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Planning for Adaptation

Logo 8I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade thinking about, experimenting with, and refining tools for planning in complex, adaptive settings. As we put together Spark’s Adaptive Planning Toolkit, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect back and think about the genesis of the tools and what we have learned over the years.

I have tremendous admiration for all of the partners I’ve worked with who have tackled complex problems with adaptive approaches. That they can work amid such great uncertainty is impressive in and of itself, but the fact that they are willing to approach solving the problems in ways that are, themselves, uncertain and untested is even more laudable.

The stakeholders who came together to prevent another tragedy like the Columbine school shooting not only didn’t know how to integrate the many different service systems to prevent a future shooting, they were also brand new to systems mapping, which was a critical part of developing a plan for change. I remember the walls covered with boxes and lines, as participants tried to break down how the system functioned today in order to figure out how it could function tomorrow.

DLPLogoFINALThe leaders who formed the core of the Daylight Project, focused on improving access to behavioral health services for deaf and hard of hearing consumers, similarly tackled a complex problem using tools that were untested and new to them. Consumer stories helped inform their work along the way, but so did real-time strategic learning, which included gathering data about their environment and forecasting the likelihood of success for each partner organization they invited to join the effort.

Scenario MappingRecently, The Colorado Health Foundation used an adaptive planning process to develop their Consumer Advocacy funding strategy. Using scenario planning tools, mapping of current funding, and even a post-mortem, they went all out with adaptive planning. Unlike the previous examples, by this point Spark, as their partners in crime, had a well-established repertoire of adaptive planning tools. However, similar to the experiences in the first two examples, this approach was still new and out of the comfort zone for the organization, yet they embraced it fully and developed a truly creative, results focused, and adaptive funding strategy.

I am personally very excited to share our adaptive planning tools. I believe in them. I have seen them help many different types of groups make a meaningful difference on truly difficult problems. I also believe this idea of adaptive planning is a work in progress – we have some pieces pulled together, but by no means is this the be all, end all of planning in complex settings. I am excited to learn how others are doing adaptive planning and hope you will participate by sharing your stories and building our common base of tools for how to do this difficult work.

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Systems Transformation for Underserved Populations – The Colorado Daylight Project

Systems transformation, which we explore further in our Resources for Igniting Systems-Wide Change Blog, can be applied to just about any type of population with a defined need. In this week’s blog, we’ll explore how one project is approaching systems transformation for a particularly underserved population: the deaf and hard of hearing in Colorado. This effort, called The Colorado Daylight Project (CDP), is a collaborative approach to systems transformation led by the Mental Health Center of Denver and the Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.


Getting the Right People in the Room

Good systems transformation efforts begin by taking the time to make sure they have all the right stakeholders involved. Sometimes these stakeholders are obvious – for example, representatives of the various agencies providing services – but it is important to look beyond the ‘usual suspects.’

In 2008, providers who wanted to advance access to behavioral health services to Coloradans who are deaf and hard of hearing were brought together from mental health, substance abuse, adult and aging services, deaf and hard of hearing, education, and consumer and family advocacy organizations. By bringing together publicly funded behavioral healthcare providers from throughout Colorado, the Colorado Daylight Project was able to leverage a wide range of expertise in working with deaf and hard of hearing persons and create opportunities for cross-training and sharing resources. But it also went further, bringing in a variety of advocacy organizations, some with a focus on deaf consumers, others focused on hard of hearing consumers, and yet others who advocated for behavioral health services but had not historically advocated for or made their efforts accessible to deaf and hard of hearing consumers.


Laying the Foundation

Another important step in making sure your systems transformation effort is successful is the thoughtful, informed creation of a clear plan of action.

Once convened, The Daylight Project’s key stakeholders formed a Task Force that was able to develop an Action Plan where all the goals, strategies, and actions are built on three essential components: Governance Structure, Standards, and Consumer and Family Leadership. The Task Force used a variety of strategies to create the plan, including a statewide needs assessment survey, a consumer survey, research into the practices underway in other states, and facilitated planning sessions.



Having made their plans, the Daylight Project then moved on to implementation by breaking the action plan down into manageable pieces and forming seven overlapping teams to move forward on individual elements, with each team reporting regularly and receiving advice and feedback from the full group of stakeholders (called the Implementation Team). The teams worked for a two year period to develop, among many other things, the standards of care outlined in the Action Plan, guidance for the standards of care, and multiple trainings. Similar to the planning process, research was used to support these activities, including best practices research to inform the standards; evaluation to provide ongoing feedback to the initiative, including to improve the trainings; and needs assessment to guide the work with provider agencies.

The Core Team

A “Core Team” composed of ½ deaf and hard of hearing leaders and ½ consultants and staff to the project were responsible for carefully coordinating, connecting, and overseeing the many teams focused on different topics.

The Consumer/Family Team

One of the teams played a critical role in guiding the work of the Daylight Project – the Consumer and Family Advocacy work group. They developed culturally competent advocacy trainings accessible to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, families, and natural supports in the community. Their focus was building a cadre of advocates who could not only inform the work of the Daylight Project, but advocate for systems change in the behavioral health system more widely.

The Provider Team

Another team was the Learning Collaborative, a group of eight provider agencies who made an organizational commitment to adapting and adopting best practices to promote the delivery of effective practices for deaf and hard of hearing consumers. They worked internally in their organizations, supported by coaching from Core Team members, and also came together quarterly to learn from each other. This combination allowed for action to occur steadily within each organization as well as opportunities to celebrate successes and hold each other accountable for making progress on their organizational changes.



The Colorado Daylight Project’s approach to transforming the behavioral health system for the deaf and hard of hearing in Colorado is worth watching – this comprehensive and culturally competent effort is well underway to achieving its goals. Want to learn more and think about how to implement a similar systems transformation in your community? Below are resources that can help you!

  • For more information about the Colorado Daylight Project please visit the website, or contact Mary Sterritt, MSW, LCSW at, 720.949.7484 (videophone), or 303.504.6521 (voice).
  • For more information about the strategic planning process used in the Daylight Project, please contact Jewlya Lynn, the facilitator, at