A central premise of the cradle to career approach is that this work requires the collective effort of an entire community to really achieve the systems level and institutional change that is necessary to support every child, from cradle to career. Inherent in this is the engagement, involvement and mobilization of the community around this cradle-to-career vision. Part of successfully achieving authentic engagement, involvement and mobilization of the community stems from understanding who is and what is the community.
When we talk about community engagement, we often encourage individual partnerships to define what community they are trying to intentionally engage and for what purpose. Community engagement needs to be a contextual process not only in regard to a specific community or region but also to a specific topic or challenge. We have broadly defined the community as individuals in the defined geographic scope who are directly affected by the quality of the education pipeline (e.g. students, parents, business and civic leaders, etc.), and therefore must be clearly understood, actively involved and eventually satisfied by the impact of the partnership. This definition of community can essentially encompass every individual in a partnership’s region; however, the expectation is not that every person in the region will be engaged in every engagement strategy that the partnership employs. Rather, this definition of community is intended to identify who should ultimately be engaged and informed, recognizing that the strategies to achieve this broad engagement should look different for varying purposes, sectors and individuals within the community.
Different partnerships across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network have identified various community sectors such as youth, students, parents, general public, business leaders, teachers and others as the major focus of their engagement efforts. No matter what part of the community we are trying to intentionally engage, a major lesson learned has been around needing to tailor the engagement strategy for the specific audience. The strategy employed to engage youth voice in the partnership should and will look different than a strategy to involve business leaders in the work.
With the recent launch of the StriveTogether Theory of Action, a continuum of key benchmarks that acts as a guide to implementing the StriveTogether framework, we have taken the opportunity to reinforce the critical role of community in cradle-to-career partnerships. We also are working to get clearer than ever on what community engagement is and looks like within the context of this work.
This is the first blog in a six-part series that aims to further define community engagement and illustrate on-the-ground examples of community engagement throughout the Theory of Action. Check back soon for the next community engagement blog about categorizing engagement strategies! Also, plan to join us September 25-27 in Dallas for the 2013 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening, where we will dive into the topic of community engagement in more detail!