Nov 29, 2021

Catalyzing System Building and Collaboration to Foster Collective Impact, Part 3

Sarah Barzee
Region 2 Logo

Visualizing the Region 2 Comprehensive Center’s Network of Support


By Forest Crigler, Marcella Cannatti, Lauren Amos, and Steven Malick

In a series of posts, we explore how the U.S. Department of Education’s Region 2 Comprehensive Center (R2CC) aimed to create the five conditions of collective impact in partnership with state education agencies (SEAs) and their stakeholders in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. In our first post, we discussed the importance of developing a Common Agenda. Our second post focused on Shared Measurement and Mutually Reinforcing activities. Our third and final post discusses how the R2CC facilitated Continuous Communication and Backbone Support among SEAs in the three focal states.


At its core, collective impact requires that groups of stakeholders come together to facilitate change. Yet stakeholder partnerships can be challenging to convene and coordinate if the perspectives, priorities, and capacities of individual stakeholders are not fully understood and integrated into change efforts. In Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island, SEA staff tapped the R2CC to facilitate stakeholder engagement across a variety of projects. This post highlights the importance of ensuring that two conditions of collective impact, Continuous Communication and Backbone Support, are in place when engaging stakeholders.

Driving Toward Outcomes with Continuous Communication

Continuous Communication—the processes by which consistent and open communication is facilitated among stakeholders—is necessary to make progress toward a shared agenda and to build trust among stakeholders. Table 1 outlines the strategies the R2CC used to facilitate continuous communication among stakeholders.

The R2CC built the capacity of SEAs to use continuous communication strategies

For each of the examples highlighted in the table above, the R2CC developed and facilitated a dynamic stakeholder engagement process that relied on continuous communication to keep stakeholders invested in and working toward shared goals. SEAs can replicate this process when tackling future statewide initiatives.

R2CC as Backbone Support

In addition to facilitating continuous communication, the R2CC staff often provided Backbone Support—that is, helping coordinate participating community organizations and government agencies to achieve collective impact—for each of the projects. They brokered new relationships, connecting SEAs with subject matter experts to help diverse stakeholders work collaboratively and efficiently toward a common goal. In addition to working with the SEA teams to identify needs and potential supports, the R2CC initiated and led other partnerships, including its:

Regional Advisory Board (RAB): a vehicle for raising awareness of the R2CC’s services and products and engaging in information sharing and collective problem solving. The RAB serves three key purposes: (1) to assess state and regional needs and high-leverage problems, (2) to boost awareness of services the R2CC provides, and (3) to give feedback to R2CC on the resources it develops and the services it provides. The R2CC RAB consists of representatives from each R2CC SEA, local education agencies in the region, and other public education stakeholders such as the New York State School Boards Association.

Regional Coordinating Council (RCC): conceived and convened by the R2CC, this network of federally funded centers was created to leverage relationships across multiple Regional Comprehensive Centers and other federally funded technical assistance centers to better serve SEAs in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. The RCC met twice in its first and second years and comprises representatives from the Region 1 Comprehensive Center, Region 3 Comprehensive Center, Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands, the National Center for Systemic Improvement, the Region 1 Equity Assistance Center, and the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments.

QuoteRelationship between SEAs and other partnerships


Through engaging the RAB and RCC, the R2CC facilitated an effective stakeholder engagement process whereby information could both be shared and acted on quickly. This, in turn, enabled stakeholders to work together more efficiently to achieve their project goals.

Takeaways from the R2CC’s Efforts to Spur Collective Impact

As the relationships with SEAs in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island continue to evolve, the R2CC will continue to coordinate and collaborate with them to facilitate collective impact. Setting up conditions of collective impact has built their capacity to:

  • Improve cross-office and cross-department coordination and communication
  • Engage a diverse group of stakeholders to inform policy decisions
  • Maintain focus on the strategic vision and goals despite operational challenges
  • Create products that can be implemented consistently across diverse settings 

Through being intentional and strategic in establishing these conditions of collective impact, the R2CC enabled stakeholders to work collaboratively toward change and bolstered SEAs’ capacity to scale and sustain these systems of continuous improvement so that all students can achieve desired outcomes.