The communities in the Making Collaboration Work cohort have a number of things in common. Chief among these commonalities is a deliberate approach to building a strong collaborative structure. Not surprisingly, each of communities in the cohort are at different stages in the development of their structures – some are laying the foundational elements such as creating leadership groups, - others are expanding beyond the leadership group in order to deepen community ownership. In this blog we will share a couple of the approaches that GLR communities have taken to build a strong structure to maximize impact.

GLR communities know that the structure of a collaborative is essential to moving a collective effort from vision to implementation. To be successful at tackling chronic absenteeism or summer learning loss, a strong governance structure must be in place in order for communities to make strategic use of time and resources and move the work forward. A strong and clear structure supports this by:

  • Providing a consistent understanding of roles and responsibilities
  • Promoting shared accountability
  • Facilitating stronger communication
  • Leveraging each partner’s strengths and assets
  • Supporting the discovery of partnerships and resources necessary to achieve your goal

One of the questions we hear from communities that are ready to transition their structure from a core group to work groups (often the first sign of establishing a structure to move from vision to implementation) is where do we start? One GLR community’s approach to building out its structure was to take inventory of its community’s assets – perspectives, expertise, and resources – by engaging with each key stakeholder individually. This approach can help ensure that the structure utilizes the strengths of the stakeholders, and leverages them for the particular assets they bring to the group. Throughout this engagement process, the GLR community benefitted from building a deeper rapport with its stakeholders while also building enthusiasm for the work that lay ahead. Additionally, the inventory of data gathered in these one-on-one interactions informed a meeting agenda that sparked discussion about which work groups were needed to accomplish the community’s goals. A key next step the group plans to take is to establish Partnership Principles which are a set of commonly agreed upon guiding values and behaviors that the group creates and abides by in order to strengthen community collaboration. These principles will also help in clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each of the major groups, including those for the coordinating body. This GLR community’s hard work to engage stakeholders in designing their work group structure will go a long way towards advancing the community’s specific strategies.

Another GLR community, Las Vegas Downtown Achieves, in the Making Collaboration Work cohort is tackling the question of expanding their structure from a sole point person of a steering committee to include a Program Director, a coordinating body, and several partners working together. This transition will widen the circle so that the entire burden of work does not fall on a single point person. With the addition of new partners in the structure, it was important for this GLR community to look at every aspect of the work and understand what roles would stay with the steering committee and what roles could be owned by coordinating body and other partners. This GLR community’s approach to expanding its structure has been to cede control and allow partners and key stakeholders to play a significant role in decision making. The benefit of this approach is shared ownership and accountability early on in the work. As a result of the iterative process and shared decision making, the GLR community continues to attract new partners and is well positioned to advance the work with a strong structure.

The examples we’ve shared describe two communities that are transitioning to greater collaboration by setting up work groups, or establishing a coordinating body with partners. It is important to highlight that collective impact governance structures evolve over time as the work evolves. A potential future structure for these communities may include an advisory group and a broader group of stakeholders who are engaged strategically as the work develops. The structure may look like this:

While we have seen many GLR communities and other collaboratives take similar approaches to establishing a strong structure, it is important to note that every community will evolve differently. There isn’t a linear path or “recipe” because everyone starts in different places, has different resources available, and has different strengths and needs.

What is most important, is to constantly re-evaluate what is working well in your community, as well as what you need to improve in your community. It may be helpful to ask yourself: What longer-term structure will best help us accelerate momentum and achieve transformational change in 3rd grade literacy?

Regardless of where you are in your evolution, we believe that the Making Collaboration Work cohort offers a few key insights that are important to remember at any stage:

  1. Ensure that all perspectives necessary to the success of the initiative are represented. Taking a stakeholder inventory – knowing perspectives, expertise and resources – is important because not everyone will have the time to devote to consistent meetings and participation in your community’s work. However, they may be interested in supporting you in other discrete ways. You may need their support at specific times, or you may be trying to increase their involvement. In any case, starting with stakeholder engagement and thinking strategically about who to bring in as needed, will help ensure that you have the resources necessary to achieve your results.
  2. Clearly articulate roles and responsibilities across each group. This will ensure that as you widen participation and incorporate more stakeholders, everyone understands expectations and can fulfill their roles appropriately.
  3. Widen your circle with shared responsibility and decision making. In one of the examples above, the community increased capacity by transitioning from a core group and a single point coordinator to building out a coordinating body and distributing the roles and responsibilities among partners. Widening the circle of coordination to include multiple people (whether from one coordinating body or from multiple organizations) ensures that the coordination of the whole effort isn’t dependent upon only one person. This will increase buy-in, create shared responsibility, and help ease the pain of staffing transitions that may occur.

One tool that may help you get started on establishing a strong governance structure, is STRIVE TOGETHER’s “Building an Accountability Structure” Toolkit.

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Community Wealth Partners is dedicated to helping change agents solve social problems at the magnitude they exist. In partnership with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, we facilitate the Making Collaboration Work program – a cohort-based, customized technical assistance program designed to strengthening the capacity of GLR communities to achieve their goals, while also nurturing a trusted peer cohort to accelerate learning and action.

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