Northfield Healthy Community Initiative

Report date
March 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Collective Approach: As shared previously, the commitment to collective impact and to aligning all of the major stakeholders around a set of shared goals is paramount to the continued success of this work. While there are times when entities are tempted to move in isolation, there has been a level of collective accountability that is helping to try and minimize this. More partners are recognizing how their entities can support this work and are actively seeking ways to connect their work with Northfield Promise. This has been very exciting to see.
One of the great surprises of this effort thus far has been that the initial momentum behind this work has not subsided. We expected that as we entered Year Three, we would see a natural drop-off of some of the initial partners/stakeholders (as
they looked to devote their time to other initiatives). This has not played out this way, however. Instead, these adopters have almost universally remained involved. This, coupled with the significant influx of new partners, has led to a much more robust network than the original architects anticipated at this stage.
Commitment to Data: Northfield Promise remains unabashedly a data-driven effort. Diving into the data, looking for
trends, and analyzing results are core to all stages of this process – and often represent a new way of approaching this
work. Rather than continuing efforts because they have always been done or because they are popular, the initiative is
challenging us to look at what is working, where we’re not seeing success, and how we can make subsequent adjustments.
This takes courageous (and oftentimes uncomfortable) conversations, but continuing to utilize the data lens helps to
facilitate some of these conversations and processes, particularly when approached in a nonjudgmental, open-minded
Building Networks Outside Northfield: Northfield Promise is largely a local initiative, started through a grassroots push to
help improve outcomes for Northfield youth and continuing to rely on the commitment of local partners for its success.
However, Northfield Promise has benefitted extensively this year from partnerships that we have fostered with communities
doing similar work outside of Northfield. Whether it’s through connecting with cities across the country that are part of the
Strive Together network or building the Minnesota Educational Partnerships Coalition with cradle-to-career communities in
our state, these broader networks have been invaluable sources of ideas, resources, best practices, and (unexpectedly)
additional financial support. Particularly the formation of the Minnesota Educational Partnerships Coalition required
Northfield Promise to step out on a limb and engage in new types of collective undertakings (such as statewide advocacy).
While this was potentially uncomfortable new terrain, it also paid significant dividends in advancing the work locally.

Key lessons learned

Don’t Limit Ourselves to Our Traditional Partners: When Northfield Promise began, many of the early adopters and
initial partners were ones with whom we had frequently collaborated and partnered in the past. The initial level of shared
trust allowed for comfort with taking the ambitious initial steps needed for this effort. As the effort has grown and evolved, it
has been exciting to see so many new partners that are coming forward – and the new connections that are forming.
Having these new voices at the table – whether it’s in the areas of workforce development or community corrections or new
parents or higher education or new faith communities – enriches the conversations and the activities undertaken. Beyond being helpful for the Northfield Promise initiative, this extended network also has residual impacts on other work in the
community (by helping to foster expanded social connectedness between different community partners). This has been
tremendously invigorating to see!
Taking Calculated Risks Sometimes Leads to the Biggest Gains: Looking at the efforts that have been the greatest
successes for Northfield Promise this year, one cannot help but notice they also involved some of the biggest risks.
Launching the Greenvale Park Community School was never in our original work plan. However, the opportunity to launch
this evidence-based approach at a struggling school presented itself and we took it. The momentum seen in this project in
the first year (over 500 young people and 600 parents/community members involved) and the initial results that are
emerging speak to the benefits of having taken this calculated risk.
Similarly, as detailed above, we made a decision to practice the collective impact mindset ourselves and align our work with
several other communities – forming the Minnesota Educational Partnerships Coalition this year. At the time, the coalition
was fairly ambiguous and a somewhat risky undertaking. Several other communities opted not to join for that reason, feeling
like they needed more clarity and definition before jumping in.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

As detailed in the last report, all three of these elements have been (and continue to be) critical to the success of Northfield
Promise. By design, collective impact initiatives are intended to take collaboration to next level, by aligning partners around a set
of shared common goals and encouraging them to ensure their efforts build towards these common goals. Furthermore, the
collective impact concept recognizes that we must use our resources in the most efficient, effective, and resourceful manner
possible; because of the limited nature of resources, we must ensure we are getting the maximum return on our collective
investments with regards to positive outcomes for those impacted.
However, perhaps the most unique of these elements to Northfield Promise is the initiative’s commitment to inclusivity. One of the
hallmarks of the Northfield Promise approach is ending every meeting and gathering with the question, “Who else should be
sitting at this table?”

Other key elements of Community Innovation

As with any community process, there are undoubtedly many other key elements to Northfield Promise’s progress to date.
Perhaps the most critical, however, has been the continued commitment to data and utilizing data to drive decisions. As outlined
above, this has marked a relatively new undertaking for some of the key Northfield Promise partners. However, it has been
exciting to see this adoption and evolution over the life of this effort. To now watch this commitment to data carry over into other
aspects of partners’ work is an illustration of the lasting community impact that this initiative is hopefully having.

Understanding the problem

One of the big “ah-ha’s” of this past year has been that this work can be, at times, very uncomfortable. When you are working
with partners and looking at data that shows that efforts may not be seeing the outcomes we’d hope for, this has the potential to
become very personal. When talking about how we may all need to reconsider approaches to ensure they are seeing results and
following best practices, it has the potential to hurt feelings. It can also evoke initial feelings of defensiveness or denial – or even
However, it is important to remember that this work, at its heart, is about measurably improving outcomes for kids. The data
points we are discussing are comprised of young people. And we must demand that each and every child has the best chance of
success. While we need to approach this work with humility, grace, and the utmost respect, we cannot allow the fear of hurting
people’s feelings to halt us from pushing for changes. As Northfield Promise has found its footing and established itself in the
community, this has become even clearer and more important.

If you could do it all over again...

Put your seatbelt on and step on the gas! When we began this work, we never expected that there would be the level of
interest in Northfield Promise that there was (and, remarkably, continues to be). We expected to see a much slower rollout, with a
much more measured onboarding of additional partners. As a result, we did not have the infrastructure (such as staffing) at the
start to be totally prepared for this. While we have started to catch up to this, if we could rewind time and start over, we would
have had the infrastructure in place from the beginning.
Similarly, one of the pieces of repeated feedback we are getting from our core partners is to make sure we don’t let our ideas be
limited or made small. We have a window of opportunity here, with the level of community support and investment behind this
work. Let’s not waste this by going small. As one of our partners mentioned, “If you only swing when you know you’ll get a hit,
you’ll never hit a homerun. Try for the homerun.” This remains something that we are reminding ourselves every day.

One last thought

Simply stated, we cannot thank the Bush Foundation enough for your support of this project. You took a risk on an initiative that
was still in its infancy and made a significant commitment to it. This commitment turned into a catalyst to make so many of the
successes that have subsequently come about possible. Also, being recognized as a Bush Community Innovation Grantee has
been a source of tremendous pride for the Northfield Promise partners; it has represented a seal of approval of the work we are
doing here and the collective approach we are taking. This has unquestionably led to additional partners becoming involved in
this work and resources being committed. Thank you for believing in this – and for your commitment to new and different ideas!