, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 61–70 | Cite as

Bigger data, less wisdom: the need for more inclusive collective intelligence in social service provision

  • Alexander FinkEmail author
Original Article


Social service organizations have long used data in their efforts to support people in need for the purposes of advocacy, tracking, and intervention. Increasingly, such organizations are joining forces to provide wrap-around services to clients in order to “move the needle” on intractable social problems. Groups using these strategies, called Collective Impact, develop shared metrics to guide their work, sharing data, finances, infrastructure, and services. A major emphasis of these efforts is on tracking clients and measuring impacts. This study explores a particular type of Collective Impact strategy called Promise Neighborhoods. Based on a federal grant program, these initiatives attempt to close the achievement gap in particular geographic communities. Through an analysis of publicly available documents and information, the study analyzes the ways these strategies enact (and fail to enact) a collective intelligence for the common good. The analysis focuses specifically on issues surrounding data collection and use, youth agency, leadership and governance, and funding streams. Together, these foci develop a story of an increasingly used “intelligence” with a limited sense of “collective” and a narrow vision of a “common good.” Using this as a platform, the paper explores alternatives that might develop more robust practices around these concepts.


Collective impact Promise neighborhood Measurement Data Social change Community development Social justice Education 



I would like to thank the Critical Data Studies Fellowship of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Minnesota for its support to develop the research used in this project. I would also like to thank Douglas Schuler for his attentive, patient, and thorough encouragement and editing.


  1. Abramovitz M (1988) Regulating the lives of women: social welfare policy from colonial times to the present. South End Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  2. Addams J (1893) The objective value of a social settlement. Philanthropy and social progress. Ayer, North Stratford, pp 27–56Google Scholar
  3. Arefi M (2004) An asset-based approach to policymaking: revisiting the history of urban planning and neighborhood change in cincinnati’s west end. Cities 21(6):491–500MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Finn JL, Checkoway B (1998) Young people as competent community builders: a challenge to social work. Soc Work 43(4):335–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hansan JE (2013) Charity organization societies (1877–1893). Accessed 11 Aug 2015
  6. Healy K (2001) Participatory action research and social work: a critical appraisal. Int Soc Work 44(1):93–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Henrich J, Heine SJ, Norenzyan A (2010) Most people are not WEIRD. Nature 466:29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Horton M (1997) The long haul. Teachers College Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Kania J, Kramer M (2011) Collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, pp 36–41Google Scholar
  10. Lee JH, Nam SK, Kim A-R, Kim B, Lee MY, Lee SM (2013) Resilience: A meta-analytic approach. J Couns Dev 91(3):269–279. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00095 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lennie J, Tacchi J, Koirala B, Wilmore M, Skuse A (2011) Equal access participatory monitoring and evaluation toolkit. Better evaluation. Accessed 1 Nov 2016
  12. Lesko N (2012) Act your age: the cultural construction of adolescence. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Mathie A, Cunningham G (2003) From clients to citizens: asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development. Dev Pract 13(5):474–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mintz S (2004) Huck’s raft: a history of American childhood. Belknap Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  15. Preskill H, Parkhurst M, Juster JS (2014) Learning and evaluation in the collective impact context guide to evaluating collective impact. Collective Impact Forum, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  16. Promise Neighborhoods Institute (2014) Collective impact in action: improving results for children from cradle to career. PolicyLink. Accessed 1 Nov 2016
  17. Sabo-Flores K (2008) Youth participatory evaluation: Strategies for engaging young people. Jossey-Bass, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  18. Schneider EC (1992) In the web of class: delinquents and reformers in Boston, 1810s–1930s. New York University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Schuler D (2008) Liberating voices: a pattern language for communication revolution. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  20. Smith RS (2010) A universal child?. Basingstoke, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Star SL, Ruhleder K (1996) Steps toward an ecology of infrastructure: design and access for large information spaces. Inf Syst Res 7(1):111–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Torre ME, Fine M (2011) A wrinkle in time: tracing a legacy of public science through community self-surveys and participatory action research. J Soc Issues 67(1):106–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tough P (2009) Whatever it takes: Geoffrey Canada’s quest to change Harlem and America. Houghton Mifflin, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  24. Trattner WI (1999) From poor law to welfare state: a history of social welfare in America, 6th edn. The Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Tuck E (2009) Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harv Educ Rev 79(3):409–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Torre ME, Fine M, Stoudt BG, Fox M (2012) Critical participatory action research as public science. In: The handbook of qualitative research in psychology. American Psychological Association, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  27. US Department of Education (2016) Promise neighborhoods. Accessed 1 Nov 2016
  28. Wyn J, White RD (1997) Rethinking youth. Allen & Unwin, St LeonardsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of MinnesotaSaint PaulUSA

Personalised recommendations