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Backboning a Collective Impact Approach - how to lead transformation

Healthy Families NZ represents a new approach to preventing the rise of chronic disease. The initiative recognises that a whole of community, systems change approach with a mandate to work differently and challenge the status quo, is needed to address complex problems that are preventable chronic disease and health inequity.


For collective impact initiatives to drive meaningful change, a backbone function is a critical component. A backbone function supports collaboration, community participation and a multi-sector effort. It is also one of the most unique elements of a collective impact approach.


To create change through a collective impact approach, it requires many people to play many different roles across the system. Each of these people have a shared commitment to a bold vision or set of outcomes.


For instance, communities know what is best for them and are powerful change agents. Communities gather local insights and share their lived experience of what is and isn’t working for them. Local government have the ability to redesign their services and infrastructure in order to support communities to thrive and central government can change regulation and put investment towards local transformation.


The thread holding the collective impact effort together, is the backbone function. This function is needed to foster cross-sector communication, create new connections with partners, guide the strategic direction, present new opportunities and amplify the collective effort.


The Healthy Families NZ national team (based in the Commissioning directorate at Te Whatu Ora) provides a backbone function for the Healthy Families NZ movement. The national team enables central resources and strategic leadership to Healthy Families NZ location teams and builds outcomes focused relationships within government, to align investment in prevention.


The backbone function is critical to the success of any collective impact initiative and recognises that that no one individual, organisation or sector can do this alone. Working deliberately and collectively is essential to creating long-lasting change for better health and wellbeing.

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