Building Strong Local Partnerships: 5 Lessons From Family-Centered Community Change

Posted March 2, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Mother with young child

New research from the Urban Insti­tute exam­ines the piv­otal role of part­ner­ships in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s sev­en-year Fam­i­ly-Cen­tered Com­mu­ni­ty Change™ (FCCC) effort.

The study focus­es on three com­mu­ni­ties — in Buf­fa­lo, New York; Colum­bus, Ohio; and San Anto­nio, Texas — that embraced a two-gen­er­a­tion approach to help care­givers and chil­dren suc­ceed together.

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Each com­mu­ni­ty lever­aged local part­ner­ships to pro­vide edu­ca­tion and ear­ly care for chil­dren and job train­ing as well as finan­cial and employ­ment ser­vices for adults. All three sites also iden­ti­fied a lead orga­ni­za­tion to over­see this work and uti­lized feed­back mech­a­nisms to eval­u­ate and plan their progress.

Yet, the efforts were far from iden­ti­cal, accord­ing to Devel­op­ing Place-Based Two-Gen­er­a­tion Part­ner­ships. The report notes that each com­mu­ni­ty adopt­ed a unique part­ner­ship mod­el — relin­quish­ing dif­fer­ent lev­els of con­trol to their lead orga­ni­za­tion and enlist­ing dif­fer­ent par­ties to raise funds for the joint effort.

The report also iden­ti­fies five key tips for cul­ti­vat­ing strong and suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships in two-gen­er­a­tion work. These tips — informed by feed­back from pro­gram staff, par­tic­i­pants and local res­i­dents at each site — are:

  1. Make fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners a pri­or­i­ty from start to fin­ish. Though FCCC is a fam­i­ly-cen­tered ini­tia­tive, all three com­mu­ni­ties failed to rec­og­nize par­tic­i­pat­ing fam­i­lies as equal part­ners. This was a missed oppor­tu­ni­ty, accord­ing to the researchers, since res­i­dents have a direct line of sight into their own struc­tur­al bar­ri­ers to suc­cess. To fix this, com­mu­ni­ties should strate­gi­cal­ly and for­mal­ly involve fam­i­lies as part­ners from the get-go. This change would enable com­mu­ni­ties to both spot prob­lems faster and devel­op stronger solu­tions earlier.
  2. Fos­ter a cul­ture that pro­motes part­ner­ships. Suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion requires that all part­ners share — and often sac­ri­fice — author­i­ty, ideas and tra­di­tions to bet­ter serve the over­ar­ch­ing mis­sion of the two-gen­er­a­tion approach. Cre­at­ing such a cul­ture relies on orga­ni­za­tions enter­ing these arrange­ments ready and will­ing to compromise.
  3. Invest in a shared vision and empow­er lead­ers. Strong part­ners share a com­mon vision, goal and guid­ing prin­ci­ples. When lead­er­ship demon­strates this, inspi­ra­tion trick­les down through­out the orga­ni­za­tions, cul­ti­vat­ing a stronger sense of com­mu­ni­ty and over­all con­nec­tion. While turnover and tran­si­tions did occur in FCCC, a shared vision and con­sis­tent lead­er­ship helped the teams con­nect and stay connected.
  4. Cre­ate effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion mech­a­nisms. Strong avenues for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, includ­ing clear process­es and oppor­tu­ni­ties for feed­back between staff and lead­er­ship, are essen­tial to improv­ing two-gen­er­a­tion efforts. The bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion is among part­ners, the eas­i­er it is to iden­ti­fy pro­ce­dures, poli­cies and prac­tices that work — or don’t work — across gen­er­a­tions and organizations.
  5. Build data-shar­ing capac­i­ty and infra­struc­ture ear­ly. Iden­ti­fy­ing who will over­see all data track­ing, col­lec­tion and shar­ing is crit­i­cal to the initiative’s suc­cess. This lead will coor­di­nate data efforts among part­ners with dif­fer­ent process­es, tech­nolo­gies and track­ing sys­tems and guide staff on using data to inform their work. If staff are unpre­pared or uncom­fort­able engag­ing in data process­es, the entire effort can suffer.

Kan­tahya­nee Mur­ray, a senior asso­ciate with the Casey Foundation’s Research, Eval­u­a­tion and Data team, calls these lessons par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for orga­ni­za­tions that are new to two-gen­er­a­tion work. Bring­ing ser­vices togeth­er that have tra­di­tion­al­ly been sep­a­rate to serve whole fam­i­lies requires plan­ning, coor­di­na­tion and good design from the very begin­ning,” she says. We’re hop­ing the insights from this eval­u­a­tion will help strength­en two-gen­er­a­tion approach­es in the future.”

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