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Updated: 1 hour 9 min ago

To Thine Own Community Be True

Thu, 2014-04-24 15:49

This is the sixth and final blog of the communications series. To read the first blog here, read the second blog here, read the third blog here, read the fourth blog here, and the fifth blog here.

In this blog series, we have covered how to tell a story, use data in context, identify which type of communication tool to use, and leverage partners to support communications. For the last post, we will concentrate on how to authentically communicate with diverse audiences within a community.

The support of every child, from cradle to career requires the collective effort of an entire community. Inherent in this, is the engagement, involvement, and mobilization of the community around the cradle to career vision. Authentic communication can help a partnership communicate with and engage facets of the community whom may not traditionally be involved, but are integral to the partnership’s success. Authentic communication recognizes that there are many facets of the community and uses messages, modes, and spokespeople tailored to effectively reach these facets. To accomplish authentic communication, partnerships will have to identify both the horizontal and vertical audiences within the community, create messages that each audience will resonate with, and use vehicles and partners who will be able to reach each audience.

Vertical and Horizontal Audiences

Many partnerships have been successful in targeting their messaging to specific sectors in the community (i.e. business, philanthropy, higher education, parents). These sectors are the vertical audiences within the community and can help ensure that the partnership has cross-sector representation and engagement. Messaging for these audiences is tailored by the characteristics of the industry or position, not by the characteristics of the people in them.

Within each vertical audience, there are also multiple audiences that are reflective of the people rather than the industry (i.e. African American, Hispanic/Latino, immigrant, individuals from specific neighborhoods.). These more demographically defined groups are the horizontal audiences within a community.  Attempting to engage specific horizontal audiences while only tailoring communication to their industry or position can be perceived as inauthentic, so it is important to consider both vertical and horizontal methods for effective engagement and communication. Targeting horizontal audiences can help the partnership relate to community members who identify more readily with their culture, race or geographic location, rather than their industry or position.  This method allows the partnership the opportunity to more fully engage with the entire community rather than just sectors and can help show that the partnership understands the complex context of the community.

                                                               

 

Relevant Messaging

Once both the vertical and horizontal audiences have been identified, creating relevant messaging is the next step partnerships should take in authentic communication. Relevant messaging is making sure that stories, brochures, one-pagers and other communications the partnership creates are reflective of every facet of the community. For horizontal audiences, this includes strategies such as using protagonists in the partnership’s stories whose struggles reflect the issues facing the audience, using photography that captures the composition of the community so that different audiences can see themselves in the materials, and producing materials in multiple languages.  By creating relevant messaging, partnerships can show that they have thought about each facet of the community and want to authentically engage with them.

Choosing the Right Vehicle

Partnerships may identify their vertical and horizontal audiences and create messages that are relevant to them, but if the wrong communication medium or spokesperson is chosen, the audiences may not be reached or not view the message as authentic or credible. To choose the right communication medium, partnerships should look to where the intended audience receives their information. For example, if an audience primarily receives their information from the internet or watching television, producing a radio or newspaper ad may not effectively reach them.  More importantly, if the partnership doesn’t choose wisely when considering a spokesperson for the message, it could appear to be inauthentic. A strategy for choosing a spokesperson could include leveraging partners who are representative of or who already have a connection with the intended audience.  The partner will be able to use relatable language and a medium that will reach the audience, as well as give the partnership credibility as a source of information that is trustworthy.

Communicating with authenticity is crucial for partnerships to gain community buy-in and to ensure that the partnership is reflective of the context of the community. To successfully and authentically communicate, partnerships can refer to the lessons covered not only in this blog, but also the previous blog posts in this series. Partnerships will need to tell stories that relate to the audience which they want to engage and tie the stories to data that illustrates what is happening in that facet of the community. Partnerships will also have to use discretion when choosing which type of communication will help them convey the message and leverage their partners to help reach and truly connect with audiences. Finally, it is important to note that communication is an ongoing process. As feedback comes back from audiences and metrics are measured, the partnership should adapt and find new ways to engage authentically.

 

Engaging the Business Sector for Stronger Collective Impact

Thu, 2014-04-17 11:18







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Attracting the Business Community

Attracting the business community is a necessary strategy for sustaining a cradle to career partnership. Business engagement looks differently in every community, but can take the form of local companies providing communications support, loaned executives, support for the implementation of data-driven action, or strategic planning. Business partners can help ensure that a career ready workforce is in place by bringing significant resources to the partnership, both financially and through the donation of time and skills.

To Engage or Not Engage?

Many partnerships have been successful at engaging the business sector, but often not without a fair share of frustrations and setbacks. The case, StriveTogether: Reinventing the Local Education Ecosystem, written and published through Harvard Business School’s US Competitiveness Project, explores ways three StriveTogether cradle to career partnerships have engaged the business community in their collective impact work.  The barriers to business engagement are sometimes relational, as evidence by City Heights Partnership (San Diego), where business leaders were disillusioned with district politics and had difficulty relating to the way the education sector operates. Challenges in engagement may also arise out of the inability of business leaders to observe the impact of their investment as with Aspire (Toledo); where major corporations had donated large sums of money to education programs without ever being able to understand the impact their investment had on educational outcomes. Additionally, barriers to engaging the business community can stem from differences in the cultures of the education and business sectors. StrivePartnership (Cincinnati) understood the importance of engaging the business community from its inception, but a history of inefficient and uncoordinated efforts combined with a lack of data within the education field created frustration with the business community. Recognizing the importance of business sector engagement in a cradle to career partnership, it is important to work through these barriers and support the deep engagement of local businesses in the education of children.

Engagement, No Longer a Question

Moving beyond these barriers, each partnership found a sweet spot between engaging the business community and addressing any concerns of participation.

StrivePartnership (Cincinnati) addressed the lack of communication and organization by re-engaging existing business partners. They assured local business partners with the promise to focus on results, share information with the group, and increase efficiency of stakeholders working together. This assurance was enough for key business leaders such as Procter & Gamble and General Electric Aviation to engage in the initiative. As more businesses engaged in the partnership work, buy-in from the community and business sector increased. 

Aspire (Toledo) built on their history of civic engagement to involve businesses at the strategic leadership level. Aspire reported out regularly to a board of directors, many of them C-suite executives, which led to businesses, such as Owens-Illinois and Owens Corning, offering staff Six Sigma training and developing data analysis capabilities for the partnership.

City Heights Partnership (San Diego) also capitalized on the history of business engagement within the community to engage local businesses who already had an interest in supporting local educational efforts. Tad Parzen, the executive director of the City Heights Partnership, posited two strategies for engaging the business sector: philanthropic leaders associated with City Heights Partnership would attract support from the business sector and that the United Way’s orientation towards business leadership would help to identify, recruit, and convene a business advisory board of C-level executives. The business sector is engaged throughout the partnership especially at the leadership table.

The stories of the above partnerships are fully explored in the Harvard Business School case. The case also presents the metamorphosis of StriveTogether from a local partnership in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky to a national network of cradle to career partnerships.

Have you engaged the business sector in your cradle to career work? What strategies and types of engagement are the most effective? We would love to hear from you, so leave a comment and let us know your story.

We Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends

Tue, 2014-04-08 12:43

This is the fifth blog in our blog series about communications. To read the first blog here, read the second blog here, read the third blog here, read the fourth blog here.

In this blog series we have covered topics on storytelling, from how to tell a good story, communicating about data in context, and using the right communication tool to convey your message. Now that you know how and when to tell your story, the challenge becomes getting your story out there. Hours of staff time must be devoted to audience research and targeting, in addition to, message creation, outreach and distribution. A portion of the budget must be allocated for the physical resources and services needed for communications, including, but not limited to: paper materials, postage, printing costs, graphic design services, and website creation services. Effective communication is resource intensive and can be difficult for a small organization to do alone. Luckily, cradle to career partnerships are not just a single organization, but are comprised of multiple partners who can play a role in partnership communication. Partners can support communications in many ways, but the following  strategies have been found to be the most common among partnerships who leverage their partners: staffing, goods and services , and outreach.

Staffing Support

Partners who provide staffing support lend their staff to help maintain the partnership’s communications. This type of support can take many forms. For example, a partner may loan an employee to be the Communications Manager for the partnership or a partner may donate time of their whole marketing department to help create the partnership’s brand and logo. Staffing support may also help the partners feel like they are more engaged in the work of the partnership and can help to foster a sense of community ownership.

Goods and Services Support

Partners who provide this support to their partnership offer physical goods and services for free or at a reduced rate. In this form, partners may supply not only just the physical needs for communications such as paper, video equipment or software for free or a reduced rate, but also services which would be contracted out, like printing or website design. Goods and services support can provide budget relief for partnerships.

Outreach Support

The relationships required to effectively communicate to different audiences are crucial to getting the partnership’s message heard. Partnerships can find significant support by tapping into existing relationships to enhance communication outreach. In outreach support, partners can help the partnership target and reach audiences who may not be easy to connect with. Partners can act as spokespeople for the partnership or help in social media efforts by posting information about the partnership on their own organizational accounts. Outreach can be one of the least demanding forms of support a partner can provide for the partnership and has a large impact on the generating awareness and community engagement.

Effective communication is essential to the success of a partnership, and although it is a large endeavor, partnerships can lean on their partners for support. This support should be quantified and communicated as investment by these partners and potentially leveraged for more support for partnership activities. While having multiple partners engaged the communications of the partnership can help add staff capacity and alleviate portions of the partnership’s budget, multiple players sometimes also equates to lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities. A strategic communications plan can help coordinate communications efforts taken on by multiple partners to ensure a clear and consistent message as well as clarity in roles and responsibilities. StriveTogether has created a Strategic Communication Plan Template and Worksheet for Cradle to Career Network Members that will help partnerships identify audiences, create messages and implement communication action plans. Network Members can find this helpful resource on the Partner Portal.

The most carefully crafted communications will not be effective if not done authentically. Check in for our next blog where we will cover communicating authentically with your community.

Diving into Strategic Assistance and Meeting Benchmarks

Thu, 2014-03-27 11:48

There is something about the work of building cradle to career civic infrastructure in any community that requires a leap of faith. It is that quick and deep intake of breath before dunking your head underwater or, as my colleagues are fond of saying, “going all-in.” And I have to say that I have been actively engaged in the field of professional education and its collective improvement for 15 years, but it has only been during the past 5 or so years that I have been actively engaged in gulping for air and leaping into the pool with all the energy I can muster on a daily basis as part of the StriveTogether team. The work is consuming, yes. But it is in equal parts rewarding and exhilarating too.

So as I stood in a roomful of nearly 150 representatives at the Exploring Communities Convening in Chicago earlier this week I felt kindred spirits around me. Communities from as far away as Auckland, New Zealand and as close to home as Youngstown, Ohio were taking that deep dive – some of them for the first time – exploring how to work through and meet exploring quality benchmarks in our Theory of Action. Because without fail each and every community represented understood that without a rigorous defined structure, a continuum of quality benchmarks and a seat for everyone at the table, successful sustainable impact would remain just out of reach.

When we first decided to offer a convening for communities interested in exploring this work it was focused on actually taking people in to see the population-level impact a successful partnership can have on a defined area. This year we decided to broaden the real estate and brought together those successful partnerships under one roof in Chicago so they could share their successes and failures while still in the early stages of development. Four sites in the Cradle to Career Network led the Opening Plenary Session with their lessons learned: Thrive Chicago, Big Goal Collaborative from NE Indiana, Milwaukee Succeeds and Achieve Brown County from Green Bay, WI. Convening attendees represented some 40+ communities engaged in exploring the creation of a scalable cradle to career civic infrastructure and most all of them had experienced similar if not identical roadblocks and detours along the way to meeting their benchmarks. Having someone who knows the road to guide you makes all the difference, which is why StriveTogether not only provides tailored and intensive strategic assistance to communities, but convenes a national Network.  The peer-to-peer support and connections and the willingness to share and learn from failure and missteps is what is most critical to getting to impact.

The enthusiasm was contagious. By the end of the second day I heard many of them strategizing about how they were planning to work over the next few months to meet those early, exploring benchmarks so that they could qualify for Network membership and attend the Cradle to Career Network Convening in October! As more and more communities progress toward meeting quality benchmarks we collectively progress toward meeting that ultimate goal of supporting the success of every child, every step of the way, cradle to career.

2014 Exploring Communities Convening in Chicago

Tue, 2014-03-25 16:51

The StriveTogether “2014 Exploring Communities Convening” national conference started off Monday evening with a dynamic, funny and sometimes even nostalgic welcome address from Nancy Zimpher, nationally recognized education leader and Chancellor, The State University of New York and Chair of the StriveTogether National Advisory Board. Drawing from her experience in Cincinnati, Chancellor Zimpher painted the early work of the Strive Partnership in broad brushstrokes for a crowded room of nearly 150 representatives from more than 40 communities who travelled to Chicago in late March (some from as far away as New Zealand) to explore the framework for building a scalable cradle to career civic infrastructure.

The event was a unique opportunity for community organizations, non-profits, school districts and administrators, NGOs and government institutions in nascent stages of building scalable cradle to career community supports to meet with network members throughout the country already engaged in the work and learn about what strategic assistance was available.

Attendees will leave the convening today with a flash drive of resources and templates and a 180-day action plan to help build the work in their own communities. Read more about the Exploring Communities Convening in our press room and follow the Striving for Change blog for future updates and photos from the event.

 

From left to right: Beth Swanson, Deputy Chief of Staff for Education, Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Jeff Edmondson, Managing Director, StriveTogether; Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor, The State university of New York/Chair, StriveTogether National Advisory Board.

Right Tool for the Job

Wed, 2014-03-19 14:43

This is the fourth blog in our blog series about communications. To read the first blog here, read the second blog here, read the third blog here.

The previous entries in this blog series have focused on the structure of a good story and how to connect data to the story. While very important topics, perhaps, the most important thing to consider about story telling is, in fact, when to tell the story. Stories are the most powerful tool for communications, but other tools, such as brochures and announcements, may help you reach your audience more effectively. An important consideration for which communication tool you should use, is figuring out what you hope to achieve through your communication.  Communicating can only accomplish four things: persuade, inform, ask or thank; and a message can only do one of these at a time.

Persuade

Persuasive communication seeks to influence the audience into changing their attitude, beliefs, behaviors or thoughts. Stories are best suited for persuasive communications. In order for people to change, they need to feel an emotional connection to the information. We previously mentioned that “stories are the way to people’s hearts because data alone is not enough to drive them to action”. Here, an announcement or brochure with charts and graphs will probably not be compelling enough to emotionally grab an audience like a story can.

Inform

Informative communication seeks to educate and introduce new information to the audience through various communications channels. Informative communication uses a number of communication tools, including stories. Stories in this form will be effective if you need to introduce new concepts to an audience. However, caution must be used. Stories will not be nearly as effective as an announcement, especially if you simply need to inform your audience that there is a community input meeting next Tuesday.

Ask

Inquisitive communication seeks to gather information from the audience. Few communication tools, aside from asks and questionnaires, are successful in this type of communication. Stories are generally not effective for this form of communication. Here, long stories may confuse the audience to what you are seeking and you may not get the information you need from them.

Thank

Communication that gives thanks expresses gratitude and helps to maintain harmonious relationships. A range of communication tools can be used to give thanks, including stories, although, much like informative communication, they should be used with caution. A story explaining why you are expressing gratitude (for example, if a donation was made to the partnership, tell how the donation is changing the lives of children in the community) can be powerful. However, if you are unable to exactly relay what you are grateful for, using another communication tool will save you from appearing disingenuous.

Stories are very powerful communication tools, but they are not always the most effective tool. By examining and identifying the purpose for your communication, you can ensure that you are using stories appropriately and effectively. The journey to a successful communication strategy does not end with selecting the right tool, sometimes you need to look to your partners and allies for help. Check out the next blog in our Communications series, where we will cover how to leverage your relationships for more effective communications.

Data Privacy For All

Thu, 2014-03-13 08:17

 

Using data to improve the lives of every child from cradle to career is the primary premise of all the partnerships within the national Cradle to Career Network. Part of the StriveTogether Framework, and the Theory of Action, calls for the collection, disaggregation and release of data to the community. But what happens with that data and who has access to it? Are there safeguards to ensure that student data remains private and is not used for punishment? One concern that is often felt by communities, partnerships and school districts in using data is the adherence to regulations within data sharing agreements and federal policies, such as FERPA, HIPPA, and CIPSIA. The Education Counsel  raised these concerns and offered solutions to data privacy issues in a recent publication, Key Elements for Strengthening State Laws and Policies Pertaining to Student Data Use, Privacy, and Security: Guidance for State Policymakers. Other data experts, such as the Data Quality Campaign  (DQC), suggests that a robust, comprehensive data system is needed to manage the collection, storage, sharing, and analysis of educational data in order to provide appropriate protection of personally identifiable information.

Along with this suggestion for a robust, comprehensive data system, DQC has called for federal laws and policies to cover the following six components as a way to help ensure data privacy and security:

  1. Statement of the purposes of the state’s privacy policies, including an acknowledgment of the educational value of data and the importance of privacy and security safeguards;
  2. Selection of a state leader and advisory board responsible for ensuring appropriate privacy and security protections, including for developing and implementing policies and for providing guidance and sharing best practices with schools and districts;
  3. Establishment of a public data inventory and an understandable description of the specific data elements included in the inventory;
  4. Strategies for promoting transparency and public knowledge about data use, storage, retention, destruction, and protections;
  5. Development of statewide policies for governing personally identifiable information; and
  6. Establishment of a statewide data security plan to address administrative, physical, and technical safeguards.

The idea of using student educational data in a way that fully respects privacy while helping to individualize learning is core to the work of all cradle to career partnerships nationally. One way to ensure data is used to improve is by having a rigorous system of accountability and policies that protect our students and families.  Incorporating the suggestions by DQC is a key way to accomplish this goal.

Let us know what you think or if you have ways to build on these recommendations.

Collective Impact: Stronger Results with CBOs

Tue, 2014-03-11 12:14

Many non-profit youth organizations, often called Community-based organizations or CBOs, contribute to the collective impact movement by providing services at nearly every step of the education continuum. Collective Impact: Stronger Results with Community-Based Organizations, co-published by StriveTogether, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, and ExpandED Schools by TASC, describes the ways in which CBOs can participate in and support collective impact efforts and provides recommendations to build increasingly effective relationships among CBOs and other partners working to support youth outcomes in communities.

The paper is framed using the StriveTogether Framework and draws upon the successful collaborative approach of several ExpandED Schools in New York, Baltimore and New York where schools and CBOs have aligned around a set of shared goals.  The lessons learned from these schools offer insight into the benefits of actively engaging CBOs in collective impact including:

  • The ability to leverage existing relationships between local schools and superintendents, as well as, communities and parents.
  • The ability to connect academic and non-academic outcomes due to CBOs having access to non-academic data.
  • The provision of services and direct impact to the work of local cradle to career partnerships through participation of CBOs on Leadership Teams and Collaborative Action Networks.
  • The identification of necessary policy changes by CBOs that can be advocated for by cradle to career partnerships
  • Enacting systems change by mobilizing the community to improve outcomes.

While many CBOs already serve critical roles in communities with collective impact initiatives, we see additional opportunity for high-quality CBOs to engage in deeper ways for the benefit of local partnerships and students.

What does this deeper engagement look like, and do you see CBOs serving an integral role in your communities or local partnerships? Is there a role for cradle to career partnerships in building capacity within CBOs to actively participate in collective impact efforts?

Let us know your thoughts on the roles CBOs play in collective impact and how a strong partnership between cradle to career partnerships and CBOs can help support the success of every child, cradle to career!

 

 

Batter Up: Can the Government Can Learn from Baseball

Fri, 2014-02-28 10:43

When I think of baseball, the thought of peanuts, Cracker Jacks and umpires come to mind. On the field, players scramble to catch balls, managers track the runs and strikes and teams work together to win the game. This image of baseball doesn’t always conjure up thoughts of effective government spending, but maybe it should.

What would happen if the government played Moneyball like Oakland A’s manager, Billy Beane? He is credited for using data and computer-generated analytics rather than scout recommendations and gut instincts to create a championship baseball team during an unfavorable financial period (highlighted in the film, Moneyball). Moneyball for Government, a project by Results for America, “encourages governments at all levels to increase their use of evidence and data when investing limited taxpayer dollars.” The premise behind Moneyball for Government includes three principles:

  • Build evidence about the practices, policies, and programs that will achieve the most effective and efficient results, so that policymakers can make better decisions
  • Invest limited taxpayer dollars in programs that use evidence and data to demonstrate they work
  • Direct funds away from practices, policies, and programs that consistently fail to achieve measurable outcomes.

Could the government take a lesson from baseball and increase its use of data to determine where funding should be applied? In a time of fiscal scarcity, the government has been charged with thinking of creative ways to fund programs and community efforts that have the most impact.  Bipartisan leaders who have gathered in support of using data to determine what programs are funded, effectively improving the outcomes for youth, their families and communities have been termed ‘Moneyball for Government All-Stars.’ Among Moneyball for Government Non-Profit All-Stars are Jeff Edmondson, Managing Director of StriveTogether  and Judy Peppler, President and CEO of KnowledgeWorks (StriveTogether is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks).

StriveTogether has been advocating for the effective use of data to improve student outcomes since its inception. At the core of StriveTogether’s approach is the commitment to use local data to determine what works for children and the courage to collectively look at that data to challenge assumptions and make improvements. In Jeff Edmondson’s TedX talk, he describes the importance organizing around outcomes, identifying indicators for the outcomes and collecting local data to determine areas of need.

Using local data to better serve kids is not foreign to members of the Cradle to Career Network either. Commit!, a cradle to career partnership and Network member in Dallas, TX uses data to help determine ‘bright spots’ and identify effective practices that already exist in their community.  The partnership maps data using a line regression to create what they call a ‘hope chart.’  This method helps the partnership see specific schools that are high performing, even under challenging circumstances, and identify practices that can be spread to underperforming schools with similar challenging circumstances.  Having this visual of data also helps shift conversations with educational leaders to focus on improvement rather than penalization. Learn more about the Commit! Partnership at www.commit2dallas.org

StriveTogether was not the only organization recognized by Moneyball for Government, some of our network members were also highlighted. They include The Road Map Project, Generation Next, and Commit! Dallas.

For more information about Moneyball for Government,  visit their website here. Check out newest video to see the Moneyball for Government concept in action.

Putting Data in its Place

Thu, 2014-02-27 13:38

The cradle to career partnerships of StriveTogether make data-driven decisions, we encourage funders to use local data to fund what works, and are constantly using data to get better at what we do through a continuous improvement process.  Data is not only the foundation of our collective impact work, it also is crucial in communications. Data is how partnerships can make the case, to show that they are having impact on every child, from cradle to career.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares this deep love for numbers. Andy Goodman taught us stories are the way to people’s hearts because data alone is not enough to drive them to action. Moreover, statistics with no context can be misinterpreted and inhibit the audience from connecting with the big picture. This means even if you create the most beautiful pie chart that has ever existed, it most likely will not be enough to change the beliefs and perceptions of your audience. The key to effective communication is to put the data in context.  Three strategies have been identified as ways partnerships can to put their data into context- connecting the dots, social math and switching the story from portrait to landscape view.

Connecting the Dots

The connection between data points is not always apparent. For example, indications of improvement in third grade reading may not appear to be of interest to someone focused on high school graduation. It is important to help your audience understand the connection between the data. Do not assume your audience can see the solution through independent points of data, connect the dots for them. Explain the relationship between third grade reading and high school graduation for them. By explaining the relationship, you can show the “domino effect” that one event or statistic can have on another.  In this example, use data to show that if a student falls behind in third grade reading they may spend their academic career catching up and may not graduate high school on time, if at all.

No Numbers? No Problem.

It can be difficult for the audience to grasp why a number is meaningful. Social math is a way to explain the size, scope and severity of data without using math or in some cases, even numbers by comparing the data point to something more familiar. Consider the following statements: The tobacco industry spent approximately $8.82 billion on advertising in 2011; or the tobacco industry spends more in advertising in one day than the federal government spends on prevention in an entire year. Which statement is easier to understand? Social math is a persuasive communications tool that helps associate data points to familiar and relatable concepts,  it is absolutely necessary that the comparison is factual and not misleading. If the data used to make the comparison is faulty, the data and you may lose all credibility.

Portrait to Landscape

The last strategy for putting data in its place is to put it in the context of your story. In the last blog post we detailed Andy Goodman’s recipe for telling a great story. Think of the story as a portrait of an individual in the community who will be impacted by your work. Although the story is a powerful communications tool it only permits a limited view of the problem and more importantly the solution the partnership can bring. Use data to expand the audience’s view to the landscape of the community. Data should amplify your story. Once the audience connects to the story’s protagonist, use the opportunity to bring in data and explain how the issue at hand affects so many more people, just like the protagonist, in the community. The story will give the audience a face to think about when they see data points along the spectrum. Stories turn the data into people instead of numbers.

Data is absolutely essential in communications; however, it must be used in the right context. By using the three strategies outlined here you will be able to show how data points are related to each other, how to make statistics meaningful to audiences who are not data experts, and how to connect your story to your data to give the full landscape of what is going on in your community. Another key to communication is knowing when to use the right tool at the right time. Check out the next blog in our communications series where we will cover when to use stories, data and general information dependent on the type of communication that the situation dictates.

You’re Invited to the 2014 Exploring Communities Convening

Tue, 2014-02-18 11:58

StriveTogether is hosting the 1st Annual Exploring Communities Convening on March 24-25, 2014 in Chicago, IL at the Hard Rock Hotel.

We invite your partnership to join communities throughout the country who are in the early stages of building a cradle to career partnership and working to meet the Exploring quality benchmarks in the StriveTogether Theory of Action.   Take advantage of opportunities to share and network with others doing like work and facing similar challenges.

StriveTogether is putting together a robust agenda that focuses on topics including: Stakeholder Engagement, Understanding Outcomes and Indicators and Strategic Communications just to name a few.   We will have Strategic Assistance staff and peer sites on hand to provide coaching to teams and each team will leave with a 180-day action plan to help guide the work going forward.

View the detailed agenda here.

Find information on how to register here.

Contact Kelly Robinson, robinsonk@strivetogether.org, with any questions.

Andy Goodman Makes Storytelling a Piece of Cake

Wed, 2014-02-12 14:39

At the 2014 Communications Convening in Albuquerque, Andy Goodman delivered a workshop entitled, Change the Story, Change the World, centered on the premise that “your story is the most powerful tool you have”. The workshop covered a myriad of topics from why the narrative is so powerful to how to collect stories from your community. However, the core of the presentation focused on how to tell a good story. Andy gave the audience a three step recipe to a delicious story, which made storytelling seem like, well, a piece of cake.

Andy Goodman’s Recipe for a Great Story

Step 1: Pre-heat the Oven and Gather the Ingredients

Before you dive into the action of the story you need to set it up for the audience, by giving them the context of the story.  Think of this like pre-heating the oven, you need to have the conditions right for action. This is accomplished by setting the scene: when and where is the story taking place? Starting with this information helps the audience put themselves in the story.

After you let the audience know when and where the story is, you have to tell them who it is about. Think of this as gathering up your ingredients. Identify your protagonist, the main character (ingredient) of the story. Your choice of protagonist should reflect the audience. Make sure to describe in detail the protagonist: what is their name, do they have a goal, why should the audience care about them. These details are the complimentary ingredients to the story and make it authentic.

Step 2: Mix the Ingredients and Bake the Cake

Now that you have the ingredients it is time to combine them. This is what Andy calls the rising action.  What barriers, conflicts or challenges does the protagonist face? Each new element adds drama and interest. The story should have an aura of surprise and vulnerability; if the protagonist has an easy and sure-footed path to success, the story is boring.

As baking is a series of chemical reactions that reveal the nature of the cake, so it is with the development of the protagonist. How the protagonist reacts to each new challenge reveal their character and helps the audience connect to them. The more an audience connects with the protagonist, the more likely they are to have an emotional response that will help the story stick in their head.

Step 3: Icing on the Cake

After the rising action has concluded it is time to wrap it up and put the icing on the cake. Was the protagonist successful or did they fall flat on their face? What lessons did the protagonist learn and how did they grow? What is the takeaway from the story?  The ending point should be clear and leave the audience with a sense of resolution or a will to act.

A good story is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal, it can help build credibility, garner community buy in or incite people to action and if you follow Andy’s recipe you are well on your way to developing your story.  As it would turn out, your story is not the end of the story.  As Andy Goodman said “How do you convince people who are all about data that the story is important? People can’t face facts if they are facing the wrong way. Stories let the facts in. Stories are not the opposite of data, they are the key to letting the facts make the case.” The next blog in the Communications Convening blog series will help you connect the data to the story by putting it in context.

Check out more lessons from Andy Goodman here.

Tom Friedman and Shared Responsibility….for All Adults

Mon, 2014-02-03 13:15

Tom Friedman, author of the amazing book The World is Flat that in many ways sparked the development of The Strive Partnership in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, recently shared an op-ed that made a compelling case for the President adopting a message of personal responsibility in his State of the Union address (Obama’s Homework Assignment, Jan 18, 2014).  It is worth noting that we already hear the President and other members of his Cabinet speaking about this not only related to students and families, but for all those who invest time, talent, and treasure in offering successful supports.

The President’s recent announcement of Promise Zones was a prime example.  While receiving little fanfare, the speech signaled a clear shift from simply investing in more programs to working to focus resources on the most impactful programs and services.  He said, “We don’t fund things, we don’t start projects just for the sake of starting them.  They’ve got to work.  If they don’t work we should try something else.  And sometimes those of us who care deeply about advancing opportunity aren’t willing to subject some of these programs to that test:  Do they work?”

And further, the announcement did not include a promise of more funds.  Instead, it was focused on government specifically becoming a partners for change.  Secretary Donovan of HUD wrote, “In the old days, Washington would swoop into communities and plan for them rather than with them.  This approach tended to address problems one-by-one instead of taking a holistic approach.”

This departure from a focus on starting new programs to an approach that demands the discipline required to work together and focus limited resources on what actually works is all about personal responsibility as well.  It is about stopping the “spray and pray” approach to investment – where we spray resources all over the place and pray good things happen – to a much more targeted approach is captured in the concept of collective impact.  Just as Friedman notes, it is about how we “change expectations” for the way we work with kids and families by coming together across sectors, with government as a key player at the table, to work together to build on what works.

I was a part of launching the cradle to career partnership in Cincinnati that has become a model for collective impact and I continue to work with the heads of all our campuses to join with early childhood, K-12, non-profit, philanthropic, and business partners work to play a similar role.  As a result, we have seen outcomes for children improve despite funding cuts and in the face of significant social challenges, in some cases by over 10 points on key measures like 3rd grade reading and high school graduation rates.  And this was achieved all because partners work together to stop pointing fingers at each other and share accountability for results.

The President would do well to make personal responsibility a key topic of the State of the Union.  But we hope he continues to build on this message that not just parents and students, but all of us need to look in the mirror and ask what role we can play and, perhaps more importantly, what we can do differently on a daily basis to make sure we “take education seriously enough” to not only help children and youth succeed, but our communities thrive and our economy prosper.

 

 

 

2014 Communications Convening Overview

Tue, 2014-01-28 13:28

Effectively communicating the work of a cradle to career partnership can be challenging, to say the least.  To help tackle this communication tongue-tie and share successes (and failures) in this area, StriveTogether hosted staff from 17 partnerships from across the country in Albuquerque, NM for a Communications Convening. Entitled Change the Story, Change the World, the Convening included three sessions: a workshop delivered by nationally recognized author and speaker, Andy Goodman on how to “tell your story”; a Communications Fail Forward Fest featuring two brave partnerships willing to tell how they failed in their communications efforts and shared what they learned; and a panel discussion with partners from Mission: Graduate, the cradle to career partnership in Albuquerque and hosts of the event. In case you missed out on this great convening (or just want to relive the experience), the sessions are recapped below.

Change the Story, Change the World

The first session of the day was a workshop in storytelling from Andy Goodman. Andy is a television writer turned founder of the Goodman Center, whose mission is to help good causes reach more people with more impact. The workshop centered on the premise that “your story is the most powerful tool that you have” and dug into issues like why the narrative is so powerful, the structure of a good story, and how to collect stories from your community.

Lessons in How Not to Communicate

Based on the popularity of the first Fail Forward Fest (a session where partnerships relay tales of their not so successful efforts and lessons learned from said efforts) at National Convening, the session was revived for the Communications Convening. Becky LaPlant of Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success a regional cradle to career partnership in Northern Minnesota and Kira Higgs of All Hands Raised of the cradle to career partnership Portland, OR participated in the Communications Fail Forward Fest. Becky shared a story of a Rotary Club presentation gone wrong and how to avoid similar situations in the future. Kira told us how not to communicate with co-convening partners and gave a lesson on rebuilding trust.

On the Ground Examples from Mission:Graduate

The last session of the day was a panel discussion that centered on communications challenges that partnerships face and featured some on the ground examples of practices that worked for Mission: Graduate. Moderated by Cris Mulder, VP of Marketing and Communications for KnowledgeWorks (StriveTogether is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks), the panel was comprised of four members of the Mission: Graduate team: Monica Armenta, Executive Director of Community Relations for Albuquerque Public Schools; Angelo Gonzales, Executive Director of Mission: Graduate; Alexis Kerschner Tappan; Senior Director of Marketing and PR at the Central New Mexico Community College; and Jeanette Miller, Director of Communications and Marketing at the United Way of Central New Mexico.  The discussion left us all envious of the great work Mission: Graduate has been able to achieve in their communications outreach and materials.

So many fantastic examples and ideas were shared at the convening, fitting it all into just one blog would be impossible!  To make sure we capture and share all this great knowledge, we will be launching a mini-blog series to discuss some big take-aways from the convening around communications challenges. Please check back for the next blog focused on Andy Goodman’s recipe for a good story.

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