Working Through the Community
Rebels that we are, the responses in this email do not necessarily correspond to each of the points made in Kit's most recent emails to the Community Capacity sub-group. There are several points we would like to address while offering some specific ideas that are built around lessons learned over the past several years of our work in locales across the country.
We have recently been through a strategic planning process that allowed us to critically review our work and strategies related to youth development. Out of that planning process and in response to a variety of school reform and afterschool initiatives that our Center is engaged with, we arrived at several assumptions:
1. Talking about collaboration and shared "whatever" is an oxymoron for American society. Bottom line, this country is about capitalism and outside of work associated with poor folks, there is little to no push or mandate for collaborative ventures in middle and upper class neighborhoods.
2. There are highly individualistic civic and cultural histories that dictate the direction of local systems change. While there are elements/principles/characteristics of change processes that can be replicated, the precise types and categories of critical players can vary by locale.
3. While we must continue to spend time on changing or inventing new systems, in the short term we must focus on the functions that can impact the way current systems work.
It is not that the Center or any of its staff are non-idealistic. To the contrary, the range of staff either actively participated in the sixties/seventies political upheavals or are living examples of how 20-30 year olds are blending political reform into their daily lives at work and home. It is clear, though, from our work (and lessons from the work of other national and local groups) that we must face reality and de-romanticize the notion that leadership and power to change what we know needs changing, will come from "the people". Yes, some things will change from that paradigm but, most likely, individual humans change or community changes just around the edges; not the type of change that makes a critical and sustained impact on all families and youth.
What will help ensure critical and sustainable change or reform? If there was a magic answer, we would have hopefully packaged it and sold it to lots of wealthy funders and government leaders. There are some pieces of the puzzle that have been described in this listserv that we can comment on and one idea (at the end) that we are now putting some finishing touches on.
Over the past several years, the Center has come to know a growing number of local organizations that define themselves as Local Capacity Building Intermediaries (CBIs). In our world, their work evolves out of the principles and practices of the youth development framework. Locales may also have other forms of CBIs in the community development, economic development and education and social service arenas. These CBIs create neutral tables that bring the public, private and non-profit sectors together in an attempt to re-shape policies, practices and programs. A report that we published entitled, "Building Local Infrastructure for Youth Development: The Added Value of Capacity Building Intermediaries", describes six critical roles and four strategies that these organizations carry out:
Six critical roles:
1. Defining and describing youth development for multiple stakeholders
2. promoting broad-based support
3. coordinating efforts and developing learning communities
4. developing and increasing access to resources
5. helping constituents to increase accountability and demonstrate impacts
6. advocacy and building the field of youth work
Four specific strategies:
1. Networking and convening stakeholders
2. information and data collection, analysis, and dissemination
3. providing frameworks and blueprints for youth development
4. training, technical assistance and consultation.
In each of the ten cases the Center documented, these CBIs were (and are) demonstrating that sectors can come together in support of shared goals. They can stay together IF there is sufficient staff support (that means sufficient funding for the CBI) to keep people informed, to ensure meaningful involvement and to keep all participants constantly aware of what THEY and their organizations or constituencies are gaining from coming to the table.
When it comes to the issues of technology, it seems like an ad-hoc table needs to be built that includes the youth development CBIs along with like-organizations from community development, economic development, etc. Together, they, and their representative constituencies, might be a critical leadership linchpin in the technology arena.
As part of a larger proposal currently being shared by the Center with prospective funders, we have begun a new Information Infrastructure that needs to be developed locally with state and national linkages. Local InfoTech Centers would be the on-the-ground embodiment of this strategy.
Local Info Tech Centers would:
A. Document and make the following information easily accessible:
1) what we now spend on young people in and out of school, and where we spend it.
2) what programs, individuals, and opportunities all youth need 24/7 to reach their full capabilities. What this costs and which youth are receiving it now?
B. Create and house data based on individual youth that provide youth and their families with health, educational and social data. This information could be accessed and updated by the individual, the parent(s), and approved individuals. All access would have protocols and checks and balances that would safeguard privacy, but not hinder targeted access. [The Center recognizes many of the privacy implications of such a database which requires more dialogue and analysis.]
C. Through local application of the GIS software, communities could know where all current programs and usable space for youth exist.
D. A compliment to this information base could be an expanded indicators list that tracks community support for youth (further described in a proposal developed by the Center in partnership with the National League of Cities and the Council of Chief State School Officers).
As we mentioned earlier, our thinking and writing about this Info Tech Center is currently being fine-tuned. Attached is a working draft of a picture of the InfoTech Center. We are happy to share this initial thinking with the smaller list serve but would like to have some further conversation before putting it out to the larger group.
Another baseline assumption in this work is that government has got to be a strategic partner in all of this work. At the local, state, regional and national level, government is already collecting data that impacts directly on funding and policy priorities. Somehow, we have got to figure out ways to bring government into the dialogue and find some added-value for them in building capacity, expanding data elements and creating technology linkages for all citizens.
Re: Kit's questions about planning approaches and what has been effective...a lot can be learned from reviewing a document published by the Casey Foundation entitled, "The Eye of the Storm: Ten Years on the Front Lines of New Futures." This interview with Otis Johnson of Savannah and Don Carry of Little Rock provides some key insights into the traps of planned change. Most importantly, from Otis, Don and many other community leaders across the country, the issue of leadership is key. There are not a lot of good examples to share of dynamic and risk-taking leadership that has resulted in sustainable change. It probably takes two to three generations of such leaders (or grouping of leaders) over a period of ten to fifteen years, that will result in measurable change. Some of our time and effort must be directed towards the creation of support systems to maintain and sustain such types of leaders as the change process unfolds.
Hope some of this advances the dialogue.