Aligning People

Best Practices Discussed at our Children’s Cabinet Summits

Collaboration must be modeled at the top and the conditions must be created for collective impact to occur locally.

Attendees frequently discussed the need for engagement from leaders throughout their public agencies. One of the most effective strategies for increasing engagement is clearly communicating how a collective impact approach will help individual leaders achieve their own goals. Participants also discussed how organizational structures can lead to greater engagement. One key area of growth for leaders is to take the time to understand the context that each of the varying sectors are operating in and the best way to involve them. Engaging business leaders requires a different approach than involving health or education organizations. If collective impact leaders look at collaboration as a chance to understand people and what is important to them, then the collective impact effort is more likely to truly reflect the needs and the goals of the stakeholders.

No need to recreate the wheel.

It is important to recognize that new entities do not always need to form, but can instead come under the umbrella of an existing body, in order to promote alignment and coordination among a range of partners. For example, when the Tennessee Children’s Cabinet Executive Director, Jude White, wanted to deepen their parent engagement, she reached out to Child Abuse Tennessee, who already had strong parent engagement. As Jude said, “I don’t need to build it myself, but I do need to know where this will come from.”

Stay neutral.

It is important for the organizational home and staff of a partnership or children’s cabinet to be seen as a neutral broker and convener. Minnesota chose to restructure their children’s cabinet which had been housed in their education agency and move it into the Governor’s Office to increase cross-agency buy-in and improve communication with their legislature.

Create intentional connection points.

Agencies don’t always have ways to talk to each other and it takes a lot of follow-through, patience and planning. Although technology can play a part in connecting people, it isn’t the silver bullet. Interpersonal relationships are still the most powerful. Often times the conversation that takes place after the meeting adjourns has the biggest impact. As one presenter from a state level agency put it, “our authority and influence to make change is based on the time we can give, the credibility we have and the relationships we have.”

Community engagement is the ‘holy grail’ of the work.

Summit participants engage their members in a range of ways, including community conversations, surveys, focus groups, online communication and advocacy opportunities. Participant members reflected that it is a “challenge to really get input at the policy level and to make sure that we are reaching out to all populations represented.” Collective impact efforts should prioritize engagement with youth and their families and see their efforts as an opportunity to improve services. As one policymaker reported, a constituent early on told him, “I don’t need a civics lesson, I need some help.” Another local official noted that it was important for leaders to ask, “Well, what do the kids say?” and to provide youth with an active seat at the table.

Build authentic, lasting relationships.

Community, youth and parent engagement still boils down to relationships. You will not be able to truly engage families and communities if you don’t have relationships. Collective impact structures are still in development and often rely on the traditional leadership structures of the community or the ‘likely suspects.’ However, to truly understand the root causes, needs and assets of a community, a deeper ongoing dialogue has to take place. Organizations can leverage key connections to ensure they are getting fresh perspectives and to nurture partners who are already at the table. Leaders should ensure that they have external accountability for looping information back to the community and not just asking them for input as well. Relationships are also useful for vertical alignment between levels of government. When counties in Ohio expressed a need for greater flexibility of funding, the state was able to create a work group that allowed counties to pool administrative resources to achieve more efficient results.

Support local collective impact partnerships.

The Obama administration has invested a large amount of resources into place-based initiatives. These initiatives, such as Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, Performance Partnership Pilots and Promise Zones, provide funding, flexibility, technical assistance, and other supports to local communities that wish to align their efforts across programs, departments and policy silos. These initiatives are often locally led, involve long term planning, utilize data and evidence and streamline the efforts of federal agencies. Local officials should consider how these place based initiatives can help them deal with burdensome regulations or align their efforts in new and innovative ways. Many of these initiatives can provide a first step towards reexamining and improving alignment efforts already occurring at the local level. States, counties and cities are also feeling the need to pilot work in smaller geographies and are supporting collective impact in certain cities, zip codes and neighborhoods of need.

Examples Shared at our 2016 Children’s Cabinet Network Summit

New York City started a children’s cabinet in 2014. The cabinet runs a place-based initiative in certain neighborhoods to increase data collection, targeted program investment and city government collaboration.

The By All Means initiative out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education is also providing support to 6 cities to create Children’s Cabinets through their Education Redesign Lab focused on system building, specifically targeting poverty.

In Hampton, Virginia, the city pooled service money to create Family Assessment and Planning  Teams. These teams were able to engage with families and improve residential treatment and education outcomes for foster care children.

In Oakland, the city, county and school district came together to create Oakland Youth Ventures Joint  Powers Authority. The organization started with city and county leaders coming together to formalize their relationship. The organization received approval from the state government and created a joint powers authority to promote a cross-sector collective impact partnership.

Fairfax County established an Opportunity Neighborhood Model similar to the Harlem Children’s Zone and it emphasizes improving outcomes for youth with a two generation approach. The model focuses on family community engagement, early childhood education, service access and workforce readiness.

Broward County’s Children’s Services Council used a 2014 reauthorization to promote their successes and build a broader community coalition by partnering with business groups.

The Minnesota Children’s Cabinet began in 2011 and advises the governor, lobbies legislators and focuses on community engagement.

 New York’s Council on Children and Families created a multiple systems navigator to help families navigate the various services that the state provides. The navigator was created through a process of agency collaboration and community engagement to ensure it was easy to use and had accessible, regularly updated information from various public agencies.

The Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development Council focused on youth engagement by creating an informal network for youth to provide input into agency proposals.

Examples Shared at our 2015 Children’s Cabinet Network Summit

 Alexandria’s Children, Youth and Families Collaborative Commission is putting in place more staff support and infrastructure to implement their child and youth master plan. The city has also focused on improving engagement. The master plan gathered input from over 300 community members and youth, including young people who are often hard to engage. One way that the commission sustains this engagement is through the Parent Leadership Training Institute – a formalized program teaching parents how to be engaged and involved.

The Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board is a long standing coordinating structure at the city level.

Montgomery County Collaboration Council has two model collective impact initiatives going – one on workforce, and the other on community health.

The Fairfax County Successful Child and Youth Policy Team did not have the policy decision-makers at the table in previous iterations of their collaborative work, and are gaining more traction now with the school board, and their county board of supervisors are participating more fully.

 Maryland’s Children’s Cabinet , one of the longest standing bodies of this type, and their Governor’s Office for Children, has incorporated their new governor’s economic agenda around ending childhood hunger, youth homelessness, incarceration and disconnected youth into their work for a smoother transition to a new administration.

The Tennessee Children’s Cabinet has incorporated family voice at the state level through parent focus groups and surveys and a partnership with one organization who had already engaged parents. In partnership with ChildAbuseTN, they have developed KidcentralTN as a way for families to access services, thereby keeping them connected in ways that meet their immediate needs.

At the federal level, there is not one federal coordinating structure for children and youth issues, but there is a concerted effort by the administration to support collective impact efforts at the local level with Place Based Initiatives like the Promise Neighborhoods, Promise Zones, Choice Neighborhoods, etc.

Changing the odds for young people has never been more important