If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. -Henry Ford
How do we create the change we want to see? First, we need to have a shared understanding of our vision for the community, then we clearly understand the root problem to be addressed. The root problem answers the question “Why?” (Why are homeless families not connected to early learning programs? Why are children not screened every year in my community?)
In community systems work, it is critical at all stages to engage diverse perspectives. Broad participation as you develop and refine strategies helps to leverage expertise, build effective strategies, and align visions. When brainstorming solutions with your community, consider using the following methods to promote safe and open discussion.
Collaboration partners should participate in generating solutions. Based on the root problem, you should ask: If we could do anything (or get our partners could do anything), to achieve the state’s vision that more very high need children begin kindergarten ready, what would we do (or ask our partners to do)? Some methods to begin generating ideas include:
When assessing your proposed solutions, first make sure your ideas are clear to all of your diverse stakeholders. This will help alleviate potential misunderstanding in the future. Try this approach to make sure your ideas are very clear: Who… does what… when (or, for how long)…. and how. For example, “Doctors talk to all new families with young children about early learning programs every day.“ Then, work together with your collaboration to rank ideas from most effective to least effective at solving the defined problem (and creating the change you want to see). Then, work together and look at all of the ideas to discuss feasibility. Ask: “Can we get people to do this now? Is this idea affordable given current constraints?” Evaluate each idea independently using the following questions:
- Would this be effective at creating the change we want to see?
- Could we get people (ourselves, our partners, stakeholders) to do this? Is it feasible?
- Would this solution affect multiple people or settings in the community?
- Will this solution produce the desired outcome?
- What are the potential side effects of the approach?
- Will it solve the problem’s root cause?
- Does this match our problem statement?
When you look at your selected solutions, consider: Is this the right change? What is our impact going to be? Confirm that your solutions match the identified (root) problem in order to create the desired change. Modify if needed. Explore how the selected solutions might impact other entities using the cascading logic model. Talk with the team about positive and negative changes that may evolve from proposed solutions and write down a list of stakeholders who may be impacted by your innovation goal. Verify that the proposed solutions align with your vision for the community. Make sure the vision is accessible to your entire group—for instance, post the collaboration vision someplace where everyone can see it.
As a group, spend time talking about how you would implement each solution. Take one proposed solution and ask members of the collaboration to create their own step-by-step sequence to get the work done. You can use sticky notes or index cards. Have fun—put the proposed solution on the center of the table and lay out the strategies one-by-one. When each person lays out their sequence of actions, it will looks like the rays of the sun. As a group, look at the “rays” and discuss the suggested strategies for the proposed solution. Review to see if there are similar ideas across the group, and if there is opportunity to combine ideas and choose one action plan for the proposed solution. Repeat this process for each of the three to five proposed solutions. These action steps will help form your work plan. As always, include a diverse group of voices, such as parents, providers, and community members. By completing this work together, you are supporting strong community systems change. Done correctly, all partners have an opportunity to share ideas and present strategies for implementation. Breaking down the solution into steps will make also the action items manageable. This is an asset for community collaboration work, as it makes the work more achievable and creates a process to celebrate small wins early. If the strategies still feel unclear, use SMART goals to take ideas from the abstract and make them more concrete. Check in with your collaborative and ask the pointed question: Can we really do this? It provides another opportunity to confirm consensus before you move the work forward. SMART goals are:
- Time bound
Before developing strategies to implement the selected solutions, create a shared agenda within your collaborative. A shared agenda will help bring together diverse perspectives and focus the work on a shared set of goals and strategies. A shared agenda is also a great way to move your work forward—you can put the targeted change on your monthly meeting agenda with the matching strategy as an item for discussion. This helps your team keep the target for systems change present at each meeting, and it helps with project accountability. You can ask, “How did we do?” “Is the strategy working? What do we need to adjust?” A shared agenda is different from a shared vision: A shared vision reflects the destination, while a shared agenda reflects the path for attaining the collective vision. See the Create a Shared Agenda section of the website for more information.