Here’s a count down of the top StriveTogether blog posts for 2014. Top posts in 2014 focused on staffing collective impact efforts, communicating effectively, engaging community stakeholders, using data, advancing equity, and sharing action that is moving outcomes for children across the country.
In February 2014, President Barack Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative to address alarming opportunity gaps like the ones above, and to ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. Through this initiative, the Administration is joining with cities and towns, businesses and foundations who are taking steps to connect young people to mentoring, support networks, and the skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way into the middle class.
“I firmly believe that every child deserves the same chances that I had,” President Obama said at his public signing of the Presidential Memorandum on My Brother’s Keeper. “We’re committed to building on what works.”
To drive action throughout the country, President Obama issued the MBK Challenge in September 2014, asking communities to commit to implementing a cradle-to-college-and-career strategy for improving outcomes for all young people. And, the Administration called on StriveTogether to help by sharing our collective impact approach and lessons learned from existing cradle to career partnerships working to bring all community stakeholders together around a common vision to improve education outcomes for children.
Today, the StriveTogether approach was a central focus of a webinar hosted by the White House and the U.S. Department of Education for an initial group of the over 182 mayors and community leaders from 43 states, D.C., and 18 tribal nations that have accepted the MBK Challenge.
During today’s webinar, StriveTogether Managing Director Jeff Edmondson walked participants through the implementation guide for the MBK Challenge, highlighting best practices for community-wide action based on the StriveTogether Theory of Action and the successes of existing cradle to career partnerships. Jeff discussed key principles for developing a sustainable cradle to career approach, critical milestones on the path to systemic change, and the importance of data-driven action. He also shared success stories from StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members, including Milwaukee Succeeds in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, All Hands Raised in Portland, Oregon, and StrivePartnership in Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky.
“We commend the White House and the U.S. Department of Education for their focus on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative,” Jeff said. “It is encouraging to see so many communities across the country committing to the challenge, and taking steps to make sure everyone works together to improve outcomes for all children, from cradle to career.”
Jeff will join additional MBK webinars in the New Year, which will focus on specific action communities can take to improve the core outcomes that MBK Communities have committed to focus on:
Five of these six core outcomes are linked with the core outcomes StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are working towards improving in their communities.1 Forbes Insights 2 U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey 2007-2011 3 Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University
“Process is the new program.”
Ben Hecht, CEO of Living Cities, made this statement during a collective impact webinar we recently held with Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton. It took some time for the meaning of this insight to settle in, but I have come to believe that it is profound as it aligns with our focus on quality collective impact as a smarter way to address complex social problems.
In essence, effective collective impact prioritizes rigorous process over reactive programs. It’s about a new way of working together to achieve results at scale that forces us to rethink how we work individually and collectively each and every day.
As members of the StriveTogether Network forge new ground in this emerging field, we are starting to see that there are processes at multiple levels that must replace our programmatic perspective on changing outcomes. At the partnership level, we have developed the common methodology in the Theory of Action. But when we get closer to the ground level and start working to impact the services delivered to children, we have come to recognize the importance of continuous improvement – the use of data to get better each and every day. James Surowiecki from the New Yorker perfectly captured the essence of why this concept is so important in a recent article on continuous improvement:
“High performance isn’t, ultimately, about running faster, throwing harder, or leaping farther. It’s about something much simpler: getting better at getting better.”
To perform at the absolute highest levels and achieve highest impact – from athletics to teaching – it comes down to improvement. And in the social sector, where there are so many actors working in so many silos to improve a given outcome, that means we need to figure out how to get better together.
Over the last couple weeks, we have engaged in many conversations on continuous improvement work. I have heard three powerful insights in these discussions that point to how we can create an environment where we can be successful at continuously improving together:
1) “What you do is not rocket science, but it is brain surgery.” – Charles Glover, The Meadows Foundation
While infinitely logical, we need to accept that continuous improvement work is extremely challenging. But instead of getting overwhelmed by the work, we need to identify the technical and adaptive challenges we need to address and overcome them with the determination and attention to detail of a brain surgeon. We can make this happen and practitioners are showing us the way.
In Menomonee Falls, WI, Superintendent Pat Greco has teachers across the district and students using basic continuous improvement processes. How did she do it? She started with a core group of “rock star” teachers. They led the way to demonstrate how this can be done effectively, and other teachers started to come along at the urging of their peers. She essentially created demand for data in an environment where it is most often used as a hammer instead of a scalpel!
2) “I realized our passion for application did not match our passion for discovery.” - Dr. Uma Kotagal, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Dr. Kotagal is one of the foremost continuous improvement leaders in the social sector due to her leadership role in the adoption of related methodologies in healthcare. She currently leads all continuous improvement work at one of the top three children’s hospital’s in the nation, which has adopted the mantra that they want to be the absolute best at getting better.
I asked her about what triggered her to lead this movement, and she told me a frightening story. In the 1970s, a research study came out that showed a primary cause of death for prenatal infants was temperature change after birth. Despite overwhelming evidence, few hospitals actually implemented practices to prevent temperature change after birth. She realized that the social sector was much more interested in research than actually improving based on what it or any data told us. In this case, this “passion for discovery” over application was actually costing lives.
3) “Incentives right now focus on starting something new, not applying something known.” - Colin Groth, StriveTogether
It has become painfully clear that most incentives – financial, recognition or otherwise – reward leaders across the social sector for research and starting new ideas, instead of building on what we know works. This is particularly acute in higher education where faculty tenure is based almost exclusively on publishing and attracting grants. Non-profit executive directors tell us that they continually struggle to attract investments to spread what works. Philanthropic leaders tell us that their boards are often looking for new ideas alone rather than expanding what works. And the communications staff for elected officials says they need a quote on something new – not known – to attract the media. In order to make continuous improvement the norm, the incentives will simply have to reward what works, not the latest, greatest idea or sound bite.
We are excited to be working with a Network of communities looking to figure out how we can take the practice of continuous improvement to scale across communities. It will not be easy. It will take new types of resources and expertise to do this work that is a bit like “brain surgery”. We will need to develop a sincere passion for the application of learning in real-time to improve outcomes, much less save lives. And we will have to create incentives that reward building on what works, not chasing the latest fad. By doing these things we will not only figure out how to get better together, we will consistently improve outcomes at a scale never seen before.
Four new community partnerships have joined the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network!
StriveTogether officially welcomed Higher Expectations from Racine, Wisconsin; Impact Tulsa from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Portland ConnectEd from Portland, Maine; and Yonkers Thrives from Yonkers, New York to the Network this fall.
With these new members, the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network now includes 53 community partnerships from 28 states and Washington, D.C, all working to connect cross-sector leaders around a common vision – improving education outcomes for kids. Together, the Network connects over 8,000 organizations and impacts over 5.5 million students.
As part of the Network, Higher Expectations, Impact Tulsa, Portland ConnectED and Yonkers Thrives have a connection with communities across the country – through online tools and regular events like the 2014 Cradle to Career Network Convening – to share knowledge and learn from successes, failures and insights as each community works to align resources around improving education outcomes. They also have access to resources and tools designed to help communities implement StriveTogether’s Theory of Action, a nationally recognized collective impact approach that helps communities develop and sustain cradle to career partnerships.
To join the Network, Higher Expectations, Impact Tulsa, Portland ConnectED and Yonkers Thrives met an initial set of benchmarks defined by the Theory of Action. To meet these initial “exploring” benchmarks, these partnerships were able to show that they have the critical foundation in place to build and sustain the infrastructure needed to drive change in their communities. They also committed to being accountable for improving a core set of academic outcomes and indicators.
“These quality benchmarks are critical for ensuring a community transforms how they serve children,” said Jennifer Perkins, Director of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.“ As more communities successfully meet these quality benchmarks, we will collectively progress towards achieving our ultimate goal: supporting the success of every child, cradle to career.”
More about the new Network members:
Higher Expectations | Racine, Wisconsin
Building on the foundation established in 2008 through a county-wide workforce development plan, Higher Expectations connects education, business, government, non- profit and faith-based organizations to create a strong cradle-to-career partnership among its members in Racine County, Wisconsin. The collective impact work of Higher Expectations will strengthen best practices and track progress on key outcomes from early childhood to successful employment. Throughout this work is the unifying theme that children will grow up as assets to their families, schools and communities
Higher Expectations work involves two school districts in Racine County and impacts more than 12,000 students.
Impact Tulsa| Tulsa, Oklahoma
ImpactTulsa is a partnership of local community leaders from education, business, civic, non-profit, philanthropy, and the faith community, including school districts that represent 90% of Tulsa area students, that have come together to address the most pressing needs facing education today by finding long-term, concrete solutions. Together, the partnership is developing a common agenda that will better ensure Tulsa area students will graduate fully prepared for post-secondary education and have the skills and abilities to succeed and meet the needs of today’s workforce.
Impact Tulsa works with 15 school districts, impacting more than 120,000 students. Read our blog about Impact Tulsa’s recent baseline report card release.
Portland ConnectED | Portland, Maine
Portland ConnectED aims to build and sustain a citywide culture dedicated to supporting highly effective education for Portland’s youth, for Portland families, and for the Portland community at large. The partnership coordinates efforts, aligns resources, and harnesses expertise of organizations and leaders throughout the city and the country to prepare our citizens to meet the challenges of the future.
The Portland ConnectED partnership impacts 7,000 students through its work with the local school district.
Yonkers Thrives | Yonkers, NY
The Yonkers Thrives Partnership is an education-focused collaborative comprised of approximately 100 organizations working to build cradle to career civic infrastructure that develops well-educated and well-prepared 21st century workforce to revitalize the Yonkers economy and beyond.
Yonkers Thrives impacts 26,000 students through its local school district.
As a father of four, I am often reminded how a child’s perspective can help point adults in the right direction. I can’t count the number of times my kids have figured out something I simply thought could not be solved. But I have to say that I was surprised by what I learned last week from children about how we can best use data in education. The students in Menomonee Falls School District proved to me, yet again, that children CAN show us the way.
I had the pleasure of visiting schools at every level – elementary, middle, and high school – in this amazing district and I simply could not believe the power of what I experienced. Superintendent Pat Greco, who was a featured speaker at our recent Cradle to Career Network convening in San Diego, has worked with her team of administrators and faculty to figure out how data can indeed be used as a flashlight instead of a hammer. Their work to apply continuous improvement processes across the district is getting international attention, but it is impossible to grasp the power without visiting. Here’s what I saw:
In most classrooms, a data wall like the one pictured above captures several key pieces of information that is updated daily or weekly:
Every child is engaged in this process of inquiry and improvement. Even kindergarten students highlight what was working for them and the teachers respond based on their experience.
A few insights I took away from my visit to Menomonee Falls:
In our work with communities, we often struggle with getting adults to really listen to what the data is telling them and change what they do every day. It is clear in Menomonee Falls that children are able to do just that when empowered with the data…and by teachers who work proactively to help them use it.
I am hopeful we can not only listen, but learn from them about how to overcome our fear of data and let it shine a light on the path we need to take to better outcomes. Children can and will show us the way.
Watch a video of Jeff Edmondson and other education and quality experts reflect on Menomonee Falls School District’s continuous improvement approach:
StriveTogether, Living Cities and over a dozen more organizations and cradle to career partnerships recently formed a workgroup to discuss how collective impact efforts can address disparities across different races, classes and cultures. Earlier this year, we shared insights from our ongoing discussions about how to move these often difficult equity conversations forward in communities. Since then we’ve continued to work together through monthly calls and regular in-person meetings. While we’re still learning about the many different ways to advance equity goals through collective impact, we’ve identified a preliminary list of five concrete steps community partnerships can take to reduce local disparities and address issues of equity in education systems and beyond.1. Be mindful of language and how you frame the conversation.
Incorporating equity considerations into collective impact will almost always require courageous conversations among all stakeholders involved. Yet different phrasing can trigger different reactions with different communities or types of partners. For this reason, partnerships need be sensitive to local narratives when framing conversations about equity. Language can very easily lead to charged and unproductive conversations, especially when opening up discussions about race or class. Establishing shared terminology can be an important part of framing these conversations.
One specific tool for effectively framing conversations about equity is the Head, Heart and Hands framework developed by Jarrod Schwartz and Just Communities (which was adapted from a model by Anthony Neal). The framework emphasizes the importance of grappling with issues of equity from both an intellectual space (the head) as well as a personal, emotional space (the heart) before moving to action (the hands). Collective impact partnerships are often very comfortable and skilled with data and theories (the head), but need to be more intentional about taking the time to understand the stories behind the data (the heart). Framing equity conversations so that there is time for both is essential for landing on the best action moving forward.2. Seek outside expertise.
Understanding structural equity often requires some learning. Luckily, plenty of resources, tools and organizations exist that either have this capacity or are able to build it within people. If you are looking to tackle topics such as racial equity, you can tap local expertise to bring in added capacity to your collective impact effort. While your partnership doesn’t need to be the “expert” in equity, the backbone does need to have an explicit equity lens. And while it can understandably feel risky, backbones shouldn’t be afraid to introduce courageous conversations around race, class or culture.
Two examples of partnerships that have engaged local equity experts are All Hands Raised in Portland, which partners with the Coalition of Communities of Color, and THRIVE Santa Barbara, which partners with Just Communities. In both cases, the additional capacity significantly helped advance efforts to address racial inequities.3. Assess community readiness and meet stakeholders where they are.
There’s no cookie cutter approach for explicitly integrating equity into collective impact work. Depending on where the community, the staff or the leadership may be in their understanding of structural equity issues, the steps you take to incorporate an equity lens can look very different. In some communities, the first step is simply be bringing everyone together in the same room. In others, deeper conversations around topics like racial equity might be possible. Regardless of your community’s readiness to address structural inequality, there is always an entry point. In Dallas, two local family foundations recognized that their community needed to build the capacity for conversations around race and racial equity. With this capacity building as a starting point, they’ve since engaged over 250 organizations and 700 individuals wanting to build these skills by offering a series of racial equity workshops for different audiences, including teachers, students and nonprofit leaders.
Community readiness is critical to understand, yet also difficult to assess. Luckily, tools currently exist to help in this process. In Portland, All Hands Raised andCoalition of Communities of Color developed a tool for organizations to identify how their currently policies and practices influence racial equity. This organizational self-assessment tool allows partner organizations to gather baseline information and identify growth opportunities for organizational change to improve outcomes for children of color.
Collecting and sharing data on disparities is one starting point for equity conversations in collective impact partnerships. Partnerships should identify local disparities and use that to guide what disaggregated data is reported. If disparity in the community shows up along sex or class lines, then break down data by those dimensions. Different communities will often see different disparities, which may also vary by indicator or partnership focus. In Seattle, the Road Map Project releases its annual report card disaggregating data by race and class. While they don’t disaggregate each indicator by both race and socio-economic status, they do disaggregate based on the local disparity identified. See examples here and here.
Disaggregated data also serves the critical role of building a shared community narrative on equity. The use of disaggregated data can shape local narratives in several ways, such as by bringing about awareness of local disparities or by countering and replacing commonly held narratives. In some cases, this narrative-shaping will happen only when you unpack the disaggregated data to look for the deeper stories that underlie or counter common narratives. Without this intentionality, disaggregated data can run the risk of reinforcing commonly held narratives. In Santa Barbara, Just Communities was able to use disaggregated data to help shift the local narrative away from blaming parents for student performance and towards the structural causes of racial disparities.5. Equitably include and empower community members.
Collective impact approaches run the risk of reinforcing inequality when they solely consist of institutional stakeholders (i.e., those formally in power). The intentional and equitable inclusion of low-income communities and communities of color in the design and implementation of collective impact efforts is thus one step partnerships can take to advance equity. In the case of cradle to career efforts, the parents and youth who efforts seek to benefit are themselves best equipped to shape those efforts (i.e., they’re the context experts). This inclusion of community expertise should occur at all levels and should occur equitably by creating targeted opportunities around the unique needs of those historically disengaged from civic decision-making.
Of course, the onus of creating the right conditions for authentic and equitable engagement is on the partnership. For example, Just Communities in Santa Barbara ensures Spanish-speaking residents are able to authentically participate in meetings by providing two-way interpretation services instead of only having non-English speakers wear headphone and listen to translations. These efforts helped create meeting spaces without a dominant language.
Collective impact efforts need to be intentional about dismantling structural racial and class inequality in order to truly transform systems into more equitable ones. While certainly not exhaustive, this list outlines some initial ways collective impact partnerships can advance conversations on equity. Systems change requires behavior change at both individual and organizational levels, and the first step in changing behavior is raising awareness and understanding.
We hope these five practical steps are useful in starting the equity conversation in your community, and to making the necessary shift to see systemic change in addressing local race and class disparities.
Most of us remember Charles “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who miraculously landed his plane on the Hudson River in January 2009 after his engine was disabled by a flock of birds.
As flight control attempted to provide assistance, Sully disabled communications and simply said, “It’s my plane – I’m going to land it.” As a result of his courage and focus, he saved the lives of every person on board his plane.
This story popped into my head as I reflected on my experiences last week at the 2014 Facing Race conference in Dallas, and the conversations we regularly have with communities as they address racial inequality in their local education systems. Just as Sully had the courage to take control of his plane, we all must be committed to having the courage to focus on fighting inequality and help pilot our communities in the right direction.
As an African-American person of color, I was thrilled to join over 1,000 of my peers from around the country at the Facing Race conference and to learn how to greater incorporate race and equity conversations into my work with cradle to career partnerships. I took away some key lessons to share with others who have the courage to battle inequality:
1) Equity is not just an education issue, it’s an economic one.
As an African-American male, I have experienced first-hand the devastating effects of institutionalized racism. I have also experienced the transformative power of an education, and how access to a high-quality education can help people of color overcome our history of institutional racism.
However, I believe that approaching equity from an educational perspective that “we need more high-performing students of color” misses the bigger picture. It is not only important to support students of color with access to the knowledge and resources of a high-quality education to become productive citizens of society. Our failure to do this also has global implications for our country.
Were you aware that China recently graduated more high school seniors with the equivalent of a perfect score on the SAT than the total number of American high school graduates?
Let that statistic sink in for a moment.
It is clear, that if America wants to continue to compete globally, we need to provide every student with the opportunity to learn and succeed academically. If we do not, our ability to create/innovate the world’s greatest products, tools and processes will be vastly outpaced by other countries.
2) We need to understand the power of language.
It is no surprise to many of us that language carries an immense amount of power. It has the power to bring people together as well as tear people apart.
One workshop I attended at the Facing Race conference focused on how, in relation to race, language is particularly important for individuals as well as communities. For example, some have found it appropriate to label undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens,” or to veil low-income, African-Americans as “the urban poor.” These labels are especially harmful when they are followed by generalizations, such as “if only the urban poor worked harder” or “got a job.”
In order to use language as a tool to build, it is important to first seek to understand, and then to be understood. What are the causes of urban poverty? Could there be factors outside of an individual’s current situation that have contributed to it? Often times, asking these questions provide a path to a solution, as opposed to making an assumption or providing a blanket solution as a result of your own personal experience or opinions.
3) If we want to turn the tide, we need all hands on deck.
For many of my non-black/brown friends, the subject of race can be very difficult. After all, you didn’t “own any slaves” nor have you been “explicitly racist.” However, our ability to overcome our history of institutionalized racism and its present-day implications (note: racism still exists) is the responsibility of not just people of color, but every person who believes in justice.
As I again reflect on the story of pilot Sullenberger, my belief is confirmed that everyone can be a pilot for change in their community, and each of us need embrace a deep-seated commitment to equity if we are to be a part of the solution.
“I don’t care what you do – make coffee, create widgets, work in education – it’s about serving people who need us. That’s what it’s really about.”
During a visit with the StriveTogether team yesterday, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company North America and Starbucks Coffee International Howard Behar told us he realized this the minute he joined the company in 1989. Howard’s leadership helped establish the company’s “people before profits” culture, and build the Starbucks brand worldwide. “It’s not about the Coffee” is now the title of his leadership book, and a key message in his regular speaking engagements on organizational and personal leadership.
In advance of Howard’s visit, the StriveTogether team prepared a few questions to ask him (and grabbed a Starbucks coffee, of course). We were prepared to pick his brain on leadership methods and take away some lessons to build upon in our work with communities.
However, we found out right away that Howard wanted to talk about our country’s education system. He also had a few questions prepared for the StriveTogether team. “Every single day, somewhere, there’s an article about education,” Howard said. “Somewhat naively, I thought, ‘How hard can it be to have a child ready to read at third grade?’”
To help answer his question, he started getting involved in his home state of Washington. Howard talked to superintendents, teachers, parents and students. He asked them, what does it take to make sure all third graders are proficient? And what is keeping us from getting this done? While they all had similar answers to these questions, it was clear to Howard was that this work is not simple or easy.
Continuing his exploration, Howard wanted to hear what the StriveTogether team thought based on experience working with communities trying to change their education systems to improve outcomes for every child. A few key insights emerged from the discussion:
For Howard, it was not all about the coffee. It is all about taking care of people, and caring enough to listen to what they have to say and ask how they feel. Whether you’re working to change education systems in your community, or growing a major multinational corporation, this message is a great reminder for all of us. We can go nowhere without taking care of each other.
“If it smells bad, can’t we just throw it out?”
Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, a well-known civil rights activist since the 1960s, asked this question about racial inequality to more than 1,600 people gathered in Dallas last week for the Facing Race 2014 Race Forward conference.
We all know racial inequality metaphorically smells bad. Most of us recognize the smell, but how often do we ask someone else if they smell it, too? What would happen if we turned to our neighbors, educators, or leaders and simply asked them if they noticed something that didn’t smell quite right? And what if we decided, like we do when the milk goes sour, to just throw it out?
If only it were that easy.
As StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are actively exploring the critical role of equity in improving student education outcomes, our team was excited to attend Facing Race last week and participate in a forum to learn and share experiences. It was an honor to join seasoned professionals and emerging organizers with a passion for racial justice to discuss solutions for inequality. I was struck by the wide net cast in support of racial equity – women, men, white, black, Latino, Asian, indigenous, LGBTQ were all represented.
As a white person, this was my first opportunity to engage in discussions around systemic and institutionalized racism using a lens colored with privilege I’ve rarely thought much about. It required me to lean in to discomfort and address realities that sometimes feel easier to ignore.
Dr. Reagon’s question about throwing out racial inequality continues to stick with me. If only eliminating racial inequality was as easy as tossing it out with yesterday’s garbage. At the most basic level, this makes complete sense. When our food begins to rot or we smell something acrid, we identify it and figure out how to make it stop.
It will take time, commitment and dedicated action to begin to break down structural barriers and systems that perpetuate the racial inequity problem. During the Facing Race conference, the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) shared a frame for addressing structural racism using a systems thinking approach. As StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members work toward eliminating local education disparities in their communities by changing systems, this model felt particularly poignant.
The systems thinking approach requires a deep dive into the multifaceted layers that make up our institutions, systems and communities. When a racial injustice is identified, using a systems frame requires that we determine the systemic cause by exploring existing patterns, underlying structures, conscious or unconscious biases and core cultural or institutional values. To truly throw out racial inequality, we must understand and challenge the most fundamental beliefs and behaviors that keep our systems in place.
At Facing Race, Jaime-Jin Lewis of Border Crossers said that we should “call people in, not call people out.” That’s what systems change work requires – the ability to bring together people from all walks of life, with different backgrounds, experiences and expertise, to effectively facilitate discussions rooted in equity. As communities grapple with racial inequalities in education, it can feel comfortable to address gaps solely through disaggregating data; this is indeed an important first step. For sustainable systems change, the next more difficult step is to call people to the table in authentic and engaging conversations. We have to have the courage to ask each other – if we smell something that doesn’t sit quite right, can we just throw it out?
“Strong fields have strong standards.”
A national thought leader I recently met with to discuss our work said this to me, and it immediately hit home. We are working hard to establish standards, and have been speaking and writing about how to define quality collective impact a lot lately.
Last month, Deputy US Secretary of Education Jim Shelton joined us for “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact,” a webinar about the collective impact approach StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are using to improve education outcomes across the country. During the webinar, Shelton agreed with our push toward rigorous, data-driven collective impact and said that communities working on federal place-based initiatives will “have to adopt quality collective impact of this sort in order to succeed at scale.” [Read our Top 10 webinar quotes to find out what else Jim Shelton and other panelists had to say.]
We could not agree more and will continue this push to quality, requiring members of the national StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network to meet foundational quality benchmarks and demonstrate progress over time.
But it takes more than standards to succeed. Our ability to demonstrate the power of collective impact will not happen through the technical standards that emerge. Success will only happen if communities truly own the standards and the change in behaviors the standards will require on a daily basis.
As evident by the questions we received during the October 8th webinar, local leaders in communities across the country are very interested in the technical aspects of how to move collective impact efforts forward. But few are wrestling with the adaptive challenges that will determine if true change can stick:
It is the responses to questions like these that will determine if we are successful long-term with collective impact. As Deputy Secretary Shelton said during the webinar, we will be successful if we have the courage to face and answer the tough questions as individuals and partners.
Technical standards will emerge and are important for making collective impact a strong field. Communities like Dallas, Texas and Portland, Oregon who joined us for the webinar will keep working every day and sharing what is working in their communities to shape standards for others to model. But the true key to success in education-focused collective impact work will be whether we actually embrace how these standards challenge us to change what we do every day to ensure the success of every child, every step of the way.
Order the free recording of “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact” to learn more about the StriveTogether collective impact approach and hear stories about how cross-sector partnerships on-the-ground are implementing innovative approaches to support the unique needs of every child.
Guest blog post by Tia Anzellotti with City Heights Partnership for Children
How do you define community?
It’s a big, important question asked of attendees at the 2014 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening at the “Deep Dive” session led by the City Heights Partnership for Children. The session was focused on promoting authentic community, family and parent engagement.
Defining community is a question that can determine the best way to work with a community and a shared vision and goals.
Luckily, we had a group of very vocal attendees from diverse communities across the U.S. who were eager to answer this question. We divided the attendees by table, provided them with large sheets of paper and markers, and encouraged them to answer these three questions:
What we found is that although we all work in disparate areas of the country and in unique environments, there were common themes identified around the concept of “community.” These themes lined up with the community engagement tips shared by the panel of City Heights Partnership for Children staff and parent leaders who presented at the session:
Theme 1: Turn outward. Community means inclusion and equity. It means co-ownership
Example: United Way of San Diego County’s CJ Robinson explained how the nonprofit uses the Harwood approach, hosting community conversations and listening without presumptions or prejudices. The qualitative data gathered from hearing directly from the community during these conversations is as important as the quantitative data from community demographics to determine needs and goals.
Theme 2: Build relationships. The idea that “It takes a village to raise a child” is rooted in community. Everyone involved must be invested – establishing partnerships and connecting the dots
Example: The Partnership for Children’s Torrey Albertazzi emphasized that engaging parents cannot just be about “checking off” their attendance at a meeting or event. It’s important to know who they are: Does a mother need a Vietnamese interpreter or translated materials? Does the parent care most about increasing literacy or attendance? What are the names of their children, and what sports do they play? Establishing relationships with parents and other community members is critical as you get them involved.
Theme 3: Take action! Community is about people taking action. What’s already working and how can we expand it?
Example: Parent leader Yolanda Chilapa spoke about the success of the Partnership for Children’s Literacy Toolkits that helped parents prepare their incoming kindergartners for school. Some parents lamented that they had not done these activities such as reading along and journal writing with their older children. Chilapa told them, “It’s never too late to begin.”
Theme 4: Own your role. Everyone has an important role to play. The roles will look different; for example, what a healthcare worker would do versus what a parent would do, but everyone has something to contribute. Ask community members for their thoughts, create spaces for them to raise their voice and show them that their voice is valued
Example: Noemi Corona, a City Heights parent leader, passionately explained that she is involved in so many groups in order to make a difference in the lives of her four daughters. She wants to show them the importance of participating and creating change, so they can proudly say, “My mom was there.”
As one attendee noted, there is “no finish line to engagement” – it is an ongoing exercise and process to keep everyone motivated, heard and focused on real, sustained systems change.
Tia Anzellotti is the director of partnerships for City Heights Partnership for Children, anchored by United Way of San Diego County. The City Heights Partnership for Children is supporting every child, every step of the way to ensure the children of City Heights, and ultimately the San Diego region, are supported and successful from cradle to career or college. www.chpfc.org
Community leaders, investors, educators and students of social change have two new books to reference on collective impact. “Striving Together” and “Smart Cities” hit store shelves this fall, and both tell a similar story about data-driven collective impact as the critical path to improving community-wide education outcomes.
“Striving Together,” one of the nation’s first collective impact books, was co-authored by Jeff Edmondson, Managing Director of StriveTogether, and Nancy L. Zimpher, State University of New York Chancellor and Chair of StriveTogether’s National Advisory Board.
The book explores the history, lessons and transformative effects of collective impact and the beginnings of the national StriveTogether initiative. “Striving Together” tells the story of how a diverse group of community leaders across sectors came together to institute a rigorous approach to improving education as a system. This gathering of leaders was the genesis of the StrivePartnership, which served as the inspiration for the theory of collective impact.
“Our stories – and the experiences of others in Portland, Richmond, Seattle and Houston – are chronicled in Striving Together so that no community ever has to start from scratch again,” said Edmondson. “The StriveTogether framework helps community partnerships renew their civic infrastructure and create a better future for kids in and out of school, and this book is the story of how it all started. We were fortunate to work with a formidable group of leaders who were deeply committed to a common vision for improved student outcomes.”
This new book by Tom Vander Ark, founder of education advocacy firm, Getting Smart, includes insights from over 50 thought leaders on seven keys to improving education and economic outcomes:
Jeff Edmondson of StriveTogether and Greg Landsman of StrivePartnership in Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky contributed to the “Smart Cities” conversation as part of the chapter on collective impact and a recent Getting Smart blog post, Quality Collective Impact = Impactful Innovation. “Collective impact, done well and with rigor, can help us form smarter cities,” Edmondson and Landsman wrote. “It can do this by helping us continue to iterate on what already works, while focusing efforts to innovate on where communities actually face clear gaps.”
The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network has grown to more than 50 partnerships in 28 states and Washington, D.C., and it’s apparent that people are noticing the potential the Theory of Action and our collective impact approach have in changing outcomes for kids.
Throughout the last six months, we’ve had wonderfully productive and insightful conversations not only with the communities throughout the Cradle to Career Network, but also with the U.S. Department of Education, the White House and other federal policymakers. During our recent Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact webinar, Jim Shelton, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education said communities working on federal place-based initiatives will “have to adopt quality collective impact of this sort in order to succeed at scale.” We couldn’t agree more.
As our approach grows in popularity and effectiveness, we need to develop a collective advocacy agenda to help support all Cradle to Career Network partnerships in their inspiring work on the ground and to help these successes grow and build momentum across the country.
To do that, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy Lillian Pace and I have released a paper that calls policymakers to action. “Improving Student Outcomes through Collective Impact: A Guide for Federal Policymakers” focuses on our unique, rigorous collective impact approach, the potential we have to impact federal education reform, and our recommendations for the federal government in aligning resources to support the work.
As the largest investor of our nation’s education system, the federal government is in a unique position to help scale our work. We encourage policymakers to invest resources in communities that have formed collective impact partnerships, such as those in the Cradle to Career Network. We encourage the federal government to work together with communities toward a shared agenda, while strategically allocating resources, carefully monitoring the work, and evaluating the progress in those investments.
We need to rally our leaders to support our work. We need their help in tearing down barriers that slow us down. We need support from Washington, D.C., in aligning goals and coordinating funding streams so we can work, collectively, to change outcomes for kids throughout the entire country.
How you can help:
Albany. Anchorage. Cincinnati. Dallas. Milwaukee. Portland. San Diego. Seattle.
These are just eight of the close to 50 communities across the U.S. that are bringing education, non-profit, business, philanthropy, government and community partnerships together to focus on improving education outcomes for kids. As part of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, these communities are working through a common collective impact approach built upon lessons learned on the ground and a commitment to data-driven decisions and continuous improvement.
In this Quality Collective Impact in Action blog series, we highlight stories from these eight communities who were featured in “Defining Quality Collective Impact,” an article featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review.
In San Diego’s City Heights Neighborhood, Parents Take Charge of School Readiness Initiative
Learn more about City Heights Partnership for Children at www.chpfc.org.
The elementary school gym was set up as it would be for any celebration of success — tables of snacks, a stage and podium, rows of folding chairs, teachers and principals in attendance. But on a sunny fall afternoon last year in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood, the celebration wasn’t for the students. It was for the parents.
Throughout the previous spring and summer, 30 parents volunteered to help engage fellow parents throughout the City Heights neighborhood. Their goal? Getting families the right information, in the right place, at the right time.
The right information was a simple bag of materials, including crayons, pencils, flash cards, books, scissors, magnetic letters and a day-by-day workbook, with kindergarten readiness workshops for parents to ensure kids start school ready to learn.
“We come into the schools and try to reach all those families,” said Mary Rivera, a parent volunteer who helped run workshops last summer. “We do the workshops and we explain all about the program and how it is going to help, and we try to guide them through the toolkits.”
The toolkits and workshops are a product of a collective impact initiative through City Heights Partnership for Children (Partnership for Children), a local StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnership anchored by the United Way of San Diego County. Data analysis found that students entering the 10 local elementary schools often lack the basic literacy skills they need to make a successful transition to kindergarten and read proficiency in the early grades. The vast majority of students grow up in poverty and more than half speak English as a second language.
The Partnership for Children pulled together community partners who focus on literacy issues to develop the toolkit.
“We talked with (partners) about the tools they use with families to help kids learn letters, names, sounds, numbers, colors and how to write their name,” Partnership for Children Director Tia Anzellotti said.
The partners pooled resources to create a workbook written in English, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese, the most prevalent languages in City Heights. The workbook guides parents through a series of daily activities focused on building early literacy skills, including reading aloud to their children, and identifying letters and numbers. The Partnership for Children is collecting data on the impact of these toolkits, so they can track progress and continuously improve their effectiveness.
The parent workshops, held at the elementary schools during the summer, have been well attended with 25 to 40 parents at each session, reaching a total of 900 families this year. Workshops are designed to be parent and kid-friendly, providing food and daycare for the hour-long sessions.
And because fellow parents hand out toolkits and lead the workshops, often offering bilingual options for Spanish-speaking families, it feels different than it would if it came from the school, Central Elementary School in City Heights Principal Elizabeth Castillo-Duvall said.
“When it comes from another parent it feels more supportive than if it is coming directly from the school,” she said. “You can build a relationship with them that is different.”
It’s a noble cause; parent engagement is important to the students and the school.
“My message to parents is ‘we cannot do this alone,’ whether it is for their child or the school as a whole,” Castillo-Duvall said. “The time they invest in their own students benefits all of us.”
My parents have always told me that one of the best feelings of their lives was the births of their children. I’m sure that they felt an immeasurable amount of joy, knowing that as a result of their love and care while I was in my mother’s womb (with my twin brother), they were able to experience the hope and promise that comes with a new life.
While I don’t have children myself, I can now say that I can understand to a degree what my parents felt through my work helping to launch cradle to career community partnerships.
Last week, ImpactTulsa released its inaugural community report to nearly 200 community stakeholders. This event did not just report key education challenges, it was a birth of a brighter future for the Tulsa community. It was received with joy and pride in the knowledge that six months of hard work and dedication by so many individuals and organizations bore not only the fruits of a community report, but also the promise of what lies ahead for children in Tulsa.
In reflecting on ImpactTulsa’s journey, I can offer three lessons that I believe are instrumental in the birth of a partnership:
1. Communities must make an unequivocal commitment to the use of data
Without a doubt, this is one of the most challenging pieces of this work.
Why do I say this? Imagine walking into the office of an investment broker on Wall Street. All around the room you will see computers, TV screens and iPads all filled with data that is being used to inform future investments. It would be almost unfathomable for an investment broker to make a financial decision without first consulting the data.
The same approach applies to cradle to career collective impact work, as partners must use data, from community-level data to student/programmatic-level data, to drive decisions. Further, it is important that the community partnership commits to disaggregating that data in order to paint the clearest picture of where education disparities lie.
When a partnership is able to make an early commitment to data, stakeholders will trust that decisions made by the partnership (just like those of investment brokers) are made through meticulously analyzing data, not just by conducting meetings.
2. Collaboration must evolve to collective impact
To put this simply, collaboration is not a new phenomenon. From teaming together to take down a woolly mammoth, to building the great pyramids of Egypt, or even playing a sport – humans have been collaborating since the beginning of time.
However, as we evolve to create new technologies or methods of efficiency, traditional collaboration has also changed. This evolution, what we call “collective impact,” is a required approach for cross-sector partnership success.
When most communities approach StriveTogether to help launch a partnership, they understand the process of bringing stakeholders together. However, collective impact requires much more than that. With a collective impact approach, there is a commitment to quality and rigor that requires the consistent use of data to measure effectiveness.
Once partners understand and embrace the rigorous nature of collective impact, the foundation needed to sustain the partnership and drive change will be in place.
3. Public and private entities must align investments and commit for the long haul
One of my favorite analogies to illustrate our work is that of a cathedral builder. Do you know how long it took to build the Notre Dame Cathedral? Over 180 years. The builders who laid the first stones which made up the foundation of one of the world’s most iconic cathedrals were not around to see its completion.
Unless we discover the fountain of youth, many of us may never see the day when we fully achieve the community goals we set out to accomplish. However, public and private funders must understand this patience, and ensure that their organizational decisions are made with future impact in mind.
We have seen this happen in many communities, just like it has in Tulsa. In Cincinnati and Dallas, for example, funders have aligned long-term educational investments with the outcomes the local partnership has established. This creates a ripple effect because public and private entities are no longer funding organizations that they’ve funded for years, but are now committed to funding practices proven to actually make a tangible long-term difference in the lives of children.
These initial challenges may be difficult, but they are very possible to achieve if everyone is committed to being a part of the solution.
Key Insights from the 5th Annual Cradle to Career Network Convening
“No matter where your heart is, you can find the tools to change the world.”
These words were delivered by Dr. Vanden Wyngaard, Superintendent of Albany Schools, from the stage of the 2014 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening October 16th in San Diego, CA. In the audience, over 400 educators, elected officials, community leaders, business executives, nonprofit professionals and policymakers listened intently to her story. This quote captured what the Cradle to Career Network is and will be all about in the coming year: finding the tools and doing whatever it takes to do this work. This work can change the world by changing the outcome for children.
I am more than inspired by the over 400 individuals from the 53 community partnerships that have engaged more than 8,000 organizations working across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network. Together, we can build a more equitable education system. We can change the future for millions of children. And, we are working together to build the tools to get there.
As Cindy Marten, Superintendent of Public Education, San Diego Unified School District and chair of the City Heights Partnership for Children initiative said from the stage, “I am not trying to be a super hero. I am simply here to do the work.” She spoke for everyone in the Network. This is about rolling up our sleeves and taking on new challenges.
At the annual convening, community leaders shared an immense amount of knowledge, success stories and lessons they have learned over the last year. Three core insights rose to the top during our three days together, and are shaping actions steps and tools that the entire StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network can use to drive change in their communities:
1) Model the courage needed to focus AND act on equity
“The question is not if the community ready to have a conversation about equity, but if our partnership is ready to facilitate this conversation.” –Jarrod Schwartz, Just Communities
Jarrod was part of a powerful panel session during last week’s event that proposed addressing equity issues by focusing on “the head, the heart and the hand.” The head is focused on how we use data to help others understand the challenge, the heart tells the stories that go with the data to motivate people to identify solutions, and the hand represents the tools needed to make equity a focal point in all aspects of the work. Many cradle to career partnerships committed to incorporating all three aspects of this work into how they operate every day.
Our goal for the next year: Focus on identifying and lifting up concrete examples of how communities are making equity a core part of their work each and every day as they advance through the StriveTogether Theory of Action toward Proof Point.
2) Use data to improve action every day
“The definition of continuous improvement is simple: it’s our commitment to meet and exceed expectations of those we serve on an ongoing basis.” –Christopher Jordan, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence
This definition is a powerful reminder for all of us that we can’t just use data at the community level to set goals and figure out where to focus our energy. We need to use data on the ground to identify what practices actually lead to better results for kids on the ground so we can meet and hopefully exceed expectations. This means using data as often as possible – every day if we can – to identify ways to improve what we do.
Our goal for the next year: Develop as many examples of using data for continuous improvement as we can and to fill up the ballroom at our next Cradle to Career Convening in Minneapolis/St. Paul with concrete lessons on how to do this challenging work.
3) Build cross-sector ownership to change how communities do business
“(Cradle to career work) is an acknowledgment that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to work together to improve outcomes for youth.” –Dan Blake, Cradle to Career Sonoma County
As partnerships mature, it is becoming clear that a major key to success is not just the collective work partners take on. Just as important are the individual ways that partners change how they do business each and every day. It could be a school principal modeling how to do continuous improvement day-in and day-out, an investor that works with a network of practitioners to craft a funding opportunity rather than just releasing an RFP, or a business that loans staff to help partners better collect and utilize data every day. Whatever it may be, it is important for partners to own the vision at multiple levels: individual, organizational and collective. Every level is critical to follow through on this moral and ethical responsibility to improve education outcomes.
Our goal for the next year: Identify concrete examples that partners in each sector are changing the way they work individually and collectively every day to move outcomes at scale.
Using our collective voice
As we improve in these three areas, we will be able to better leverage our collective voice to influence policymakers, investors and thought leaders who shape the field. As Jolie Bain Pillsbury of Annie E. Casey Foundation said, “Currently, a marketplace for results does not exist. You all can create one.” As we get more practical wins on the ground that address disparities and lead to population level results, we can drive resources to the communities making tangible improvements. In a recent policy paper we drafted with Network members, we encourage federal policymakers to invest resources in communities that have formed cradle to career collective impact partnerships because they can and will get a better return on investment. This is a start to leveraging our community voice and we will be positioned to do so much more in the coming year.
Tell us what you think!
What is your take on these key insights and actions needed to change systems in your community to support every child, from cradle to career? Add your comments below or tweet us @StriveTogether.
An immense amount of cradle to career passion, vision and knowledge was shared today, Day 1 of the fifth-annual StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening. Here are our Top 10 quotes from the over 400 attendees and 50+ communities represented at the conference. Share additional quotes and reflections in the comments below, or on Twitter using #makingwavesC2C!
More than 400 educators, elected officials, community leaders, business executives, nonprofit professionals and policymakers are together in San Diego today for the fifth-annual national StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening, “Making Waves: Action that Moves Outcomes.” The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network represents more than 50 community partnerships from 28 states and Washington, D.C, all working to connect cross-sector leaders around a common vision – improving education outcomes for kids.
Sessions kicked off this morning with a video expressing the power and passion of this group gathered together to share lessons learned and best practices in cradle to career collective impact work.
Follow the cradle to career collective impact conversation on Twitter at #makingwavesC2C!
StriveTogether’s Jeff Edmondson joined U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, Living Cities President and CEO Ben Hecht, All Hands Raised CEO Dan Ryan and The Commit! Partnership Executive Director Todd Williams, on October 8th for the “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact” webinar hosted by the Collective Impact Forum.
Here are our top 10 quotes from this powerful discussion on quality collective impact:
Join the conversation! Tweet us @StriveTogether or add comments below. How is collective impact working in your community?
Albany. Anchorage. Cincinnati. Dallas. Milwaukee. Portland. San Diego. Seattle.
These are just eight of the close to 50 communities across the U.S. that are bringing education, non-profit, business, philanthropy, government and community partnerships together to focus on improving education outcomes for kids. As part of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, these communities are working through a common collective impact approach built upon lessons learned on the ground and a commitment to data-driven decisions and continuous improvement.
In this Quality Collective Impact in Action blog series, we will highlight stories from these eight communities who were featured in “Defining Quality Collective Impact,” an article featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review.Collective impact efforts increase preschool enrollment in Dallas
Learn more about The Commit! Partnership at www.commit2dallas.org.
Posters were plastered in every corner of Dallas County—in laundromats, libraries, the YMCA and recreation centers. Ministers spoke from their pulpits and stuffed inserts into weekly bulletins; Rotary groups, The Lions Club and city councils discussed at their regular meetings. Short commercials, in English and Spanish, aired before movies at local theaters.
The message was simple: Preschool registration was quickly approaching, and 37,000 students who were eligible for free programs were regularly left out. Their parents and guardians didn’t know about eligibility… or about the $136 million in state funding available for preschool.
“We realized this through aggregated data,” Commit! Partnership Chief Strategy Officer Tarik Ward said. “This realization helped us galvanize the community around a clear data point and opportunity for improvement.”
More than 45 Commit! partners assembled to spread the word and distribute 45,000 fliers to parents and guardians throughout Dallas County.
“We really created a big wave of information,” said Teri Wilson, Grand Prairie Independent School District Chief of Staff, a Commit! partner. “When we all aligned our efforts, it made a big difference for us. We saw increased numbers for registration, because Commit! got us to the table and talking to each other.”
That’s what Commit! does best: brings together partners from all community sectors to focus on improving kids’ lives throughout the county.
“Everyone raised their hands,” Commit! Director of Community Engagement Jonathan Feinstein said. “Some folks sponsored the printing of the fliers. Others talked on the radio and from the pulpit Sunday mornings to get the word out.”
Through these combined efforts, Dallas County saw 1,300 more families enroll in preschool.Better together than alone
The Commit! Partnership has 15 full-time staff and a couple dedicated volunteers. It brings together more than 15 early childhood providers, more than 20 K-12 districts and schools, 10 post-secondary institutions and more than 40 philanthropic funders, along with numerous parent and teacher groups, business organizations, civic leaders and nonprofit and faith-based organizations.
The Commit! Partnership also convenes a Leadership Council, seven Support Councils spanning the cradle-to-career continuum, and four Action Networks focused on kindergarten readiness, early literacy, early math, and college access and success.
Learn more about cradle to career collective impact work in Dallas and across the country on a live webinar, October 8th at 1 p.m. EST. Todd Williams, executive director, of The Commit! Partnership, joins U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, StriveTogether, Living Cities and All Hands Raised in Portland, Oregon for the “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact” webinar hosted by the Collective Impact Forum. Learn more and register.