Learning Logs: Community Innovation Grantees

Learning Logs: Community Innovation Grantees

As part of the Foundation’s efforts to inspire and support community innovation across the region, and in response to grantee and community interest in learning from each other, we make interim and final reports from Community Innovation grant recipients available to the public. These Learning Logs highlight what grantees have learned as they pursue solutions to community problems. 


African Immigrant Services


What would you like to share?


We began our journey on a simple premise: those most affected by structural and systemic barriers should lead the change they want to see. We also know that when we expand the space for engagement and increase opportunities for leadership, those most affected will discover their own solutions and make change. In a practical sense, we know that we can only move people from the sidelines to the heart of community-driven solutions by aligning them with issues they are passionate about, especially in small groups of 10 to 20.

But we also knew that we couldn’t do it alone. We, therefore, built an inclusive and practical infrastructure of community collaboration, connecting the project to ideas and assets both within and outside our region. We had a total of 21 major collaborating partners, with some partners working on two or more cohorts. For efficiency, collaborating partners were aligned with cohorts where their assets and resources are most impactful and where our shared goals intersected in a mutually reinforcing manner.

Our impact has been nothing short of amazing. But a real breakthrough requires us to institutionalize these innovate changes and measure them over a two-year period. For this, we are committed!

Anoka-Hennepin School Dist No 11 Logo

What key lessons did you learn about doing your work during this year? Were any the result of something you might characterize as failure? 

BUILD COLLECTIVE UNDERSTANDING. Attendance at the monthly meetings was difficult for many members. A few meetings conflicted with parent-teacher conferences and other school events which was difficult for students, teachers, principals, and parents. Attendance was most difficult for students. Students had conflicts with jobs and after-school activities. The group felt the most important voices were those of students and at some meetings only one student was present. This was the biggest lesson learned. If we want students to be included, we need to change how and when we do our work. Moving forward, we plan to invite more students to be included in the task force, hold fewer meetings, and be more strategic about how we are gaining understanding with and from students in a way that serves students. Task force activities for the upcoming year will center around an event which will include students from schools all across the school district. The event will be held during the school day with transportation provided for students. The task force will meet ahead of time to prepare for the event and then again after in order to continue to develop strategies, informed by students, to eliminate bullying and harassment in our schools.

Arts on Chicago Logo

If you could go back to the start of your grant period and give yourself one piece of advice or learning, what would it be? Why would this have been important to know? 

We see a benefit to more time spent with all participants learning about “development” – how to structure the learning process so all members have the ability to dive deep into the very layered and complex systems and processes of Development – more critical work around uncovering practical ways in which community members can have direct, tangible, actionable impact/voice on development in our communities (although I think we are driving at that along the way…). We recognize that from the beginning there was a need to frame the process and history, and then to repeat it over and over for all participants. Our 4th CAC Institute session would have been better suited to serve as our 2nd session as it further connected the people to the process in ways we had struggled to do early on.

Autism Society of Minnesota


What key lessons did you learn about doing your work during this year? Were any the result of something you might characterize as failure?


When working with multiple collaborators, it is important to be flexible in your action plans as new challenges and information emerges.  While I believe I had a relatively accurate work plan for this grant, some things have needed to change as the process has moved forward due to the group learning process. 

I was disappointed at not being able to determine a good strategy to engage a more culturally, diverse base of parents and students as well as interest from the business community.  I have concluded that developing relationships with key leaders in these communities to get their support may be the best strategy to attract these stakeholders.  

The Barbara Schneider Foundation


Are there key elements in your community process other than inclusivity, collaboration or resourcefulness that have contributed to your progress toward innovation? If so, please describe.


I find that humility and generosity are very important in this work. Our Native American partners bring a rich and strong cultural heritage and practice to this work that has been denigrated and repressed by majority society. We come from this majority society that has made enormous errors in our relations with Native communities and we have so much to learn from them as we engage with them in this work.

Cleveland Neighborhood Association


What specific aspects, components or activities of your work this year were instrumental to making progress? Why was each important?

Typically we are restricted by the particular funding or project parameters and end up not being able to adjust and innovate on the fly with our activities. One example of this was choosing to do an entire series of events, called 30 Days of Community as a pop-up in a vacant store front. We did this in place of what is normally a more traditional annual community meeting format. This allowed us to reach many new contacts who’d never been involved or connected to the organization before. It helped us build a base for building neighborhood leadership out of a more representative group of residents then previously.

Community Foundation of Grand Forks


Are there key elements in your community process other than inclusivity, collaboration or resourcefulness that have contributed to your progress toward innovation? If so, please describe.

Be in synch with your community. Look for major projects and challenges already happening and already being addressed in your community where the key doers and leaders in the community are already engaged. Use the Bush funding to challenge them to try something innovative and creative they may have otherwise not pursued. A little micro grant seed money helps people feel more comfortable thinking and trying things outside of the box.

Dakota Fire Logo

How has your process led to more clarity about the need that you defined in your grant application or about potential innovations to address that need?

We identified a need to think regionally in the face of common challenges. Our last event will address this topic specifically. In the meantime, we have learned that as a group, we really have most of the information and insight we need. A quote I saw recently applies: “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” Many of the ideas that will help move the region forward are already being tried in some communities. That learning needs to have a way to be distributed more broadly, so those ideas can be tried, tested and refined.

Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons

What key lessons did you learn about doing your work during this year? Were any the result of something you might characterize as failure? 

Command central is critical. We were floundering in fairness – trying to ensure consensus with every step; sharing leadership among as many as six people at once and giving our project manager conflicting instructions as a result. We learned that it is critical to have major players as early adopters, but equally important to have a defined hierarchy for task completion. Further, the Coordinator, our command central, must have superior interpersonal skills in order to lead from behind and adroitly navigate many strong personalities. We are not sure if this represented failure or if, per the innovation model, we needed to achieve a level of frustration in order to agree on a solution. It took some time for everyone to agree that community organizing was the desired skill set and that knowledge of homelessness and human services was a peripheral rather than a central requirement.

Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons


If you could go back to the start of your grant period and give yourself one piece of advice or learning, what would it be? Why would this have been important to know?


Calm down, things will move much more slowly than you’d like but it will be better and stronger because of it. Take the time to create more visual learning and communication tools and talk to consumers experiencing homelessness in a formal manner from Day 1. Had we known this from the start we would have avoided a lot of personal stress and some interpersonal conflict. Our communication plan would have better set the stage for both pilots and rollouts.  

First Children's Finance


Which of the three elements of the community innovation process—inclusive, collaborative or resourceful—if any, has been most important, relevant or valuable to making progress in your work? Why?

Although all three elements are critical to our community-based process, resourcefulness plays an integral role in the MN Project. The working philosophy of our project is that rural communities are resources unto themselves, and have the flexibility and innovative spirit required solve their own challenges. This messaging is clear throughout our entire process, and we find that rural communities resonate with this foundational aspect of our project. Communities in Greater MN have tired of “experts” from the Twin Cities diagnosing their communities without spending any time in them. Too often decisions that impact rural child care policy are made in the Twin Cities, without thought to the burdens created on small, but vital, child care businesses in rural areas.

The connections between child care and economic development are real, and as we’ve carried this message throughout our work in Minnesota, we’ve witnessed communities coming together to create successful solutions using the resources and leveraging relationships that already exist. For example, in Montevideo, we witnessed a local child care nonprofit organization deepen a relationship with the school district, and leverage city and local economic development authority resources to create an infant room. For a community struggling with a lack of infant care, the result was 12 new child care slots where there were none before the MN Project. It required no funding from outside the community, and only strengthened relationships between local entities and leaders. It is a shining example of what can happen when a community increases its awareness of what will actually impact the local economy and makes targeted investments that benefit children, families and local employers. We produced a video highlighting one of the most innovative success stories from our project and shared it on our project webpage: http://greaterthanmn.org/blog/2015/02/03/child-care---school-partnership-in-southwest-mn 

Four Bands Community Fund, Incorporated

Which of the three elements of the community innovation process—inclusive, collaborative or resourceful—if any, has been most important, relevant or valuable to making progress in your work? Why? 

The collaborative process has always been the key element of our innovation process. There has been tension within this process and a strain on Four Bands resources to support the collaborative efforts. I’ve been conducting quite a bit of research on collaboration and found an article in the Harvard Business Review which illuminated most of the tension for FBCF.  

“First, it’s important to distinguish among the three types of “collaborative resources” that individual employees invest in others to create value: informational, social, and personal. Informational resources are knowledge and skills—expertise that can be recorded and passed on. Social resources involve one’s awareness, access, and position in a network, which can be used to help colleagues better collaborate with one another. Personal resources include one’s own time and energy. These three resource types are not equally efficient. Informational and social resources can be shared—often in a single exchange—without depleting the collaborator’s supply. That is, when I offer you knowledge or network awareness, I also retain it for my own use. But an individual employee’s time and energy are finite, so each request to participate in or approve decisions for a project leaves less available for that person’s own work.” 

Distinguishing between these three types of collaborative resources has been very helpful in making progress in our work.

Four Bands Community Fund, Incorporated


What key lesson(s) did you learn about doing your work during this year? Were any the result of something you might characterize as failure?


The major takeaway from the first year was understanding that there is a spectrum for collaboration. We learned very quickly that tribal programs will quickly bow out of partnerships when a “budget” for partnership is laid on the table. At first, we viewed this as a failure. At the end of the first year, we learned we were approaching it wrong. From the tribal program perspective, it is not the contributing of money in the partnership that is difficult it is the process of getting that funding out of the Tribe’s accounting system that was problematic. Therefore, Four Bands learned its collaborative efforts with tribal programs can be increased when tribal programs can directly reimburse Four Bands for program/training expenses. For example, it’s hard for the tribal program to pay participants a stipend to attend training the day of the training because of the payment request process of the Tribe. Instead, it was much easier for Four Bands to front the costs of each training for our partners and submit one invoice to the partners, which was then reimbursed by the Tribe. 

Great River Greening Logo

What specific aspects, components or activities of your work this year were instrumental to making progress? Why was each important?

Farmer-led process: This has been important in a way that was completely unexpected at the beginning of our grant term. Our commitment to creating a farmer-led process *despite* the pace at which that is happening (SLOWLY) has been recognized by both our project partners and the farmers with whom we work. As mentioned above, skepticism among the farming community of those perceived as “environmental” actors runs high. Continued commitment to this path is the only way to break-down that skepticism, earn the trust of that segment of our community, and generate the buy-in that is needed to accomplish community-building and water-quality objectives. It has been recognized and applauded that, even though progress on this front is slow, we haven’t abandoned the concept in favor of what is expedient or what we (the Watershed Program) can more easily control or push forward. 

Hmong American Farmers Association Logo

How has your process led to more clarity about the need that you defined in your grant application or about potential innovations to address that need? 

This process has led the HAFA staff to do more research and exploration about traditional Hmong farming practices and times when cooperative principles were present in those practices. This was unexpected work, but it has shed a lot of clarity on how we can communicate the principles and mechanics of a cooperative so that our farmers can make the best decision.

Jamestown Fine Arts Association Logo

Which of the three elements of the community innovation process—inclusive, collaborative or resourceful—if any, has been most important, relevant or valuable to making progress in your work? Why?

The project is highly collaborative. We want the Arts Park to be creative, to spark downtown revitalization, to be a driver of cultural tourism, to be a space that can be used for education, and to be safe and feasible. Thus our Arts Park task force consists of artist, members of the downtown association, the head of Jamestown Tourism, arts educators, and contractors. This cross section of the community creates lively conversation when it comes to choosing the artistic elements of the park.

What specific aspects, components or activities of your work this year were instrumental to making progress? Why was each important? 

Another activity that we think will continue to be key as our project evolves was to seek out and meet with others who are doing similar work. We met with several other hubs that have like goals and work under similar conditions and gleaned a tremendous amount of information from them. One in particular was ahead of us by several years and was tremendously helpful in sharing their history as well as advice on what has worked well for them and what did not work well. In observing their operation we could see areas of our operation that we needed to take immediate steps to change, as well as areas in which we were on track. This type of networking and exchange of best practices in a very new and quickly evolving community project is something we have found invaluable and will continue to practice as we proceed.

Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota Logo

What key lessons did you learn about doing your work during this year? Were any the result of something you might characterize as failure?

We have learned that new ideas need to be communicated consistently and repeatedly to those community partners who are invited to the table. The Core Partners are in constant communication with one another and have met numerous times to discuss communication strategy.  However, the membership at collaboration meetings has not always been consistent and therefore, the message of who we are, what the Cross Borders Children’s Action Network hopes to achieve, and the ultimate vision of the collaboration, must be repeated consistently with community partners whether it be one-on-one meetings or community gatherings.

Little Earth Community Partnership


If you could go back to the start of your grant period and give yourself one piece of advice or learning, what would it be? Why would this have been important to know?


Practice being out there, connecting with people, ascertaining needs and identifying what will work. If we could go back and impart to much of our programming – not just health-related – how successful it can be if you find those positive keystones within the community to help make connections and build energy around the programming, it would have a profound effect on how we do our work across the board.   

Main Street Square


If you could go back to the start of your grant period and give yourself one piece of advice or learning, what would it be? Why would this have been important to know?

Focus on supporting local artists. We’re still learning this lesson every day here. It’s the artists who make things happen. They are the people who bring meaning to our work and who truly understand the value, purpose and potential of creativity. Partnerships with other organizations, administrators and decision-makers are critical, but helping artists feel welcomed and appreciated is the key to Arts Rapid City’s success.

Men as Peacemakers


How has your process led to more clarity about the need that you defined in your grant application or about potential innovations to address that need?


Working intimately and consistently with coaches has allowed us to evaluate the effectiveness and relevance of our educational materials. It became evident that coaches responded well to activities and discussions that had concrete direction and next-steps. We realized that the coaches’ lack of understanding of the issues would require us to lay the groundwork for discussions of gender violence and gender equity in athletics, rather than stage conceptual community discussions about domestic violence and sexual assault. This meant creating scenarios that were realistic (and even quotidian) to the average coach, regarding male dominance and gender inequity in youth athletics.

MAP has also clarified its expanded understanding of cultural change. In order to shift the culture of athletics we recognize it requires change on many levels. This includes changing individuals, organizations, media representations, state policies and procedures, national perceptions, and more. Moving forward, this program is striving to impact as many of these levels as possible in order to maximize impact, especially on the next generation of young boys and men.

Mental Health Crisis Alliance Logo

What specific aspects, components or activities of your work this year were instrumental to making progress? Why was each important?

The Certified Peer Specialists (CPS) stepping up and contributing their time to make the project be successful was instrumental to our success. We had large community meetings that included large numbers of the many stakeholders in the crisis system. During these meetings the CPS participated at a consistent level with other types of stakeholders. As soon as we moved in to the smaller groups and started to develop the program, the CPS really stepped up and took a leadership role in the development and shaping of the pilot. This ensures that the pilot works for the CPS and for the consumer in a different way than if other staff would have stepped up.

Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration


If you could go back to the start of your grant period and give yourself one piece of advice or learning, what would it be? Why would this have been important to know?

To calmly accept that this would be a learning process that would take many twists and turns. In initial contacts with cities, we felt the pressure to provide answers to questions where that knowledge base had yet to be developed. We learned that cities are most interested in learning from each other and, if we could facilitate that, we did not need to have all the answers.

Grow SD Logo

How has your process led to more clarity about the need that you defined in your grant application or about potential innovations to address that need?

Based on this process, each community has been able to find solutions and address initiatives that may not have been considered, if they had not seen it through another community’s experience. Sharing ideas the good, bad and ugly of housing. What one community found as a failure, ultimately was a success as it was shared with others to gain knowledge of a better process. From the ideas and process it became apparent that housing has many interconnections throughout the community, via workforce development, healthy living, quality of life, economic development as well as strengthening the core being in a community. While housing may be viewed as a physical structure in a community, the role it plays to the individual and community is vital for vibrancy. Some of the communities now have other groups working on different aspects that tie back to housing.  

Northern Lights.mn


If you could go back to the start of your grant period and give yourself one piece of advice or learning, what would it be? Why would this have been important to know?


Our main piece of advice to ourselves would have been to be honest with each other and to remember that tension among invested partners is not always a bad thing; in fact, it is an indicator that each partner truly has a stake in the process and the project. When we each struggled to have our priorities represented in the game, we were actually finding the right balance, which made the game stronger.

Pages