Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
The the hiring of our grant coordinator was instrumental in making progress with the Cross Borders Children’s Action Network (CCAN). Even though it is a much needed and community supported concept, without a coordinator, the collaborative work would more than likely be pushed aside as it has been in the past with previous efforts. The logistics of coordinating groups of professionals, both the smaller key partners group (the Core Partners) and the larger collaborative group, is not a simple task. Finding the perfect candidate was a struggle. But we knew that if we hired the wrong person the project was destined to fail. With low unemployment in the Fargo-Moorhead area it took several months and two rounds of interviews to select the candidate with the appropriate education, background, experience, connections, skills and personality to move this collaborative forward. Thankfully, we found that person. And thankfully the Bush Foundation recognized that it is necessary to direct a portion of the grant funds to this human capital and our contact agreed to push back the start date until January 1, 2015 to recognize this delayed start.
The second aspect of establishing a collaboration which has been instrumental has been the incremental and strategic steps taken in the planning process. By being deliberate, intentional and thoughtful during the formation of the CCAN, the Core Partners hope to ensure a commitment from the community and a collaboration that functions and flourishes long after the grant period has ended. Every community partner that has been approached by the Core partners and the coordinator has been enthusiastic about CCAN. The challenge for the Core Partners is to establish a solid foundation in process and develop substance to ensure long term and deep commitments from the community partners. Even though the targeted issue—a lack of communication and coordination cross borders on systems and issues related to children’s exposure to violence—was determined prior to the receipt of funding, expanding upon the process to resolve this issue has been a journey.
Key lessons learned
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 CCAN 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.
A challenge that exists and it on-going is measuring the success of collaboration. There are no client numbers to be tallied, and due to complex confidentiality issues, improved client outcomes based on the work of the collaboration cannot be easily measured. We have asked the community partners to respond to the Wilder Collaboration Factors Inventory to establish a baseline of the strengths and concerns perceived by the CCAN membership at its inception. We plan to use this measurement tool to address the concerns early on in the process. This will also be used as a baseline when measuring future collaboration efforts to determine if the upcoming CCAN Project community meetings create an increased understanding of what the collaboration hopes to achieve, as well as if trust is built between community partners through this process.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving
Inclusive. The process of identifying key stakeholders and ensuring that the appropriate partners are invited to the table is most relevant at this stage of our collaboration building. The Core Partners spent considerable time determining which community partners should be invited at this stage in the development of the collaboration. The invited partners must have the commitment to the goals and mission of the CAN Project, the resources to devote to the work of a collaboration, a willingness to commit those resources, and an ability to work with the other partners at the table. Many organizations in the community touch on issues related to the safety of children; however, not all address safety in the way intended by this collaboration. If the wrong partners were invited (or, in the alternative, a critical player was not invited) the focus of the CCAN Project may be diverted or diluted and the project may fail. There has been discussion about including families that have been through the Child Welfare system asking for information and feedback; however, the process of soliciting this feedback has not yet been developed.
Understanding the problem
One of the main goals of the CCAN Project is to create a broad-based, all-inclusive, collaborative community coalition and network of those groups and individuals working to promote the safety and well-being of the community’s children. The framework that is being developed will allow and compel community agencies to think more broadly about the work that they do and how other agencies and systems that touch the families we service work together, or fail to work together. It is hoped that this will lead to innovations that drive change to fill gaps, end duplication of services, and draw agencies out of their specialized silos in ways that benefit the area’s most at-risk children.
If you could do it all over again...
Be patient and persistent. Even though there was considerable thinking and groundwork done prior to and during the writing of the grant, when a significant participant who was the primary researcher and grant writing for the CCAN Project left one of the Core Partner organizations, the groundwork needed to be re-established. In addition, to successfully convert an innovative idea to a tangible process and product is methodical and time consuming. The development of a fair, practical, and transparent process and workable structure for a functioning community collaboration takes measured and thoughtful consideration and patience.