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Spark Update: In Systems Change, Individuals Matter

Individuals Matter.
Many of the problems our partners are working to address cannot be solved by organizations working in isolation: our impact is greater when we work together and ensure those most impacted by the change are part of the problem-definition and solution. Spark’s approach to systems change is fundamentally grounded in an inclusive and collaborative process, building the capacity of all to ignite change.

In our October Spark Update, we share examples of enriching systems-level thinking at the individual, stakeholder, and network levels. We also provide a toolkit for ensuring all voices are heard in social change initiatives.

Want to receive more updates like this? You can also subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly updates.

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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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Spark’s New Year’s Resolutions to Support Sustainable Change

Spark Policy InstituteDon’t you just love thinking up New Year’s resolutions? I know I do – they’re so full of the rich promise of that makes Change, capital C, so alluring. A fresh start – an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and say, “On the other side of this line, things will be different!” No matter how difficult to solve, no matter how complex the problem, making and owning a resolution is, literally, to renew your resolve to solve that complex problem. That in itself is an important step towards meaningful and sustainable change. And that’s why we at Spark are making a few resolutions for 2013 – to remind ourselves why we’re here with you on the front lines of the battle to create change in our communities.

 

Six Resolutions for Making a Meaningful Difference

So here are Spark’s Resolutions for 2013 . . .

Spark Policy Institute

  1. We will embrace meaningful change even when it’s hard for us.
    • We try to do this every day, but it isn’t easy! So we enforce upon ourselves regular pauses for reflection. We ask ourselves “Is this strategy moving us towards the change we desire?” “Is that change meaningful?” “What can we do to make sure we’re on the right track?”

 

  1. We will use data to guide our decisions, along with intuition and experience.Spark Policy Institute
    • For example, we’re planning some changes to our monthly webinar series in 2013, based on your feedback. More expert advice, more real-world examples to illustrate our points, and more interactivity. You spoke, and we listened.

 

  1.  We will engage all stakeholders, including those most affected by policies and services. Critique helps us do good, even better!
    • So please keep that feedback coming – informed change is better than arbitrary change! Comment on our blogs, attend and critique our monthly webinars, email us to tell us what you think of the resources in our Igniting Change website, and most of all, tell us how we’re doing in our projects with you – morning, noon, and night.
  1. We will keep learning, even when it means giving up our old ways of doing things.Spark Policy Institute
    • We’re all about learning, so we engage in regular quality assurance check-ins on our projects. And we’re always refining our quality assurance methods so that we can help create high-quality, customized solutions to our clients’ problems.
  1. We will work on the things we love, because passion gets results.
    • Our clients get the best outcomes when we have passion for the topic. We’re always focused on outcomes, but in 2013 we’re making sure to bring the passions of our team to bear on every project.
  1. We will be healthy! Research says dark chocolate is good for you, so we’re going for it!Spark Policy Institute

 

Spark Policy Institute

Got any New Year’s Resolutions of your own? We’d love to hear about them! And best wishes for a sparkling new year from all of us at Spark!

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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.