While facilitating a planning session with a group of communities as part of the Corridors of College Success Initiative, Luzelma Canales of the RGV Focus partnership in Rio Grande Valley made a profound summary statement that captured the heart of their work:
“We see what we do as making sure success – graduating from college – happens by design, not by chance.”
I had to sit with that insight for a bit. Success by design. What would that look like? What does that mean? We know a few things about how to get there – access to data, community ownership, building and sustaining the civic infrastructure that allows for truly personalized learning. But none of this can happen without building the capability of community leaders to drive real change.
Much has been made of the big data movement. As we noted in a recent piece, access to data and analytics is critical, but it is not enough to change how individuals, institutions, and systems operate to support the right pathways for all students to reach their full academic and social potential.
Evidence-based decision making is not sufficient to get to “success by design.” To achieve improvement at scale and create better and more equitable systems, we need a host of partners across sectors working in alignment to meet the unique needs of a child. This can and does happen for a few lucky children. But if we want to reach “every child, cradle to career,” we have to strengthen the connections and partnerships across a community in smarter ways to anticipate needs and respond accordingly, continuously improving and implementing strategies that intentionally accelerate outcomes and narrow disparities.
How can we begin to work together to achieve better results? We have much to learn from the health care sector and specifically the Institute for Healthcare Improvement on how they work with teams to cure diseases. They know how to turn data into actionable information to make better decisions. And they realized that in order to use this data, people require something much more purposeful and intentionally designed than traditional professional development: people need experiential learning and coaching, grounded in real work that can help them to build the necessary skills to get better results.
For the last 3 years, we have been working to build the capability of leaders across sectors to build and sustain the civic infrastructure required to improve community level outcomes through our Theory of Action. Building on that strong foundation, our big bet at StriveTogether over the next three years is to strengthen the capability of leaders across sectors at all levels to work together to use data to inform actions to change systems to get better results at scale. That will be the heart of all our work with the Cradle to Career Network. We have a learning framework to help develop a common understanding of the capabilities that must be cultivated in leaders working to create better and more equitable systems for every child.
Together, we’re building the muscles needed so every child in every community can achieve success by design, not by chance.
Jeff Edmondson is the Managing Director of StriveTogether, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks. StriveTogether is a national cradle-to-career initiative that brings together leaders in Pre-K-12 schools, higher education, business and industry, community organizations, government leaders, parents and other stakeholders who are committed to helping children succeed from birth through careers.