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New Year, New Name, and New Website!

For more than ten years, we have been at the forefront of using and creating new approaches and tools to address systems change and, more importantly, helping others learn to use them. As Spark has grown, we have built the skills and expertise needed to tackle complex problems throughout the country in a wide variety of areas. These include, but are not limited to: human services, food security, health, behavioral health, natural resources, agriculture, housing, juvenile justice, criminal justice, education, early childhood, entrepreneurship, and diversity/disparities.

With that in mind we are working to develop and support social innovators in equally new and visionary ways to make a meaningful difference. This means you will see some immediate and exciting changes at Spark.

In 2006, Spark started as the Center for Systems Integration. In time, we transitioned to be known as Spark Policy Institute. It is now time to align our name with our work of sharing actionable insights and partnering with you – Spark Policy Institute is now Spark Insight Partners.

Additionally, over the past two years, we have refined the values and practices that are core to Spark. These include Systems and Strategic Thinking, Equity, and Learning for Action. Throughout our work we have emphasized Systems and Strategic Thinking, as well as, Equity. This year, we aim to strengthen the connection across these values with new and improved Learning for Action tools.

To start, we are thrilled to announce the launch of two new services, the Learning Catalyst System© and the Action Builder Series©. These are new services to develop deep individual expertise and ensure that all organizations at all stages have access to tools for success. Stayed tuned over the next four days to learn all about what we’ve been building and how these new services, and the tools that sit within them, will help more organizations and individuals create meaningful impact.

These are truly enhancements to our portfolio of services, designed to better serve you, our partners. And, we are confident you will love your experience with them.

Spark Insight Partners will continue to partner with stakeholders throughout the country to develop innovative, research-based solutions to complex societal problems. We combine community and stakeholder-driven research with practical, hands-on experience and best practices, allowing for solutions that bridge sectors, issues, beliefs, and values.

Visit our new website and learn more about how we can help you Do Good Even Better™ today!

Contact information: Kyle Brost,, 303-455-1740 Spark Insight Partners, 2717 Welton St., Denver CO 80205

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Strengthening Partnerships for Education Through Collaborative Community Action and Collective Impact

Current systems are not working to meet different community’s needs across the Denver Metro area, especially when it comes to our educational systems, such as the early identification of young learners’ needs to the persistence of equity gaps in educational attainment and completion.

In Colorado less than half of Colorado children receive developmental screenings to identify potential social, emotional or behavioral challenges or developmental delays; which if unidentified can result in serious challenges that affect all areas of their lives. College enrollment and completion rates in Colorado demonstrate that equity gaps remain, with degree attainment for Hispanic and African American adults in Denver remaining significantly lower than those of white adults: 29% and 39%, compared to 64%[1]. These issues, among so many others, lead us to the question: what would it take to change the stats and create a more equitable education system in Colorado?

During our  October Social Innovators Breakfast we had the opportunity to meet and learn from three great organizations, who shared their experiences and learnings in achieving their goals through collaborative community action (CCA) and collective impact (CI). The panelist included:

  • Diana Higuera, Executive Director and Founder of the Rocky Mountain Welcome Center (RMWC), whose mission is to foster intercultural learning, understanding and integration among immigrants, refugees and Colorado residents through different programs and partnerships.
  • Eileen Auer Bennet, Executive Director of Assuring Better Child and Health Development (ABCD), a statewide nonprofit focused on improving the lives of Colorado children through early identification of developmental needs.
  • Therese Ivancovich, Executive Director of The Denver Education Attainment Network (DEAN), a collective impact initiative focused on increasing educational attainment and closing the attainment gap for students in Denver.

The panelists shared what brought them to the CCA/CI space, talked about how CCA/CI has evolved their work, discussed how they measure impact, and gave advice on starting or growing a CCA/CI initiative. We are grateful to our three panelist and we a sharing a reflection of learnings we gathered from these organizations that you can use to drive your own Collective Impact initiative. No matter what stage an initiative is at, these are some skills we learned that an initiative must have:

Commitment – ensure leaders and partners are committed to the vision and overall goal of the initiative.

Be Nimble – change the initiative direction, if necessary, and be able to take partners along the way.

Build Trust – develop trust within an initiative to not only create partner buy-in, but also build confidence between partners if the direction has to shift.

Do Your Homework – know who is at the table and what their motivations are.

Do What You Are Best At – know what your strengths are and focus on those. Let other partners do what they are best at.

We are passionate about bringing a systems lens to all of our work and often share resources and ideas for how to find and act on leverage points, use systems mapping to help change the game, and how experimentation can help drive social change. Additionally, we have many free tools and resources available if you are considering or already involved in a collaborative community action or collective impact initiative, this includes our full report When Collective Impact Has an Impact.


Do you have other lessons to share? Is there a topic you would like to see us explore in this blog? Tell us in the comments! Stay up to date on Spark latest news by following us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter today!

[1] Erase Equity Gaps. (2017). Colorado Department of Higher Education. Available:

Related Publications: When Collective Impact Has an Impact

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Join Us at AEA 2019!

With the American Evaluation Association (AEA) coming up November 11-16 in Minneapolis, M.N., our team has been thinking about the theme of the conference “Paths to the Future of Evaluation.” We constantly challenge ourselves to ensure our values are present in our work; our practices produce actionable learning; and that we share our experiences to build the evaluation field, and more importantly, to test our perspectives.

We’re excited to present with our evaluation colleagues and share innovative practices that lead to meaningful change in ever-changing contexts. See below for an overview our 3 sessions, and check out the AEA website to find more sessions.

First Spark-Facilitated Session

Date & Time: Thursday November 14, 2019 | 5pm – 5:45pm

Title: Managing Complexities of Community Development: A Spotlight on Evaluators’ Creativity

Spark Staff: Rebecca Ochtera, Former Associate Director

Session Colleagues: Cheryl Kelly, Kaiser Permanente Colorado; Stanley Varnhagen, University of Alberta; Timothy Marc Pearson, Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center

The Partners in Evaluation & Research Center is evaluating 9 agencies funded to reduce health disparities transform places through social, economic, political, and physical changes. The evaluation uses a logic model approach guided by an established equity-oriented framework that emphasizes the importance of addressing upstream determinants of health using comprehensive, multi-sectoral, and systems-level approaches. The evaluation is assessing if the policy, system, and environmental changes increased availability (e.g., more affordable housing), accessibility (e.g., access to vouchers), and acceptability of social and economic resources (e.g., increase residents with quality housing). Because the impacts on individual factors will not be fully realized until several years after the changes occur, the evaluators are creating evidence tables that document the likely impact the social change will have on individuals. This session will discuss their findings of how this evaluation is using an equity-oriented framework to assess the potential impact on health disparities.

Second Spark-Facilitated Session

Date & Time: Friday November 15, 2019 | 11:30am – 12:15pm

Title: Tracking Policymaker Champion Development: A New Tool to Support Policy Advocacy Evaluation and Capacity Building

Spark Staff: Joby Schaffer, Senior Researcher

Session Colleagues: Nathan Madden, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Cherie Collins Sims, MEDA

Direct policymaker engagement is a key feature of many advocacy strategies, and evaluators often aim to assess whether and how an advocacy organization contributed to a policymaker’s development into an issue champion. While various tracking tools are available, many are difficult to implement, do not provide detailed insights that enable strategic learning, or lack a means of rolling up detailed tracking to tell the story of an organization’s policymaker engagement efforts. This session will showcase a new tool developed with support from the Entrepreneur’s Policy Network (EPN), an initiative led by the Ewing and Marion Kauffman Foundation to help entrepreneur support organizations (ESO’s) engage in advocacy. Through a series of user-design sessions with the ESO’s participating in the EPN, the tool for tracking policymaker engagement was refined to better meet the needs of advocacy organizations while preserving features needed to enable the evaluation to capture insights about their policymaker engagement for reporting purposes.

This panel will provide attendees with a diverse set of perspectives on this new tool, offering them insights into how their respective groups are likely to respond to similar tracking tools. Each panelist will present on their experiences with the tool, including what it enables, what challenges arouse in either implementing or developing the tool, and what supports were essential to their continued use of the tool. The panelist will be available to answer questions from the audience, provide attendees a unique opportunity to engage not only other evaluators but a funder and an advocacy organization using the tool.

Third Spark-Facilitated Session

Date & Time: Friday November 15, 2019 | 5:45pm – 6:30pm

Title: Evaluating community engagement with a lens towards adaptive learning: Lessons drawn from two multi-site, state-wide initiatives addressing health equity

Spark Staff: Rebecca Ochtera, Former Associate Director

Session Colleagues: Veena Pankaj, Innovation Network, Inc.

There’s a growing desire among philanthropy to change policies and systems that promote inequities within society. As a result, foundations are increasingly funding initiatives that involve community members in the problem-solving process. While this involvement is more likely to generate sustainable and innovative solutions, it also underpins the importance of integrating adaptive approaches into evaluation practice to ensure we capture the process and the lessons emerging from the work.

Facilitators will present two multi-site initiatives addressing health inequity through community engagement and use these examples to generate discussion around adaptive evaluation approaches. Facilitators will highlight methods used for emergent learning and demonstrate how data collected through these approaches influenced work at both the community and funder level. Through dialogue, participants will gain insights on community engagement evaluation practices and how to strengthen their evaluation strategy to fit the changing nature of complex community engagement initiatives.

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Community Navigator Work

Joby Schaffer, MA, Associate Researcher at Spark Policy Institute

This last month, in partnership with the Denver Foundation’s M. Julie Patiño, Barclay Jones, and LaDawn Sullivan; Joby Schaffer wrote an article featured in The Foundation Review.

The article, Community Navigation as a Field of Practice: Reframing Service Delivery to Meet the Needs of Communities’ Marginalized Populations, calls out lessons learned through the Basic Human Needs Navigator Learning Community to improve the work of community navigators in connecting underprivileged populations with service providers.

To learn more about community navigation, the Navigator Learning Community, and the lessons learned during the five-year journey, read the full article available here.

For more information on public health and education opportunities, visit