New collection of case stories provides inspiration for solving complex societal problems

12. September 2023

Homelessness, climate challenges and social mobility among children and young people. These are just a few examples of the complex problems, that all countries face in varying degrees. These are the kinds of problems that can only be solved by many parties together and across sectors and disciplines. A new publication from the philanthropic association Realdania focuses on seven system-changing initiatives and the lessons learned by the parties behind the work.

Some of the most acute and urgent issues in society today are also the most complex to solve. They typically cannot be solved by one or two parties alone, but require that many actors join forces across disciplines, functions, and sectors in binding and long-term collaborations.  

In a new collection of Danish case stories, the philanthropic association Realdania, together with several other societal actors, focuses on this type of system-changing collaboration. The publication delves into seven specific cases dealing with, among other things: climate, development of sparsely populated areas, prevention of burglary, and social inclusion. Through concrete descriptions and testimonies from the many stakeholders who have been part of the partnership or collaboration, the projects' organization, work process, challenges, victories, and results are highlighted. All to inspire others working with today's complex issues. 

"The problems that are really pressing both nationally and globally today are complex. They often cut across sectors and are entangled in other difficult problems. Therefore, they also call for new ways to work together. There is a need for many parties from different sectors and with different competences to come together in long-term binding partnerships. We have tried to do this for a number of years, as have other actors. We have now collected the learning from seven different and concrete cases both from ourselves and from others to share knowledge and inspiration," says CEO of Realdania, Jesper Nygård. 

Since 2014, Realdania has been purposefully implementing the collective impact method, drawing inspiration from the USA. This effort has culminated in the collection of case stories. While this method is well-established and widely used in the USA, it remains relatively new in a European context. In 2014, Realdania was among the pioneers in adopting this method in a European context.  

Back in 2014 Realdania launched three collective impact groups, and the association has since continuously transferred all or part of the method to other projects.

One of the groups, that were established by Realdania, is called 'Sustainable Landscapes for the Future'. It is composed of 15 stakeholders around the open landscapes – from the Danish Society for Nature Conservation to the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. Søren Møller, who has been chair of the Steering Group, says about the experiences and results from the work: 

"Through experiments with multifunctional land consolidation, we have developed methods and concepts that can bring the use of our open areas through the green transition. We believe that with the support of forestry, agriculture, KL – the national association of Danish municipalities and green organizations, we have created an attractive basis for politicians to implement the decisions. When parties with such different starting points can find each other, it is because everyone recognizes the need for action, that our solutions work and are balanced."

A number of foundations and other actors in society have also worked with all or part of the cooperation method, and the seven cases in the publication are for that reason very different. 

One case story is the MedVind initiative in Østerbyen in the city of Esbjerg, Southern of Denmark, where a broad alliance of partners with support from the Lauritzen Foundation and Esbjerg Municipality works over a 12-year period to create social mobility for children and young people. So far, here's what the experiences have shown: 

"Working together in an alliance has been a 'disruption' that we in the municipality have not been able to create ourselves, but which we know is important if we are to succeed in creating a social change and strengthening social mobility in Østerbyen," says Ulla Visbech, Head of Culture in Esbjerg Municipality, and chairman of the steering committee of MedVind in Østerbyen. 

Seven Danish initiatives inspired by Collective Impact 2014-2022 – a collection of case stories