collaboratives focussed on different issue areas and in different regions face the challenges that come with developing and launching a collective impact initiative.Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 4.20.33 PM

We are often asked by collaboratives, partners, and other foundations to share case studies of successful initiatives. Everyone is eager to learn from each other so that we can progress as a sector. While most Youth CI collaboratives are still in their planning phase, some Fast Track groups have begun launching key pieces of their Theories of Change. We are excited to share the journey of Ending Youth Homelessness in Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFLA).

Setting the context

When Youth CI launched in December 2014, a large collaborative of stakeholders in KFLA had already been working together on a youth homelessness strategy led by United Way. When this group first came to Youth CI, they defined their outcomes as:

  1. A System of Care is established
  2. There is an Integrated Homelessness Prevention Framework in Kingston and Area
  3. Housing options match youths’ transition to adulthood

With a solid collaborative in place, Youth CI and the initiative leaders we eager to get to work on a Theory of Change.  The process began with Youth CI support for the organizations to work with a collective impact coach.

Collective Impact TIP: At this stage, two important conditions set up this group for success:

  1. Strength of collaborative (Having the necessary players at the table for the stage you are at with a core team that prioritizes the project is key. Strength is measured by the quality of the players – not the quantity).
  2. A solid understanding of the ultimate outcome you are looking to achieve in your region that can be refined to a clear, measurable population-level outcome objective.

Working with a coach (January-March 2015)

Innoweave coach Lynn Fergusson worked with Ending Youth Homelessness in KFLA to help them gain clarity on:

  • The population of youth the group wanted to target;
  • The ultimate outcome they wanted to achieve; and
  • The strategies and activities necessary to achieve that outcome (Theory of Change).

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.02.36 PMLynn facilitated discussions that pushed the group to answer questions like “what segment of youth are we really targeting”,  “what exactly do we mean by ending homelessness”?, and “will the strategies we had planned really lead to the needle-moving change we want to make?”

One of the biggest ‘aha’ moments was recognizing and differentiating the work of programs (including pilot programs introduced as part of the Youth CI initiative) from the work of the collective.  The Theory of Change, deliverables, and outcomes reflected this paradigm shift by acknowledging that program outcomes contributed to the initiative, but that the collective outcomes remained based exclusively on what the collective could influence, measure and evaluate.

Through discussions, the group realized that their original outcomes were actually the strategies needed to achieve their goal, they are not the goal themselves. For example, establishing a system of care in itself is not an outcome, but it is a strategy to employ in order to reduce youth homelessness. Ultimately, a clear outcome objective was refined to “Reduce the number of youth in Kingston who are homeless, and those at risk of homelessness by 20% by 2020.
Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 3.57.03 PM

After discussions with youth in their community, the collaborative also realized that to actually reduce the number of homeless youth in KFLA, they needed to reduce the stigma of youth homelessness and to focus more of their efforts on homelessness prevention. With a larger emphasis on awareness and prevention, the hope is that fewer youth will enter the system of care.

By the end of the group’s initial work with Lynn, the collaborative had clarified their objective, key strategies, tactics, timelines, structure, and accountabilities. The collaborative was ready to receive a $40,000 Youth CI grant to begin launch activities.

April-September 2015

With a dedicated staff on the project, Ending Youth Homelessness in KFLA progressed well over the next 6 months:Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 4.21.04 PM

  • An awareness campaign was established, with advertisements created by youth going up in bus shelters, malls, and other important areas identified by youth
  • A Point-in-time count was conducted
  • The mayor of Kingston announced a partnership with the United Way to work on strategies to reduce youth unemployment, an area identified as one of the top 3 factors that contributed to youth homelessness
  • A Youth Council was established to inform steering committee decision-making process
  • A Youth Engagement Coordinator was hired

All of these activities helped solidify their plan and position the collaborative members to begin executing their integrated activities, as outlined in their Theory of Change.

October 2015 – January 2016: Coaching Round 2

Youth CI provided support for the group to continue to work with Lynn on the next key pieces of their launch and implementation work. Key focus areas included:

  1. Developing a measurement and evaluation framework
  2. Validating their outcome statement and Theory of Change through a process we call “pressure testing”
  3. Building out a monitoring and reporting framework

For Ending Youth Homelessness in KFLA, pressure testing meant going back to their outcome statement and strategies in their Theory of Change to ensure that it would have the best chance of leading to success. By gathering more data and undertaking a deeper analysis, the group realized a fundamental challenge in their plan: If awareness plays a critical part in ending youth homelessness, then their awareness campaign would actually lead to an increase in the number of homeless youth in Kingston because more youth would be comfortable identifying themselves as homeless. This would completely undermine their outcome objective, as they had originally phrased it.

Through further pressure testing, the group developed a new outcome objective that is specific, measurable, and evidence-based and would actually contribute to ending youth homelessness while accounting for increased awareness: By 2020, 80% of youth who enter the homelessness system in KFL&A maintain their housing, or are housed within 30 days.

Collective Impact TIP: Collective Impact is an iterative journey. Outcomes and theories of change will be adapted over time as groups learn on the ground.

What now? Ending Youth Homelessness in KFLA has continued to progress since finishing their work with Lynn. They have begun executing pieces of their strategy and have just recently held a Youth Awareness Day in Kingston which rallied together individuals from the city government, the provincial government, NGO’s, and the private sector. We are excited by the progress this group has made in such a short time, and will continue to learn and share as they move forward. Youth CI is continuing to support the collaborative through its execution, and will share more stories of their progress as it unfolds.Questions for the Ending Youth Homelessness in KFLA team? Reach out to and we’ll make a connection.