Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
The decision of the Cross Borders Children’s Network to produce a State of the Children report was critical to our success this year. As we moved beyond information gathering to action, the group collectively decided that creating a dashboard about children’s exposure to harm in our community would be useful for community education and to assist us in directing our work moving forward. The report will include information about children in child protective services in our larger community that can be used by all member of the collaborative. The State of our Children report brings together data from both Clay County Minnesota and Cass County North Dakota in a format that has never before been attempted. As we struggled to compiled the data, we have discovered significant gaps in the data available and inconsistencies across state lines that may lead the CCAN project to push for future policy changes. The draft of this report and the work of CCAN will receive a larger audience when the draft report is presented at February community-wide mental health conference.
Diversifying and branching out from the original concept and work of CCAN has been key to maintaining momentum as we move forward. By realizing that different stakeholders require different activities and benefits to continue their time commitment, the steering committee has worked to provide value for all participants. Some of the stakeholders remain involved because of the educational component, while others are energized by the State of the Children report, and still others find a benefit from the networking and information sharing aspects of meetings. But keeping all of them all at the table is critical to the success and sustainability of the network.
Key lessons learned
That building a true collaberation does not happen at one speed. There are leaps forwards, small steps backwards, little steps ahead, and some periods operate on cruise control, but all speeds and measurements of progress are still progress.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving
Originally, the strength of this project was its inclusivity. At the begining we spent significant time discussing membership ensuring that all relevant community stakeholders were invited to the table. We spent significant one-on-one time on building these relationships. However, as we moved forward, collaberation has been a key to our success. The project is based on a cross-borders multi-disciplinary network of partners. Therefore, bringing in and listening to diverse perspectives was critical at the begining of CCAN. But not all stakeholders had the interest or ability to maintain committed to the CCAN project. For some it was too far outside of the scope of their work, and for others, although they support our mission and will be allies as needed, it simply was not a priority for their limited time. As a result, the number of regular participants decreased. However, the group that remains are people and organizations that highly value this collaberation and can and will work to make progress on solutions. Because we cast a wide net the CCAN includes diverse perspetives and importantly, those around the table are committed to an on-going collaberation.
Other key elements of Community Innovation
The commitment of time and resources by a small number of stakeholders has been critical. A few key stakeholders have embraced the collaberation and the CCAN project. They are open to innovation and have been willing to consider new ideas and new ways of thinking. These key partners have also been patient with the process and willing to stick with it when the process stalled and little progress was being made.
Understanding the problem
We have learned that each stakeholder comes to the innovation process with a unique perspective and that each perspective is able to both enlightens the process and muddies the waters. So although counterintuitive, these internal disputes and stalling of the solutions portion of the process has brought clarity. We have learned that the problem we look to solve and the propsoed solutions are more complex and nuanced. By bringing together an inclusive group with unique perspectives we have had to look again at the key issues we thought were facing the community, and reexamine our assumptions about which problems were most critical. While there is agreement about the overalll issue (that exposure to abuse and violence is damaging to children and communities and that the differences in resources, laws, and systems across state borders creates problems for families in crisis) it has been difficult to find solutions to this multifaceted community problem.
If you could do it all over again...
Be sure to bring the the right skill set to the table. This means inviting the right person from each stakeholder. Sometimes an individual is a highly skilled within their field but is either unable to commit to the project, think about innovation, or is resistent to change. Those that need immediately results or are unable to imagine creative solutions are a hinderance to the problem-solving process. But be patient because often those people will eliminate themselves from the process because it is messy and uncomfortable for them.