Across the country, communities are using cross-sector partnerships to address many persistent, historical, and systemic challenges, such as inequities in health and education outcomes.
Mobilization – energizing stakeholders to address these issues in partnership with one another – is a key factor in successfully improving community outcomes. When leaders from different sectors in a community are mobilized, they step up and into roles that, in the past, seemed outside their areas of interest, responsibility, or scope.
The power of mobilization is perhaps most evident in how partners formulate and implement new policies and practices – essential elements for creating sustained and equitable systems change. Successful mobilization serves as both a critical foundation and ongoing lever for developing effective policies and practices.
Mobilizing communities for high impact change can be daunting for those committed to and leading systems change work. In this Q-List, we offer five critical questions to help leaders of this work mobilize their communities and improve how they make policy and practice changes.
Mobilization in the Context of Talent Hubs
Mobilization is critical to Lumina Foundation’s Talent Hubs. The Talent Hubs designation, which Lumina awards with support from The Kresge Foundation, indicates a community has shown the capacity and ability to significantly increase the numbers of residents with college degrees, certificates, or other credentials beyond a high school diploma. Currently, 24 U.S. communities have earned this designation for their efforts to ensure residents of all backgrounds—particularly those historically and persistently underserved by local systems and institutions—receive an education beyond high school. Business, civic, and education leaders are collectively working to prepare people for informed citizenship and success in a global economy. Equal Measure and DVP-Praxis are the learning and evaluation team for Talent Hubs.
Mobilizing higher education, nonprofit, government, and private sector partners is a necessary strategy to build, implement, and sustain efforts around postsecondary education attainment at scale. Talent Hubs are learning that mobilization helps partners make more thoughtful, relevant, and impactful changes to policies and practices.
Talent Hub communities have found success by focusing on two elements of mobilization efforts:
- Partnership Health (a term originated through the work of ), where partners collaborate to hold stakeholders responsible for improved postsecondary attainment, talent cultivation, and economic prosperity.
- Alignment, where partners align local efforts and resources to co-develop shared agendas for educational attainment, talent cultivation, and economic prosperity.
1. How can we make the case for mobilization within and across sectors in our community?
While increasing postsecondary attainment appeals to many potential partners, stakeholders, and funders, these actors have many demands on their time and resources. Collaborative Leaders must make the case that attainment is aligned with their goals and interests—business cultivation and retention, regional competitiveness, economic development, and quality of life. We suggest some ways to make the case to prospective partners:
- Engage partners with data that illustrate the community’s racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities—which often serve as barriers to students completing credentials and degrees. Overcoming those barriers often requires a cross-sector approach, and relies on changing systems outside (e.g., transit routes to campus, availability of affordable housing, access to supermarkets) and inside (e.g., degree reclamation policies) higher education.
- Understand potential partners’ existing priorities, resources, and assets. They may not immediately see their role in postsecondary attainment efforts; help them recognize how their organizational or professional goals can be met through this work.
2. How will we keep new partners involved?
As new partners begin to buy in to the need for postsecondary attainment efforts, there are ways Collaborative Leaders can attend to partnership health and help new partners envision and embody roles they can play—roles that leverage their existing interests, expertise, resources, and connections. The following strategies help new partners stay engaged and motivated:
- Create a unified identity by setting a vision and developing a shared agenda for postsecondary attainment for the region. Communicate the role these partners play in the effort and emphasize how this work contributes to other talent, economic, and social agendas in the region.
- Keep the partnership manageable. While gathering a broad group of partners can feel energizing, a smaller set of dedicated partners is a more manageable approach early on. As capacity increases and responsibilities formalize across partners, Collaborative Leaders are better positioned to engage additional partners that align with emerging issues and strategies.
- Help partners collect and analyze data in ways that work best for them. Collaborative Leaders can act as “aggregators” of partners’ data regardless of the current platforms each uses. Visualizing collective data is a powerful way to keep partners engaged; for example, Collaborative Leaders can illustrate what is distinct and redundant across partners, including partnerships with industry, credential programs offered, or services offered to adult students.
3. How will we find the right partners to launch the effort?
Postsecondary attainment collaborations start strong when there are a few short-term, relatively easy goals to meet, combined with partners who bring a positive attitude and learning orientation. Early successes around small goals improve partnership health by offering partners opportunities to practice working together. They may begin with a pilot or small project; these projects, in turn, generate new information and insights, lessons about how not to do things, and a path to continuing or scaling collective work. To identify partners who are poised to work toward small wins, look for partners who:
- Have resources and decision-making power in their organizations to introduce and test new ideas.
- Demonstrate a learner mindset that values engaging in inquiry, testing assumptions, and gathering evidence so partners understand how a pilot or small project was implemented and what led to its successes and failures.
- Embody creativity, so that missteps, failures, and risks generate new energy and interest in “figuring it out better” in the next iteration.
4. How will we ensure our goals are relevant?
To successfully mobilize, Collaborative Leaders need to account for the postsecondary attainment efforts already underway in their community. Institutions of higher education, PreK-12 school systems, local and state governments, philanthropies, and nonprofit and grassroots organizations already participate in other collaboratives—most likely a number of them. By understanding the landscape, Collaborative Leaders can better message, build new relationships, and create calls for action that resonate broadly. In a sea of ongoing work, keeping postsecondary attainment goals visible and aligned will advance mobilization. Collaborative Leaders often keep their work aligned with other agendas in the region by:
- Facilitating discussions about collaboratives that new partners are involved with that parallel or share common aims with the postsecondary attainment effort; these conversations can help inform and align agendas—and identify opportunities to share resources and data to advance mutual goals.
- Contributing to the working groups and steering committees of other regional collaboratives; at the same time, Collaborative Leaders invite those from other collaboratives to the postsecondary attainment partnership.
- Joining forces with state-level stakeholders to align with broader goals around education, workforce, and economic interests; visibility at the state level can attract new resources and position the community to serve as a model for postsecondary, cross-sector work in communities throughout the state.
5. How can we mobilize to reach our long-term goals?
As community partnerships strengthen and align with other regional agendas, mobilization serves as an enduring lever for systemic and sustainable change. For Talent Hubs, mobilized partners are better positioned to identify and shift existing policies and practices that will impact residents earning credentials and degrees after high school. Collaboration Leaders use the energy of mobilization to engage partners in three important ways:
- Scaling: Creating conditions for partners to replicate successful pilots and practices that are underway among individual organizations or small groups of partners.
- Equity: In considering new policies and practices, continually interpreting data, student experiences, and outcomes in ways that reflect on historic and structural barriers, particularly for those persistently underserved by local systems and institutions.
- Sustainability: Leveraging existing and new resources among partners to ensure new policies and practices remain continuous, institutionalized, and properly resourced.
So, how will your community mobilize?
Mobilizing education, nonprofit, government, and private sector partners is a key strategy to build, implement, and sustain systems that improve postsecondary attainment. Talent Hub communities focus on the early mobilization of partners and on maintaining these efforts throughout their work. While difficult, messy, and often overlooked, mobilization efforts deserve ample time and attention.
Answering these questions is an important starting place. How will your community mobilize?
Take a moment, consider how these five questions apply to your own work, and share how you’re thinking about—or already undertaking—mobilizing your community. You can share comments with us in this LinkedIn post.
This Q-List was authored by
Victoria Worthen, Consultant, Equal Measure (with Kim Glassman, Director, Equal Measure)
Drew Curtis, Consultant, DVP-PRAXIS LTD