What We Learned From Making Connections

Posted December 28, 2013
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog whatwelearnedfrommakingconnections 2013

Mak­ing Con­nec­tions was an ambi­tious com­mu­ni­ty change ini­tia­tive launched in 1999, build­ing on pre­vi­ous Casey efforts in the com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment field.

For more than a decade, we aimed to improve the lives of chil­dren and their fam­i­lies in dis­in­vest­ed com­mu­ni­ties through­out the coun­try by tak­ing a com­pre­hen­sive approach to com­mu­ni­ty change that empha­sized strength­en­ing fam­i­lies. Our basic premise: Kids do well when their fam­i­lies do well, and fam­i­lies do bet­ter when they live in sup­port­ive communities.

We put this con­cept into action by cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for fam­i­lies in select­ed neigh­bor­hoods — that is, by pro­mot­ing eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty for par­ents through train­ing and jobs while at the same time ensur­ing chil­dren get a good start in life, suc­ceed in the ear­ly grades of school and are read­ing pro­fi­cient­ly by the end of third grade.

Anoth­er key com­po­nent of the ini­tia­tive — con­sid­ered essen­tial to achiev­ing and sus­tain­ing improved out­comes for chil­dren, fam­i­lies and their com­mu­ni­ties — was giv­ing res­i­dents a voice and mean­ing­ful role in shap­ing solu­tions to local chal­lenges and con­nect­ing them to each oth­er and need­ed resources.

Mak­ing Con­nec­tions began with 22 sites, even­tu­al­ly set­tling on 10 for full par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ini­tia­tive: Den­ver; Des Moines, Iowa; Hart­ford, Conn.; Indi­anapo­lis; Louisville, Ky.; Mil­wau­kee; Oak­land, Calif.; Prov­i­dence, R.I.; San Anto­nio and Seattle/​White Cen­ter. Our decade of expe­ri­ences in these sites taught us a num­ber of lessons that con­tin­ue to inform and dri­ve our com­mu­ni­ty change work today:

Focus on two-gen­er­a­tion, place-based com­mu­ni­ty change. Pro­vid­ing a cus­tomized and inte­grat­ed set of ser­vices for chil­dren and their par­ents at the same time is more like­ly to help fam­i­lies suc­ceed, and engag­ing fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties in deter­min­ing the most help­ful resources and ser­vices is key.

Rec­og­nize the spe­cif­ic chal­lenges fac­ing each com­mu­ni­ty, such as hous­ing mobil­i­ty. Addi­tion­al, unex­pect­ed fac­tors in each com­mu­ni­ty, as well as the Great Reces­sion, chal­lenged our assump­tions and pri­or­i­ties and pre­sent­ed obsta­cles to improv­ing edu­ca­tion­al and eco­nom­ic outcomes.

Under­stand the com­plex­i­ty of man­ag­ing and mea­sur­ing com­mu­ni­ty change. Mak­ing Con­nec­tions high­light­ed the impor­tance of defin­ing long-term results, build­ing nec­es­sary skills and resources among staff and estab­lish­ing bet­ter data-col­lec­tion require­ments from the outset.

Pro­mote res­i­dent and par­ent engage­ment. The voic­es of these stake­hold­ers are essen­tial to achiev­ing and sus­tain­ing change in sys­tems and prac­tices, keep­ing the process and invest­ments account­able for achiev­ing con­crete results. Their involve­ment in deci­sion mak­ing is cru­cial to success.

Devel­op effec­tive ways to har­ness and learn from data. Data-dri­ven deci­sion mak­ing is crit­i­cal, and high-qual­i­ty data should guide and inform pro­gram­ming and pol­i­cy work. Inte­grat­ed data sys­tems that bring togeth­er infor­ma­tion from the var­i­ous agen­cies and orga­ni­za­tions serv­ing chil­dren and their fam­i­lies allow for a more com­pre­hen­sive view that can help inform com­mu­ni­ty change strategies.

Set real­is­tic goals for com­mu­ni­ty change. Com­mu­ni­ty change efforts should define suc­cess with a more spe­cif­ic focus, such as strength­en­ing com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment or con­nect­ing pub­lic sys­tems; a more tar­get­ed, sus­tain­able approach can grad­u­al­ly lead to broad­er change over time.

We are active­ly apply­ing what we learned from Mak­ing Con­nec­tions through our Fam­i­ly-Cen­tered Com­mu­ni­ty Change strat­e­gy, as well as our civic sites in Atlanta and Baltimore.

Dis­cov­er More About Mak­ing Connections

Lessons Learned From Mak­ing Connections

Meet­ing the Hous­ing Needs of Fam­i­lies: A Resource Guide

Beyond the Bound­aries: Low-Income Res­i­dents, Faith-Based Orga­ni­za­tions and Neigh­bor­hood Coali­tion Building

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