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Field Notes

Conference Workshop Report

January 15, 2020

As a nonprofit organization, an important part of our work is sharing promising practices about what we are learning with our peers and partners. This Field Note reports on workshop highlights, starting with a preview of key dates coming up in 2020, followed by some highlights from 2019.  We hope to see you at one of these upcoming workshops!

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2020 Preview

How Do We Design an American Social Contract? Meet Up

Forum: SXSW Conference

Conference Track:  Government & Politics

Presenter: Andrew Wolk

Date:  March 14, 2020

Summary: In 1776, a pamphlet – Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – unified colonists’ common purpose around independence, and we took a great step forward as a nation. To fulfill the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we must take another great step forward so that many more people and families experience lifelong success.

That step starts with an agreement — a social contract — about what success looks like at each stage of life. Once we define what matters, we can imagine how media, art, and technology can make equitable social change go viral as Common Sense did nearly 250 years ago.

This Meet-Up is for contemporary Thomas Paines to come together and imagine a common purpose, articulate a social contract, and inspire collective action to build a better version of America.

To What End: Confronting the Nonprofit Industrial Complex

Forum: InteRise2020

Presenter: Andrew Wolk

Date:  March 9, 2020

Summary:  The “American Dream” – the idea of America as a land of equal opportunity in which every generation will be better off than the preceding one – is no longer operating in the 21st century.  Underpinning this decline is something no one seems to be willing to confront: a massive, largely dysfunctional, trillion-dollar Nonprofit Industrial Complex: the complex web of tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations, myriad government programs at the federal, state, county, and municipal levels, thousands of foundations, millions of individual donors and volunteers, and hundreds of different school models. As Andrew sees it, the first step in dealing with this dysfunction is to establish a new social contract founded upon an agreement about what success looks like in the 21st century, along a pathway from a healthy birth, to a quality education, to a well-paying job, and healthy and secure aging.

How can a private funder help strengthen access to STEM college and career pathways for public school students historically under-represented in these fields?

Forum: 12th NPEA Annual Conference

Presenter:  Sonja Okun and Jamie Hennick

Date:  April 17, 2020

Summary:  In 2018, Biogen launched its Biogen STAR Initiative, a coordinated funding strategy designed to help catalyze the development of local STEM ecosystems in Cambridge and Somerville.  STAR – which stands for Science, Teacher support, Access and Readiness – is intended to strengthen and support the educational landscapes in these cities by helping increase access to STEM resources and opportunities for students most underrepresented in STEM college or career pathways. 

This Spark Session will explore the challenges and opportunities associated with this complex collective action project.  Some of the questions that will drive a constructive dialogue include: 

How can networks like the Biogen STAR Initiative prioritize inclusion of students and families in all aspects of their design, implementation and assessment?

What are the most important elements of successful STEM networks, and how can funders best support their success?

What processes and practices can help community-based networks of school districts, nonprofit organizations, and others build and sustain communication and work together more intentionally and effectively to improve services for students and families?

Sustaining CQI Over Time: The Shift to an Improvement Mindset

Forum: 2020 National Smart Start Conference

Conference Track: Early Childhood Systems & Leadership

Presenter:  Abby Alexanian

Date: May 5, 2020

Summary:  Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) is a growing practice among social service providers to understand “how are we doing?” and “how can we get better?” Using projects designed to test new approaches and learn from the results to improve services towards better outcomes, providers are able to make incremental improvements to program processes and services that bring them into greater alignment with best practices and provides opportunities to tackle goals they’ve been aiming towards for a while. Yet with limited resources and high demands on staff time and attention, providers practicing CQI (and their funders) often wonder how to best sustain this work over time.

Through our work providing CQI coaching to multiple social service programs across North and South Carolina, Root Cause is finding that the foundation of sustainability comes from making a shift within a program or organization to a mindset oriented toward learning and improvement. In this workshop participants will learn what it looks like to start shifting towards a mindset of inquiry and improvement, will hear directly from practitioners currently engaged in this shift, and learn what has made the difference for them as they engage in this process. We will discuss how and why we believe this mindset shift underpins a sustainable CQI practice, and will share the core principles Root Cause uses in coaching to support program teams in creating their own ongoing practice and culture of continuous improvement. Finally, participants will engage in a self-reflection activity and identify an area in which they will commit to making a small shift towards learning and improvement in their approach to one aspect of their work.

2019 Workshop Highlights

Using Data to Drive Successful Collective Action:  How Collaborative Networks of Schools, Nonprofits, and Funders Can Share Responsibility for Improving Student Outcomes

Forum:  11th Annual NPEA Conference

Presenters: Colette Stanzler, Principal, Root Cause; Katie Hill, Director, College Advising Corps at Boston University; Jessica Rivera, Program Director, uAspire

Date:  April 5, 2019

Summary: Do you find gaps in the services being provided among the school systems and nonprofits with which you work? Are there redundancies and duplicate services being provided to students? Do some groups of students receive more services than they need, while others receive fewer? If you encounter these challenges, do you have opportunities to work with schools and service providers to collaborate, intentionally coordinate services, and use shared data to reach more students with greater efficiency and impact?

Join Root Cause, a nonprofit consulting group, for an interactive workshop to discuss the challenges related to using data to coordinate services. Explore models in which service providers have successfully aligned and monitored their work around an agreed upon set of common outcomes. Using examples from collective action initiatives in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, Massachusetts, and Guilford County in North Carolina, the session will discuss opportunities to coordinate schools and nonprofits around using data to ensure youth meet agreed-upon milestones and critical outcomes.

Building a Culture of Continuous Quality Improvement

Forum:  2019 Smart Start Conference

Presenter:  Abby Alexanian

Date:  May 2, 2019

Summary:  What is Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) and how can it help early childhood programs, organizations, and systems better serve families with young children? While proven programs are vital to improving outcomes for individuals, they alone are not sufficient to change outcomes for an entire community. In order to realize population level outcomes, quality must be improved across all programs in a community that are providing vital services towards better outcomes. But how can this be accomplished in systems that are commonly fragmented and uncoordinated, with unidentified gaps, inconsistent quality, and which ultimately are not adequately meeting the needs of families?

The Get Ready Guilford Initiative is currently working to permanently shift the early childhood system in Guilford County towards sustained and ongoing improvements in early childhood outcomes by not only expanding efforts to build the practice and capacity for CQI within programs, but to further develop a culture of CQI across the community. Delivered by members of the team implementing this approach in Guilford County, this workshop for early childhood system and program leaders will provide a practical overview of the strategies and lessons coming out of this effort, and will make a compelling case for taking a systems-wide approach to CQI as a catalyst to deliver better outcomes for children and families.

To What End? Promoting Lifelong Success & Equity Across a Community

Forum:  2019 NY Funder Alliance Conference

Presenter:  Anand Dholakia

Date:  September 11, 2019

Summary:  Opportunity lies in the communities where NY Funders Alliance members are based: the cities, towns, and rural areas outside major metro areas like NYC.

Working in such communities can be a different world. Here, one can more feasibly conceive population-level outcomes, convene key stakeholders in a room, engage community members, strengthen and coordinate programs that reach a majority of residents, and influence the local levers of systems and policy. On the flip side, these advantages often come with a smaller local funder base and flying under the radar of large national, regional, and ‘big city’ foundations that target significant dollars as little as a 30-minute drive away. Smaller communities may simultaneously find resident needs changing if their local economies lose key industries and/or nearby cities see increasing gentrification and cost of living.

This session will provide grantmakers in these areas a chance to assess the situation in their community, understand people’s daily lived experience, and examine the systems that promote inequities in education, health, and economic security. Participants will use this to outline a practical, community-wide approach to help residents achieve lifelong success and eliminate disparities at the population level. Starting with understanding and looking across silos will help grantmakers ensure that their work matters to the people and communities they serve.

Participants will leave the session with a new lens on their local situation and a roadmap to put into action within their institutions and communities. They will also leave with stronger relationships and ongoing opportunities to share knowledge with their peers across NY State.

This session is where community-level change gets real.

Guilford County Continuous Quality Improvement Conference

Co-Hosts:  Ready for School, Ready for Life & Root Cause

Presenters:    Andrew Wolk, CEO, Root Cause; Colette Stanzler, Principal, Root Cause; Consuela Greene, Senior Consultant, Root Cause

Date:  November 7, 2019

Summary:  The Guilford County Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) Conference is an opportunity for program leaders and local funders to explore CQI concepts, hear about how local programs are implementing CQI, and share ideas for how we can work together to build a culture that drives continuous improvement.

Our community has ambitious goals when it comes to our youngest children and their families. Hundreds of families, local program staff, funders, and volunteers worked together to imagine what it would take for each child to enter kindergarten ready for school and ready for life. They identified ten priorities for building a connected, innovative system of care that would improve child and family outcomes starting prenatally and continuing through school entry. And they recognized that it is critical for families to be connected to high-quality supports and services every step of the way.

Continuous quality improvement is a key priority of the Get Ready Guilford Initiative — a partnership between Ready for School, Ready for Life and The Duke Endowment that is focused on improving outcomes for children and their families while reducing disparities. Since October 2018, thirteen programs that serve more than 23,000 children and their families have participated in the first CQI cohort. They’ve set programmatic goals, implemented Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles, and participated in a Community of Practice to work on collective goals.

We invite program leaders and local funders to help us imagine and build a community-wide culture of learning and improvement so that all of the children born each year in Guilford County are born healthy, to expecting parents, families are well-supported throughout early childhood, and children are ready to learn in school.

Some of the guiding questions for the Guilford County Continuous Quality Improvement Conference include: 

–  How can CQI help programs better address the challenges that families and community members experience on a daily basis in Guilford County?

–  How is CQI making a difference in the quality of services provided by programs such as Head Start, the Teen Parent Mentor Program, and the Pregnancy Care Management Program?

–  How can we build relationships and cultivate a culture of learning and improvement among service providers, donors, and community partners?

–  What resources and opportunities for technical assistance are available in Guilford County to help us build our CQI work? 

The Guilford County Continuous Quality Improvement Conference also marks the launch of technical assistance opportunities for local social service providers, and a CQI Resource Library for programs, agencies, and organizations to utilize in their own quality improvement practices.

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