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Journey to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Alison McCarthy

Capitalizing on the new year’s encouragement of new habits and improvement, we are excited to announce a renewed focus to build and improve on Spark’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. This undertaking reflects our organizational and individual staff values. Much like New Year’s Resolutions that last, we know this type of work requires ongoing commitment through successes and challenges, a humble and realistic approach, and support from those around us.

Spark has had an inclusiveness statement since 2014 and has used participatory research and facilitation approaches since its inception. The general sentiments underlying DEI have been a part of this organization since the beginning. We believe it’s time to build on these sentiments to operationalize them – to “walk our talk,” so to speak. The people we work with and for deserve it. Additionally, many of us are drawn to the work we get to do at Spark because of our desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others. To do so effectively, we know we need to work to better understand all the layers that make up people’s rich cultures and world views. It is the first step towards building the authentic relationships we seek to cultivate.

Our DEI plan, which you can see here, includes both internal goals for staff awareness and skill building and external goals around the way we work with stakeholders, partners, and clients. We aim to infuse DEI into our language, behaviors, tools, approaches, products, processes, and policies. Part of the reason for this range of focus areas is the recognition that both an individual and systemic approach are needed for real change.

This affects all of us at Spark, and our DEI team (Daniela, Alison, Kristin, and Adell) will be guiding the implementation of this plan. As a team, we largely reflect Spark in this process: passionate about our values and dedicated to this work, though by no means experts.

We commit to keep you updated on our progress. This will include both the successes we have and the challenges we bump up against. We’ll share lessons learned and highlight partners who are taking on this work.

We sincerely hope we hear from you, too. Have a resource to share? Got some advice or feedback for us? Are you struggling with something in this area where we can either help or brainstorm together? Let us know! We don’t have the perfect formula here, and we don’t expect everything to go smoothly. But we know something is better than nothing, so we’re doing our best and taking some important steps. We hope you’ll join us on this journey!

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Collective Impact Study Sites

Site/Initiative Name Location Issue Area Contribution Site Equity Site
Alignment Nashville Nashville, TN Education – Multi-Issue X
ARISE Anchorage, AK Education for Indigenous Students X
Aspen Community Foundation Cradle to Career Aspen, Basalt CO Cradle to Career – Education
Coalition for New Britain’s Youth New Britain, CT Cradle to Career – Education, Early Learning
Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Colorado Substance Abuse X
Communities that Care: Franklin County and the North Quabbin Franklin County, MA Education – Reducing Teen Social Risk Factors X
Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance Bridgeport, CT Juvenile Justice X
Elizabeth River Portsmouth VA Environmental X
Green Umbrella Greater Cincinnati, OH Area Food Systems; Environmental Sustainability
Home for Good Los Angeles, CA Homelessness X
K-Connect Kent, MI Cradle to Career – Education
Living SJ Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada Poverty Reduction
Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless Omaha, NE Homelessness
Milwaukee Teen Pregnancy Initiative Milwaukee, WI Teen Pregnancy X
Mission: Graduate Central New Mexico Cradle to Career – Education
Open Doors of Fairfield County Fairfield County, CT Homelessness
Ottawa Child and Youth Initiative: Growing Up Great Ottawa, Canada Cradle to Career – Education, Early Learning
Project U Turn Philadelphia, PA Opportunity Youth
Promesa Boyle Heights Los Angeles, CA Cradle to Career – Education X
RGV Focus Rio Grande Valley, TX Cradle to Career – Education X
San Diego Childhood Obesity Initiative: Community Health Improvement Partners San Diego, CA Health – Childhood Obesity X
Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada Poverty Reduction
Shaping our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Southeast Kentucky Economic Development
South Platte Urban Waters Partnership Golden, CO Environmental
Vermont Farm to Plate Vermont Food Systems


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Using frameworks to communicate systems level insights

Collaborative Framework to improve school attendance

Laura Trent, Esq., Senior Consultant at Spark Policy InstituteThe Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Council has a tall order – prevent youth from entering the justice system or from penetrating deeper into the justice system. The goal cannot be met through program implementation alone. The systems serving the youth must change how they work together (or begin working together) in order to meet the needs of “at-risk” youth.

In 2013, the JJDP Council recognized the need for an alternative approach to addressing “status offenses” (only a crime because of a youth’s age) like truancy (missing too much school). They funded four truancy demonstration pilots in Colorado to work across systems in order to prevent and intervene in truant behavior.

Our new report, Evaluation of Truancy Prevention and Early Intervention takes a retrospective look at the four pilots and includes reflections from stakeholders in schools, courts and the justice system. This led to our Collaborative Framework to Improve Educational Attainment (below), which identifies critical areas and components Colorado’s broader juvenile field must address to work together to improve school engagement.

Collaborative Framework to improve school attendance
This framework outlines the importance of partnerships, prevention, and intervention approaches, and sustainability in supporting Colorado youth and families in the education and justice systems.

At Spark, we understand the importance of connecting theoretical frameworks with on-the-ground  perspectives to ensure our work is actionable.

We facilitated a dialogue with the JJDP Council on the evaluative findings and asked whether it resonated, what was missing, and how it could be built upon. We were able to map the framework to the reality of the stakeholders needs because of our participatory approach (see Spark’s toolkit on Tools for Engaging Nontraditional Voices). Their input made clear that there is room for the framework to not only serve as a guide to improving school engagement, but more broadly to meet the needs of at-risk youth through a collaborative approach.

For more about the work of the truancy demonstration pilots and truancy in Colorado visit the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice website.

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May SparkNews: Transforming Health

Image of stakeholders

All of the rapid change in the health landscape allows for exciting opportunities to engage stakeholders and, therefore, create solutions that are as equitable as they are innovative. However, engaging these voices effectively requires a commitment to the process to ensure they aren’t just token representation, and that their perspectives and lived experiences truly inform the process. This level of engagement can be challenging, to be sure, but the effort is well worth it in improved outcomes.

This month, we are highlighting some of the work we’re doing with two health-related projects actively involving the stakeholder voice:Image of stakeholders

Both projects seek to improve health outcomes. To do this, these projects rely heavily on meaningfully engaging stakeholders in the process to inform the work, identify needed shifts, and ensure the work is driving toward high-impact outcomes.

We’re also highlighting:

  • Our “Tools for Engaging Nontraditional Voices” toolkit;
  • A blog that examines the stakeholder engagement process in the development of the Colorado Coordinated Chronic Disease State Framework; and
  • Some of the work our team members are doing outside the office to engage stakeholders to support equity.

Sound interesting? Check out the rest of the newsletter!

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March SparkNews: Changing the World, One System at a Time

Backbone. Place-based approach. Cross-sector. Systems change. In our work, and the work of our partners, we often get caught up in the world of jargon and sector-specific terminology without realizing it. We can get so caught up in our day to day that we forget what these terms mean to us, our work, and the people for whom we are working to create meaningful change.

Picture1The focus of this month’s newsletter is systems change, reflecting specifically on what that means to us and how we integrate that perspective in all our work. Systems change means that, instead of creating a new program or policy, we look at how all the elements of a system are connected and then find leverage points that can help shift parts of the system in a sustained, coordinated way over time. This sounds like a heavy lift, and it is. Systems change does not happen overnight and it can be easy to get discouraged along the way. But, we can also identify and achieve small wins that move us closer to that bigger goal, we can learn along the way and use that learning to adjust our strategies, and we can engage new voices that not only help strengthen the process, they can lead to better outcomes. We have some great resources in this newsletter, including three blogs that look specifically at the idea of systems change, including exploring some tools and techniques to help reach our goals. Read more.