The StriveTogether conference was a fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the experts in collective impact work, connect with a wide range of sites doing this work across the US, and sense check how our collective impact partnership is doing in relation to all the other inspiring partnerships we heard about. It was also very helpful to have time and space to come together as a team to reflect and learn. Below I reflect on some of the challenges that really resonated with our work in Feltham, key takeaways which I left with and which I hope will inform our work further, as well as three key questions that I’ve been pondering since we left Chicago.
Challenges which resonated with our work
- Bradley from Breakthrough reflected on how ‘‘Chicago is the biggest little city” because there are lots of organisations which are fragmented, there are lots of boundaries between these organisations, there is hoarding of resources as they’re so few and it’s really hard to get people (and organisations) to work towards the same agenda. This really resonated with our work.
- Liz Dozier from Chicago Beyond talked about the need to always be mindful of our language. One phrase she used that has stuck with me was the difference between saying “What’s wrong with you?” versus “What’s happened to you?” It was abundantly clear from our interactions with different people that each StriveTogether site, as well as the organisations in Chicago, are intentional about using asset-based language, starting from communities’ strengths, and seeing the community (young people, parents, local residents) as allies. In our conversations people talked about the need to change the mentality of the donors through being intentional about language and this resonates too.
- Getting schools (and other organisations) to share data is hard. It is about trust building & shared vulnerability; understanding the rationale for sharing it; linking this to wider holistic outcomes; and using stories to support this work. It seems that everyone finds this hard which is both reassuring and problematic! One question we considered in relation to this was whether our FCP partners have a cradle-to-career outlook through their engagement with the FCP? Is there shared accountability for young people’s outcomes in Feltham from birth to adulthood?
- Involving the community - local residents, parents and young people - is hard to do meaningfully and well, and it takes time. However, it is much, much more important to take this time, rather than try to force an agenda onto people, or actions which they have not decided on themselves.
- We are ‘systems stewards’! The importance of the backbone team really came through during our time in Chicago, both through our meetings in the build up to the conference and the conference itself. We need to help people unlearn the current systems (this applies to the FCP Planning Team too!).
- There is a huge appetite for this work and being part of a network is really powerful. How could we connect more with the StriveTogether sites or start to develop more of a network here in the UK? Could we build on the Reach Foundation’s growth work?
- Impacting policy does not just mean at the highest possible level. We have the capacity to influence policy at a lower level and we should articulate this more. For example, this could be through the campaign to bring a YouthZone to Feltham which would impact on public health issues, public safety, schools etc. This also includes pushing for sustainable funding in the Local Authority budget.
- Community organising is a key mechanism for developing our work with the community and for developing the partnership in general. This underpinned many of the sessions and meetings we attended. It is about building civic infrastructure, building connections between sectors, and developing local leaders, as part of our work to achieve policy change.
Questions which are coming up from the conference
- How best to develop a community engagement philosophy & a community development plan to ensure that we are gathering information from the right people?
- How to then use the information to inform our programmes and to help change policy?
- How to best identify and lift up the 'hidden' voices in the system whose perspectives are really key to our understanding of the complex issues?
- How best to measure this?
- What are the best ways to put the data you collect into practice?
- How to embed/encourage more asset based language across our FCP partners so we are all using consistent language? (and we are all understanding why we should be using asset based language)
- How to get the right balance between running our own programmes (i.e. expanding the Young People’s Summer Research Programme or the FCP Post-16 offer) and collecting information on these independently, while also encouraging partners to share information and resources as a means of strengthening the system and the sustainability of the partnership?