We received a great deal of feedback to the blog post “The Difference between Collaboration and Collective Impact”. The most common question is around whether collective impact is somehow superior or even counter to collaboration. To this I would respond with a resounding, “No!” There is a time and place for both. In fact, we could even consider that there needs to be something along the lines of an “Impact Continuum” that runs from Isolated Impact – our traditional method of operating in silos – to collaboration and on to collective impact (see figure: The Impact Continuum)
- There is a time and place for each point on the continuum. It could be that an organization needs to act individually on a specific pressing issue for the betterment of the community as a whole or a specific population. Similarly, there is a time for communities to use collaboration to rally the around a common cause and/or to promote the exchange of information broadly to inform practice on the ground. And then there is a time for communities to take a more purposeful and deliberate approach to achieve sustained improvements through collective impact. In the end, one is not better than the other, and all three are happening at the same time in any given community.
- We need to set a high bar and push each other to find real examples of collective impact. Over 50 communities contributed feedback to the StriveTogether Theory of Action for Building Cradle to Career Civic Infrastructure. This is our attempt to raise the bar. We will be working arm-in-arm with sites to assess their progress over the coming months. And we should only find very few examples that meet the true definition of collective impact (a “10” on the Impact Continuum) to a) ensure the concept continues to hold meaning and b) encourage the communities to reach high as they work to achieve not only significant impact on the population they serve, but sustained improvements in the systems that serve them.
- We need to be very honest about where efforts we hail as examples fall on this continuum. As one national funder told me recently, “I see so many examples of proclaimed collective impact each and every day, I have no clue what it means.” Every time a case study or story is released in the field that claims to be collective impact, but fails to meet this high bar, we decrease the potential of sustaining this movement.
In the practice of collective impact, we have a foothold on changing how we do business in the social sector for the benefit of every child. We can move from focusing far too often on the interests of adults working within systems and institutions to the actual needs of those we serve. To take advantage of this moment, we need a rigorous definition of what this promising approach entails. Hopefully the Impact Continuum gets us a step closer to where we need to be to realize this powerful change.
We welcome any and all feedback on the Continuum and will look to refine it in the coming months and years as we learn more from partners working on the ground about how to best have impact on the lives of children every step of the way, from cradle to career.
This is the final blog in a six-blog series on community engagement. To read the first blog, click here. To read the second blog, click here. To read the third blog, click here. To read the fourth blog, click here. To read the fifth blog, click here.
Community engagement in the sustaining gateway, highlighted in the previous blog, focused on action with the involvement of community in solution development and implementation while continuing the flow of communication and awareness. Community engagement in the systems change gateway reflects the evolving nature of the work. Continual communications, mobilization, and alignment of the community and its numerous resources is emphasized in this gateway. See below for examples of community engagement, specifically called out in the systems change gateway of the Strive Theory of Action.
Community Engagement in the Systems Change Gateway:
-Communication of partnership: Continual communication of success and challenges with the community, helps build and maintain an authentic and informed relationship with the community. The strategies to communicate with and inform the community look different for every partnership, but can include community update meetings, regular newsletters, informational campaigns around specific data points, and regular meetings with a community advisory team. These strategies are examples of the necessary transactional engagement that needs to happen, even in the later stages of partnership progress.
-Release of the annual report cards: After releasing multiple report cards, trends in the data will be calculable from the baseline year. Consistent and transparent communication to the community around data points that are trending up and data points that are trending down is important to keeping the community engaged and aware of the progress of the partnership. It is important to connect these data trends to community-level strategies, as well as identify additional ways for the community to participate in improving an outcome. Partnerships must recognize and celebrate the role of the community in the work. Continually engaging the community around the report card data is a transactional engagement strategy; however, using that data to mobilize the community to actively participate in the work of the partnership becomes a form of transitional engagement.
-Alignment of community around outcomes: The broader community that supports a cradle to career partnership includes many different community assets, such as community knowledge, community volunteers, community experts, community resources, etc. Aligning these significant community resources towards improving community-level outcomes to ensure success for all students is part of the systemic change cradle to career partnerships are looking to create. Strategies to align the community around community-level outcomes traverse the three categories of engagement and should include transactional strategies, like awareness campaigns and consistent communications; transitional strategies, like mobilizing community members to participate in data-driven strategies to improve outcomes; and transformational strategies, like engaging community members and community experts in the strategy-setting and decision-making of the partnership.
The examples outlined in this and the previous posts in this community engagement blog series are certainly not the only ways that the community can be engaged in a cradle to career partnership as engagement is an overarching principle to this work. However, these are the different places we have intentionally identified in the Theory of Action where we expect partnerships to engage the community or involve community voice. Community ownership of the community-level outcomes, involvement in strategy selection, and participation in improving the outcomes is crucial to the success of a cradle to career partnership, thus the authentic engagement of the community in the work of the partnership is essential. Building necessary, authentic relationships with the community takes a lot of work and time, but the payoff of this relationship is immeasurable.
If you have an example from your own community on how you have effectively engaged the community- we would love to hear of and learn from your experience!
Still want to learn more about community engagement in the theory of action? Consider joining us at the 2013 Strive Cradle to Career Network Convening in Dallas. A special ‘deep dive’ session will be devoted to this topic specifically!
Secretary Duncan Recognizes Impact of Strive Cradle to Career Initiatives
Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education recently made the last stop on his bus tour to connect with educators across the country. He was in the San Diego-area meeting with key players and, specifically, visiting a Promise Neighborhood in Chula Vista that we have heard is doing great work.
As part of Duncan’s comments, he noted that there was innovation happening outside the investment the administration had made in communities. He specifically pointed at the work underway in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood called the Partnership for Children. This work is being led by a host of community partners and is staffed by the local United Way. It is a remarkable effort to start small and scale purposefully across the region. They have embraced the Framework and are demonstrating how best to engage residents and community partners around what the data says works for kids. We have had the honor of supporting them with United Way Worldwide as a part of our work them, along with target, to help better understand how United Ways can anchor this work.
We Have to Build Partnerships
But the underlying point behind why he referenced our work together was more profound: we can’t wait on anyone to solve complex social problems. It’s nice if a major federal grant is available to support this work – although we have seen that starting this work around a funding opportunity can cause more problems than one might think – but there will never be enough money to spark universal action. Community leaders of all types, at all levels, and from all backgrounds must stand up on their own to take responsibility for the success of every child. We have to build partnerships with this as the primary motivator: the potential of children as opposed to the almighty dollar.
I will admit to feeling a moment of pride when the Secretary mentioned the nearly 100 communities that are a part of the Cradle to Career Network because the majority was not started with any additional money in hand. They were started because leadership on the ground recognized the urgency of the matter. They recognized that they needed a new way of doing business. They started with the goals and outcomes in mind above all else. Communities from Anchorage to Albuquerque and Richmond to Red Wing are moving in the right direction for the right reasons.
But we have a long way to go.
A Challenge from the Department
Secretary Duncan’s Acting Deputy Secretary for the Department of Education, Jim Shelton, told me the other day that the one thing we could do for the field was to get some proof points. We need to get more examples of the power of this work not just to bring adults together, but to move the dial on child outcomes.
The time is now to demonstrate how the rigor and discipline needed to build cradle to career civic infrastructure can indeed change the outcomes for children across the country. So the pride quickly turned to determination. The Secretary was not patting us on the back, he was calling us out. We have to get from enthusiasm to impact. We are certainly on our way. But let’s not stop until the results we need for kids are actually achieved, and every parent in City Heights, San Diego, and the nation knows their child is going to succeed every step of the way, cradle to career.
Earlier today, I was reviewing sight words with my kindergartner and as we made our way down the list, she kept having trouble with one word in particular. She became very frustrated and wanted to quit, which lead to my panic thinking she wasn’t demonstrating self-efficacy, grit, perseverance or many of the very important social emotional competencies we so often read about.
What are Social Emotional Competencies?
No matter what you call them – social emotional, non-cognitive, non-academic competencies – social and emotional learning is proving to be key indicators to student success and thus are generating a great deal of buzz. With his book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough found that children were challenged to develop these social and emotional competencies regardless of their socioeconomic status. For rich kids a sheltered life with helicopter parents often deprived the kids of the types of experiences that helped to build strong character. And for poorer kids, growing up in a stressful, unstable environment can result in negative feelings and distractions that challenge learning. In the last week, a New York Times Magazine article, Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught, on this same subject has been making the rounds both in education circles and on the Facebook pages of many of my fellow mom friends because it raises the question of whether or not emotional intelligence is inherent or can be learned and it offers some examples of interventions that seem to be seeing some success in teaching these competencies.
How do You Measure Social Emotional Competencies?
Of course in order to determine which interventions are having impact, you must first be able to measure success. And measurement is one of the greatest challenges in this space. It’s extremely difficult to measure social and emotional learning competencies. Numerous assessment tools have been developed, but very few of these tools have been implemented at scale or nationally normed and they seldom demonstrate strong validity and reliability. The tools, often in the form of scales and rubrics, tend to measure one or two competencies and are, at times, difficult and laborious to administer. The good news is that as a result of the buzz around this topic, a number of researchers, organizations like the Search Institute, and large assessment companies like ACT are working to develop more effective and efficient ways of assessing these competencies at scale.
Placing Social Emotional Competencies on the Roadmap
So, what does all of this mean for cradle to career partnerships? To start, one of the foundational elements in this work is its holistic approach to student learning. This is demonstrated through a core visual representation of the work that started with the Strive Partnership and has been adapted by communities across the Cradle to Career Network. The Student Roadmap to Success has an upper half focused on core academic outcomes and a lower half focused on non-academic, non-cognitive, student and family support. And the cross-sector nature of cradle to career partnerships and the critical role of learning partners from youth-serving organizations in this work necessitate a focus on both halves of this Roadmap in order to ensure student success.
Even so, because work in this field is so new and emergent, Cradle to Career Partnerships have struggled with how to approach measurement in this space. And so, the Strive Task Force on Measuring Social and Emotional Learning launched early this year in an attempt to make some recommendations to the Cradle to Career Network on how to approach measurement in this area. The end result is a comprehensive reviews of the literature as it relates to some of the core social and emotional competencies that lead to improved cradle to career academic outcomes. Coupled with the lit review and recommended competency list is an overview of the measures for these competencies and a compendium with more than 100 measurement tools that can be used for assessment in this space. It is a tremendous resource for Cradle to Career Partnerships and a great contribution to the field.
At the Strive Cradle to Career Network Convening in Dallas, TX, we will distribute the report entitled, Beyond Content: Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning into the Strive Framework.
Susan Philliber of Philliber Research Associates, who worked with us to produce this report, will join to moderate a panel during the Breakfast Plenary, “Understanding and Measuring Beyond Content Learning,” on Friday, September 27, 2013. Following the Convening release, this report will go live on the www.strivenetwork.org website as a resource to the Network and broader field.
In the meantime, what we need from Cradle to Career partnerships are stories about how this work is playing out on the ground in your community. Are you currently using assessment tools in this space? If so, which ones and how is it going? We want to hear from you about your experience –both successes and challenges.
This is the fifth blog in a six-blog series on community engagement. To read the first blog, click here. To read the second blog, click here. To read the third blog, click here. To read the fourth blog, click here.
As we continue our series on the crucial role of community engagement in collective impact, it is becoming apparent that while engagement remains important across all the gateways of the Strive Theory of Action, the specific strategies and ways to engage differ greatly. The strategies for community engagement in the exploring gateway of the Strive Theory of Action, highlighted in the third blog of this series, were around laying the foundation for deep community engagement and mobilization. Community engagement strategies in the emerging gateway, highlighted in the previous blog, start to involve the community more actively in the work and priorities of the partnership. Community engagement in the sustaining gateway builds off of this action through the involvement of community in solution development and implementation while continuing the flow of communication and awareness. See below for examples of community engagement, specifically called out in the sustaining gateway of the Strive Theory of Action.
Community Engagement in the Sustaining Gateway:
-Regularly and consistently informing community: Keeping the community updated on the work of the partnership is important to establish a transparent relationship with the community, as well as to build the necessary awareness of the partnership’s efforts to improve the community-level outcomes. Consistent awareness and understanding of the work of the partnership is necessary, especially with an ultimate goal of community mobilization and ownership around community-level outcomes. Holding community update meetings, sending regular newsletters, or engaging in other awareness campaigns to regularly and consistently inform the community are examples of transactional engagement.
-Release of the report card: Releasing a report card, similar to the release of a baseline report, provides a great opportunity to engage the community in a conversation around the data for the community-level outcomes and any changes that have occurred from the baseline year data. Additionally, with the release of report cards after the baseline year, the partnership needs to communicate the work it is doing to improve community outcomes through collaborative action networks and community campaigns. This communication strategy provides a platform to then mobilize the community to take action and plug into the work of the partnership to help improve community-level outcomes. Engaging the community in the release of the report card and community-level outcome data is a form of transactional engagement.
-Collaborative action feedback loop: Using local data to drive student success through a continuous improvement process is core to the cradle to career approach. One pivotal piece of data that can’t be overlooked is the voice of the customer (or in this case, community members who are impacted by the work). Collaborative Action Networks, groups of appropriate cross-sector practitioners and individuals who organize around a community-level outcome and use a continuous improvement process to develop an action plan with strategies to improve that outcome, often build a community feedback loop into their process to test their data-driven strategies against the voice of those impacted by their work. This feedback loop allows the community to be involved in the decision-making and strategy-setting to improve community-level outcomes, an example of transformational engagement.
-Mobilizing community to improve outcomes: When data-driven strategies arise to improve community-level outcomes, the mobilization of the community to participate in these strategies can be crucial to success. Different approaches involve the community in different ways, but often a campaign to mobilize the community to take action (like becoming a tutor or a reading volunteer) is launched to involve the community in the improvement of a community-level outcome. The mobilizing of the community to take action can help reinforce the shared accountability of the entire community to improve the community-level outcomes and is an example of transitional engagement.
If you have an example from your own community on how you have effectively engaged the community- we would love to hear of and learn from your experience!
Check back soon for the next community engagement blog about community engagement in the systems change gateway of the Strive Theory of Action! Also, plan to join us September 25-27th in Dallas for the 2013 Strive Cradle to Career Network Convening where we will be diving into the topic of community engagement in more detail!
Community engagement is an integral piece of the cradle to career approach and a theme that is inherent in the work across the Theory of Action. The strategies for community engagement in the exploring gateway of the Strive Theory of Action, highlighted in the third blog of this series, were specifically around laying the foundation for deep community engagement and mobilization. The community engagement strategies in the emerging gateway start to involve the community more actively in the work and priorities of the partnership. See below for examples of community engagement, specifically called out in the emerging gateway of the Strive Theory of Action.
Community Engagement in the Emerging Gateway:
-Release of the baseline report: Publicly reporting on the baseline data for community-level outcomes and indicators presents an important opportunity to engage the community in a conversation around the data and the purpose of the partnership. Moving to a norm where data is used often and effectively in the community requires the first step of being comfortable with the data, of having a basic understanding of it. The release of a baseline report is a great way to initiate and foster that understanding, and it shows the partnership’s commitment to share data with the community. Engaging the community in the release of a baseline report and initiating a conversation around the data is an example of transactional engagement.
-Prioritizing community-level outcomes: Very few partnerships have the capacity and resources to work on improving all outcomes at once, so the prioritization of the outcomes becomes necessary to ensure success. Prioritization is based off of a number of different factors, one of which is community momentum. Understanding the existing community assets and recognizing where momentum already exists in the community helps to determine outcome areas where community support and resources can help drive success faster than in other outcome areas. The prioritization of outcomes is a great way to plug in information gathered from prior engagement efforts and to actively use community voice in the decision-making and direction-setting of the partnership. This is an example of using information gathered through transactional forms of engagement for decision-making and direction-setting of the partnership.
If you have example from your own community on how you have effectively engaged the community- we would love to hear of and learn from your experience!
Check back soon for the next community engagement blog about community engagement in the sustaining gateway of the Strive Theory of Action! Also, plan to join us September 25-27th in Dallas for the 2013 Strive Cradle to Career Network Convening where we will be diving into the topic of community engagement in more detail!
Social Impact Bonds Overview
An emerging approach in the United States to support evidence-based social programs is social impact bonds, which we consider part of the larger impact investing sector. Social impact bonds provide investment capital to fund evidence-based social programs delivered by highly effective providers. In this model, as currently executed, government agencies agree to pay external organizations a pre-arranged sum, and they agree to return the investor’s principle, but only if the funded programs achieve predefined results and presumably create cost savings as well in order to fund the returns.
According to Social Finance, social impact bonds require interventions and programs that are evidence-based, provide sufficient net savings within a time horizon, and are replicable and scalable. Ultimately the financing vehicle attempts to bring new money to address and advance qualifying social outcomes – we consider this an ‘expanding the pie’ strategy and funding to be potentially additive to the work in Strive cradle to career communities.
Using Data to Make Decisions
Presently, we see preliminary alignment between the social impact bond concept and the work that happens in Strive Cradle to Career Communities. The initial component to the social impact bond financing model is the need for rigorous data. As the Strive Theory of Action asks for routine collection and analysis of key data points, we feel comfortable that our more advanced sites could be in a position to provide meaningful outcomes data necessary to support social impact bonds. We would expect that sites that have implemented a comprehensive data system and focused on student-level data would be particularly well-suited in this regard. However, there would be a significant lift to provide data in support of social impact bonds that may extend beyond current data practices in less mature cradle to career sites.
Saving Costs and Supporting Outcomes
The next criteria, demonstration of clear cost savings over a defined time horizon, suggests that the social impact bonds would have to be anchored around very specific and visible transition points in the cradle to career pipeline. Reasonably, we are looking at social outcomes that emerge within two years of intervention and can be affirmatively verified.
For example, for the social impact bond that is supporting early education in Salt Lake City, UT, the social outcome is reducing the number of children who are placed in special or remedial education based on their participation in the Utah High Quality Preschool Program. At the time of their entry into school, investors will know how many students are and are not in special or remedial education and related cost savings to the public can immediately be calculated. In Strive communities, you could see a corollary to students at not only the school entry point but also those entering higher education without the need for remedial coursework and then demonstrate related public costs savings. As currently constructed, social impact bonds do rely on a cost savings or cost avoidance model though an economic benefit or value creation model could be considerably more compelling to private investors.
Positioning to Scale
Finally, the scalability question for Strive relies heavily on our ability to align communities on a discrete set of materially similar outcomes, and as previously mentioned, have consistent and reliable data to provide the evidence base. As we look across our Network, sites in Sustaining and System Change are more likely candidates for this type of model if only based on their existing data collection processes and evidence-based provider base.
At the Strive Cradle to Career Network Convening in Dallas, TX, we will have some of the nation’s leading experts discussing social impact bonds and their potential application to cradle to career communities during the Lunch Plenary, “Social Impact Bonds: How Civic Infrastructure Helps Sites Get Ready for Creative Financing,” on Thursday, September 26, 2013. In addition to leaders from KnowledgeWorks, the Lumina Foundation, United Way Salt Lake City, and the U.S. Department of Education, executives from both Social Finance and Third Sector Capital Partners will join the conversation. We look forward to exploring this emerging financial model with our sites in a few weeks.
 Alden, William. “Goldman Sachs to Finance Early Education Program.” New York Times. 12 June 2013.
You hear it daily -- the mantra "college and career ready." What you don't hear is consensus on "what" this looks like and "how" we are going to improve the state of play. Recent news from New York state student assessments confirm what many of us know --most high school graduates are not ready to perform college work.