Our Work

HOW WE MAKE CHANGE: Collective Impact 

Collective Impact is a framework for collaborating across sectors to advance work that no one agency can do alone. This concept was developed by John Kania and Mark Kramer and was first introduced in their 2011 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. It is important to note that the five conditions the create a foundation for successful collaborative work are: a common agenda, commitment to shared measurement, support for mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, the existence of a dedicated backbone organization. The Connection strives to ensure the five pillars of Collective Impact are firmly in place for all initiatives that we take on.

All Collective Impact work requires a backbone agency – someone who can coordinate, facilitate, and drive the work, and The Connection fills this role for initiatives related to mental health and substance use in the tri-county area. As a backbone agency, the Connection’s mission is to lead the collaboration of community stakeholders to create and continuously improve an exceptional mental health system of care for Outagamie, Winnebago and Calumet Counties.

The core functions of The Connection include:

  • Guiding vision and strategy by building a common understanding of the problem
  • Supporting aligned activities by facilitating communication and collaboration
  • Building public will to create a sense of urgency and articulate the call to action
  • Establishing shared measurement practices
  • Advancing and advocate for an aligned policy agenda
  • Mobilizing funding to support our goals

 WHERE WE MAKE CHANGE: The Six Conditions of Systems Change

Systems change is about advancing equity by shifting the conditions that hold a problem in place. Shifts in system conditions are more likely to be sustained when working at three different levels of change: explicit, semi-explicit, and implicit.

The projects that The Connection builds and supports often have strategies that hit more than one – and sometimes –  all of these conditions. In the early years, we spent a lot of time challenging mental models – things like ‘suicide is an inevitable outcome for some clients’ or ‘depression is normal in the elderly’ or ‘you can’t enter mental health counseling unless you’re clean first’. In the past couple of years, we were schooled in this model of systems change, allowing us to better understand the overt and covert dynamics present, and address them for true systems change. 

HOW WE MEASURE IMPACT: Results-Based Accountability

Results-based accountability uses a data-driven, decision-making process to help communities and organizations get beyond talking about problems to taking action to solve problems. It is a simple, common sense framework that everyone can understand.

Results-Based Accountability (also known as RBA) starts with ends – the end result, or the conditions of well-being we desire for our targeted population, and then we work backwards to identify the best means to achieve those ends, or results. It first defines success in measurable terms and uses those measures to gauge success or failure.

It’s a shift from just counting how many people you have served to how many lives you have improved.  RBA shifts the focus from the means (how we did it) to the ends (what difference did it make).

DECISION MATRIX: Aligned Activities Decision Criteria

We use the following decision matrix to decide what projects and initiatives to purse:


• What is the problem you’d like to address?
• What indicators/data do we have that tells us so?
• What is the baseline? What is the trend line over time?
• Who are the stakeholders within this issue? What are we hearing from those most affected (locally, statewide, or nationally)?
• What is the proposed strategy/solution? Is the project based upon: Innovation? Evidence-based/Evidence-informed? Revolution? Legislation-driven?Environmental change? Local context issue?
• What form will the work take (Project vs. Learning Circle vs. Initiative)?
• Describe change to population health or to system of care (moving a data point or quality improvement). Describe the change in terms of “how many?” and
“how much?”
• What is the reach (lifespan, geographic, racial/ethnic, class, gender, disparate population)? If system change, what in system will change, impacting what number of people or percentage of the population?
• What measurable difference will be made? How will we know?
• Estimate of cost? Other resources required (time, agency capacity, public will, funder interest)?
• How has sustainability been considered?


• Is there awareness of this issue? Who cares and why? Describe the readiness of public, member agencies, funders, systems. Is it in the LIFE Study, Local CHIP plans, a needs assessment?
• Who is the identified leader of this project? What is the nature of system leader buy-in?
• What discussions have been had regarding fiscal agent, if applicable?
• How do you plan to involve consumers and family members?
• How do you plan to involve those who will challenge the current mental model?
• Have missing experts/expertise been identified? From where might you access required expertise?
• What else is going on in the community around this topic? Is there synergy?


• In what ways does this work require a coalition? Can it only or ideally be done by all of us together?
• Describe how/in what ways the work aligns with The Connection’s mission?
• Which impact area(s) of The Connection does it touch upon?