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For the Good of the Group: Be Nice, Respond in Kind, Be Forgiving

When working to change complex systems it can be difficult for individual stakeholders to engage in authentic collaboration. This is neuroscience. We are all motivated to move away from perceived threats and toward perceived reward. Bringing multiple actors together to work toward a common goal can create conflict between doing what is best for the individual organization and doing what is best for the system.

In the latest issue of The Foundation Review, we’ve shared tools on how to navigate this difficult terrain using an on-the-ground example: The Colorado Health Foundation’s (TCHF) Creating Healthy Schools funding strategy. TCHF engaged Spark, as well as Harder+Company and The Civic Canopy to support an emergent approach to design and implement the strategy.

Here are some highlights on how to help stakeholders align their work and build inclusive engagement and partnership:

  • Lead stakeholders to a shared understanding of systems thinking and how it translates to systems acting.
  • Leverage a neutral facilitator.
  • Engage on-the-ground perspectives to involve those who will be most impacted by the change.
  • Support increased communication between systems-level and on-the-ground groups.
  • Develop clear function-group goals.
  • Be transparent about what you are doing, how you are approaching the problem, and how decisions are made.

Read more about TCHF’s implementation of an emergent philanthropy philosophy in Insights from Deploying a Collaborative Process for Funding Systems Change.

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Presenting Data Effectively

XKCD Convincing Comic

In my job as a Policy and Communication Manager for Spark, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can translate the great research we do here into actionable products. When not presented effectively, data can be mostly noise – too much information to remember, interpret and use to make decisions. But, when data is presented effectively and at the right time, it can be a powerful tool for change. Here are some of the key things we use to guide our work here at Spark:

Be Clear on the Purpose: Is your primary goal to improve a strategy? To define a problem? To persuade? To educate? To call people to action? The same data can be presented in multiple different ways, which vary depending on why you are sharing the information. For example, if you’re looking to examine whether your strategy needs a refresh, you will need to focus on the data that is most actionable, whereas if you are looking to educate, there may be a need to provide additional context.

Know Your Audience: Does your audience have a depth of knowledge on the topic at hand or are they relatively new to the issue? Are you preparing a single document or presentation for an audience with varying levels of knowledge, interest, and/or education? Is their time limited? Do they need the facts quickly? Or will they have the time to digest the information more fully before taking action? Think about what is important to your audience and what they need to know the most. All of this will factor into determining how best to present information, e.g. an informal or formal presentation, a facilitated dialogue, or written, such as a brief, check-list, report, or white paper. These considerations will also influence the structure of the information and your tone.

Tell the Story: Stories make information more relatable, which makes your findings more actionable. Even if you don’t have a “traditional” story, it can be helpful to think of how you present your information using the elements of a story: characters (who is affected and who are the key players?), the setting (describe the context), plot (there should be a beginning, middle, and end), conflict (what is the central problem to be addressed and why is it important?), and resolution (what are some potential solutions, where do we go from here?). We tend to only remember one or two key things after a presentation or reading a document. If you present a series of findings, your reader will remember a couple of those findings, but will lose the rest. If you present a story, your reader will remember the overall picture of what the findings collectively mean.

Be Visual: Most of us are, by our nature, visual creatures. Often, showing is more effective than telling at conveying information, which means you’re increasing the likelihood your findings are used! Visuals can include charts, graphs, tables, maps, infographics, even pictures. Taking the time to think through which type of visual is the most appropriate for your audience, as well as what results are most worth highlighting, can help ensure your visuals have the most impact.

 

XKCD ConvincingActively Engage: Sometimes you don’t have direct access to your audience in-person or by phone. Instead, you’re sending documents, posting them online, etc. When you do have access to the audience, however, you can take the use of data to the next level. When we are presenting information, whether virtually or in the room, we don’t do half hour long PowerPoint presentations. We talk for 10 minutes, discuss and debrief for more than 10 minutes and repeat. We put the data up on the walls and let people walk around the room and talk with each other. We put visuals and stories on the tables and have small groups explore the meaning. We find ways to make sure that more time is spent digesting and thinking about how to act on the findings than spent absorbing the new information. When people integrate new information into how they are thinking about a problem or a solution, they are more likely to use it than when they simply learn the new information.

There are many great online resources out there for presenting data effectively, including our recently-released toolkit in our Tools for Social Innovators series, Data as a Tool for Change. We’d love to hear how you incorporate data into your work, and tips and tricks you have for presenting information effectively. Share in the comments or click here to contribute to the toolkit!

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Why you shouldn’t do this on your own: Making Your Stakeholder Engagement Process Successful

Picture of two men sparring
 Learning from the Coordinated Chronic Disease Project

During my time in the public sector, I observed many stakeholder engagement processes that went really well and led to meaningful change. Unfortunately, I also process observed like this:

Picture of two men sparringParticipants arrive. They have been told it’s an opportunity to provide input to an important planning process. After listening to a 20 minute presentation, audience members sign up to share their input. In three minute comments, audience members rush to get to their main point, largely focusing on their strongly held views. As the staff listen, they feel exhausted by the idea of bridging all these conflicting priorities. The information is mostly left unused in the final plan.

This week’s blog highlights a real life example on how to put your stakeholder engagement process successfully into action so you never have to sit through or participate in a process like the one described above.

Tips to Make your Stakeholder Engagement Efforts Successful

In my last blog, I thought I could do this on my own: Why engaging stakeholders throughout your initiative is so important, I shared what stakeholder engagement is and why it is important. I also offered four tips to make your stakeholder engagement process successful, including defining your stakeholders early in the process, developing a stakeholder engagement plan, developing a communication plan, and using a high-quality facilitator. Please keep your eye out for our upcoming checklist that has a bit more detail about each tip and how to put them into action.

Making it Happen – The Coordinated Chronic Disease State Framework

In 2012, Spark implemented a stakeholder engagement process to develop the Coordinated Chronic Disease State Framework, an initiative led by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Here’s how we did it:

noun_341553_ccThe stakeholders were identified. We worked collaboratively with CDPHE to identify a broad range of stakeholders at the state and local level. The stakeholders included local public health, higher education, health care providers and associations, community organizations, state agencies, advocacy organizations, provider and family members, board members, funders, and researchers.

noun_14382A stakeholder engagement plan was developed & implemented. We used a two-pronged approach by hosting seven community forums and convening a State Advisory Team. Over 125 stakeholders attended forums in Montrose, Frisco, Denver, Sterling, La Junta, Alamosa, and Durango. They and the Advisory Team gained a deeper understanding of a coordinated chronic disease approach, provided input on themes and approaches from the community forums and prioritized strategies to include in the framework.

noun_33104_ccA communication plan was developed and implemented. We partnered with the CDPHE Health Communications Unit to develop messages and materials to reach our stakeholders. A monthly newsletter was distributed, meetings were broadcast and archived on-line, a webpage was created on CDPHE’s website, and messages were sent out through Twitter and Facebook.

noun_175971_ccAll meetings were facilitated thoughtfully. Our staff facilitated the community forums and State Advisory Team meetings. Our approach to facilitation established trust and engaged all members. For community forum participants, this was their experience:

 

Participants arrive and have been told that the state is seeking to develop a coordinated approach to chronic disease programming. After listening to a presentation on CDPHE’s chronic disease efforts and a cross-walk of state chronic disease plans, participants self-select into small groups. The groups discuss their vision for the coordination of the chronic disease programming and discuss action steps in five domain areas (community-clinical linkages, health systems, policy and environmental changes, education and communications, and data surveillance). Each group reported their small group discussions out to the large group. They are told how their information will be used by CDPHE and the State Advisory Team before adjourning.

The  Take-Away

Not every stakeholder participation process is going to look just like my example here. Every situation is different, and every set of stakeholders in a particular issue will have their own challenges to face. But I’m hoping that by telling you this story – about how we’ve engaged stakeholders about the Coordinated Chronic Disease State Framework – you might see not only how the change you seek might be advanced by engaging your stakeholders thoughtfully, but also how to accomplish that engagement.

Resources
  • Community Toolbox Stakeholder Engagement Tools: The Community Tool Box is a big fan of participatory process. That means involving as many as possible of those who are affected by or have an interest in any project, initiative, intervention, or effort. In this section, they discuss how to find and involve the right stakeholders and respond to their needs.
  • Brochures on Public Involvement, Environmental Protection Agency: Due to extensive mandates requiring public involvement in environmental processes, the EPA has provided many tools on their website for engaging a broad range of stakeholders. In particular, the brochures are relevant to engaging the public on any issue. They provide steps and information on budgeting for public involvement, identifying people to involve, technical assistance, outreach, using public input, evaluating public involvement, improving public meetings, and overcoming barriers.
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How Groups become Change Agents

When we think of change agents, we think “individual.” That one person who takes the lead, rejects the status quo, embraces innovation, pushes the boundaries, takes chances, even breaks the rules. Public policy groups, especially the legislatively-mandated Council, Task Force, Blue Ribbon Commission, have hefty mandates and short timeframes – something a change agent would embrace. But how do you find/recruit not just one but a council full of change agents? You don’t. That is, you don’t recruit them – you make them. Or more accurately, they make themselves into change agents through a planning process that is focused on action, necessary conditions, leveraging partners, and identifying the gaps that they then fill.

What Are Strategic Roadmaps?

Many groups undergo strategic planning processes, hold planning retreats, or develop logic models to jump start their work. But nothing beats a strategic roadmap process for creating a dynamic action plan for a group. We, at Spark, call the outcome of the process a “roadmap” because it lays out on one page the “roads” and “turns” that need to be taken to reach the final destination.

In a nutshell, a strategic roadmap is a backwards planning process where we define the big change we want to see and then define smaller changes to lead to that big change. Instead of working backward through what you’ll do, they work backward through how you can influence change. They begin by focusing on the end of the road – the big picture, why we are here goal, which is ambitious but achievable, and then work backwards looking at what is the precondition to this goal (that is, what is immediately prior to getting to this big picture change), and continuing to work backward until you get to smaller changes that are achievable in the near term.

So, why a roadmap? Simply put: So the group doesn’t get lost, take a wrong tour, or inadvertently follow a detour. Keeping your eye on the prize when the prize lies at the end of a complex set of conditions and actions requires keeping all eyes on the road. A Road Map keeps a group focused, tracks progress, and inspires action. In short: Groups → with a Roadmap → become Change Agents.Farm to School Logo

A Group of Change Agents is Born

The Colorado Farm to School Task Force (TF) – a 13 member appointed body enacted by the Colorado legislature in 2010 – is now working in concert with each other to bring “collaborative, sustainable implementation of farm to school statewide.”

How It Started

At their first staffed meeting in February 2011, the TF was guided through a strategic roadmapping process. They:

1. Began by identifying the end of the road or where they wanted the state of Colorado to be in 15 years.

2. Identified the two possible ways (“conditions”) by which farm to school could be implemented – either (1) Colorado schools & producers work directly together or (2) Colorado producers sell to a food hub that sells to schools.

3. Identified the numerous “preconditions” necessary to implement farm to school. Preconditions are the bridges on the road – without them, you cannot get to the other side of the river where your destination lies.

4. Identified exactly which organizations were doing what to build each of the needed bridges.

5. When all the activities were connected to each bridge, the nuts and bolts and even entire girders of a bridge that were missing became apparent. It is the missing parts of the bridges (the “gaps”) that became the work of the Task Force.

Click here to see the FTS Task Force Road Map!

How Much Has Changed?

Kids at lunchThe TF runs like a well-oiled machine. Everyone keeps on task, following the roadmap action step by action step. In its first year, the TF:

  • Provided outreach and technical assistance by request to schools, producers and communities around the state interested in starting or expanding FTS efforts.
  • Supported the development of direct technical assistance to schools and producers, including the Durango Farm to School Conference, which brought together five school districts and 22 local producers to jointly develop bid processes and safety protocols to meet the needs of both schools and producers; the Connecting Local Farms to Schools Conference that brought together more than 200 attendees representing schools, community groups, parents, producers, public health and state agencies to engage in workshops ranging from “getting started” to “ramping up” farm to school efforts; and the Southwest Pre-bid Conference that resulted in four school districts releasing local produce and product bids (three for the first time) and 13 producers successfully landing contracts with the school districts.
  • Released two Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the new USDA “geographic preference” option, which has been a source of confusion in the field. This option allows school food purchasers to give preference to locally grown foods when comparing bids.
  • Released a 50-state legislative scan of farm to school and healthy school food legislation introduced in 2010-2011.
  • Supported pilot projects by helping stakeholders define and refine five food hub projects, and helped locate funding sources and advocate for financial support.
  • Conducted quarterly meetings around the state to learn about the needs of different regions. In 2011, the Task Force met in Pueblo, San Luis Valley, Longmont and Denver.
  • Developed a Farm to School Grant Template to provide assistance to schools to find funding and apply for grants to buy equipment and upgrade kitchen facilities.
  • Provided letters of support and Technical Assistance commitment to farm to school projects.
  • Designed the Farm to School Information Hub Website, a centralized, sustainable information hub that purposefully connects the many different farm to school related resources in one easy to navigate website, including an active and supported peer networking component. The website will include information for producers, schools and communities.
  • Received a major grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to support its 2012 activities.
Fire Up Your Policy Group

If you work with a group or are a member of a group that is not yet “all it can be,” consider whether it would benefit from a strategic roadmapping process to:

1. Have a shared understanding of what is trying to be accomplished.

2. Have a realistic picture of the complex change process needed to reach the long-term goal.

3. Have precise language and action steps to avoid misunderstandings or confusion.

If any or all of these ring true, your group may very well need its own roadmap! For more information, visit www.sparkpolicy.com.

Healthy Snacks