Ramsey County

Report date
August 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Collaboration has been instrumental to our progress this year. We have had a really solid, consistent team, which has enabled us to stay on the same page as we advance. It has really felt like we are all working together to achieve the same goals. In addition, because of our close working relationships, each of us has pulled our own weight on the team, despite each of us having busy, full-time jobs.
Our community engagement strategy has also been integral to our success. One of the decisions we made early on was to transition from our proposed traditional engagement framework, consisting of community meetings and focus groups, to a more integrated model facilitated by Marnita’s Table called Intentional Social Interaction, or ISI. ISI is a model of engagement across race, class, and culture that is designed to be inclusive by ensuring each conversation includes at least 51% people of color and 1/3 youth under age 24. By embracing this inclusive approach, we have not only been able to achieve authentic input from a wide variety of stakeholders, but the stakeholders have had an opportunity to genuinely engage with each other and learn from each other’s perspectives. This has not only helped us generate ideas to consider as we move forward, but it has helped people feel valued and heard and helped advance the system change we’re seeking by helping system professionals gain additional perspective as to how end users experience our systems.

Key lessons learned

We have learned multiple lessons in our work to-date around community engagement. The first is that community engagement is just plain hard. It’s hard to engage people in projects at the right level and in the right way. Timing matters. If you engage too early before enough decisions have been made, people ask questions that the decision-makers haven’t decided yet; if you engage too late, people feel that everything has already been decided and their input won’t be valuable. The approach matters. The challenge is not to provide too much guidance so as to predetermine the outcome, but enough to get concrete, meaningful input. With our project, everyone generally agrees that the status quo isn’t acceptable and change needs to happen, but the very important question that lacks consensus is, how?

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

As described above, our ability to effectively collaborate has been integral to our progress thus far. Our core leadership team is comprised of high level leaders from each organization who have the decision-making ability, access, and influence to either make decisions themselves in short order and/or get answers to questions and decisions made quickly by system leaders, which has prevented us from getting held up as issues have arisen. Our close working relationships have made for a cohesive team, which has enabled the project to continue moving forward.

If you could do it all over again...

Our best piece of advice would be that this work is hard and will take longer than anticipated. We have not had the benefit of having any dedicated staff, so although having a core leadership team comprised of high level staff is helpful, it also means that we all have busy, demanding jobs and multiple competing priorities. Also, the work has evolved over the course of the year and new opportunities have arisen, which are beneficial to the work, but require flexibility and adjustments to our preconceived work plan. The Bush Foundation’s flexibility in enabling us to make these changes throughout our project has been critical to our ability to leverage this opportunity to gain others. Thank you.