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Unleashing Collaborative Action for Healthy Schools

By Amy Farley

The health of Colorado’s children earned a D+ on the Colorado Health Foundation’s 2012 Health Report Card. Approximately nine percent of kids have no form of insurance and are therefore more likely to lack coordinated medical, mental, and dental care. Only 64 percent of kids participate in physical activity four or more days a week, and 14 percent are obese.

Acknowledging these heart wrenching statistics, the Colorado Health Foundation dreams forward to making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. One of the Foundation’s key strategies for realizing this dream has been through the cultivation of healthy schools. Recognizing that many individuals and groups have similar objectives around creating healthy schools, the Foundation engaged Community Wealth Partners and key stakeholders to determine whether an opportunity existed for more intentional collaboration that would lead to greater impact.

The Foundation understood that in order to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation, those working to create healthy schools would need to develop a shared definition of success and coordinate statewide action in order to address the alarming health issues among the state’s children. Tackling such a complex issue like health requires the willingness and ability to pursue diverse strategies, spanning direct service, behavior change, systems change and beyond. No one person or organization can singlehandedly execute on the full range of required strategies; collaboration is fundamental.

At Community Wealth Partners we have seen, through our partnerships and our research on social transformation, that by aligning around a common goal and collectively focusing efforts, diverse stakeholders can:

  • maximize impact by leveraging strengths and more efficiently managing resources;
  • align strategies and reduce duplication by sharing best practices; and
  • measure social transformation with shared metrics.

The likelihood of realizing these benefits through intentional collaboration, however, depends on a number of key conditions. Consequently, we began our partnership in Colorado with a stakeholder engagement and analysis process designed to assess the feasibility of organizing the ongoing work of these stakeholders and others into a collaborative. As part of this process, we engaged over 60 diverse stakeholders in conversations to understand the conditions and opportunities within three areas:

  • Environmental Context: Analyzing the environment in which stakeholders are working (1) illuminates the potential for deeper collaboration and (2) elevates opportunities and challenges that will influence the establishment of a collaborative.
  • Vision & Strategies: Understanding stakeholders’ perspectives on their own visions for success not only reveals the amount of existing alignment among stakeholders, but also helps to create a starting point for the articulation of the bold goal and strategies for a future collaborative.
  • Stakeholder Engagement & Initiative Structure: Evaluating the quantity of existing stakeholders, existing assets that could be leveraged within a collaborative, and the level of interest among stakeholders to participate in a collaborative sheds light on short-term feasibility and long-term sustainability.
Our analysis of these conversations revealed a strong belief among stakeholders that collaboration would propel their work forward and lead to greater impact. Stakeholders are aligned around a broad vision for fostering healthier lifestyles for kids and see working with school as a critical part of the solution. In July 2013, we convened the group of stakeholders to discuss the results of the stakeholder engagement and analysis process and to consider our recommendations on how to proceed. After thoughtful debate, the group voted to move forward with launching a collaborative.
In order to capitalize on the momentum from this meeting and ensure the initiative is set up for success, Community Wealth Partners will continue to serve as a neutral facilitator for the group, helping guide the community through the beginning of the collaborative’s development.We will help the collaborative with a number of key building blocks – including establishing an intentional culture and a clear decision-making process – that can prepare the group for effective strategic planning and coordinated action. Through this process we will explore and answer the following critical questions:
  • Goal & Strategies: What is the bold goal? What are the strategies that, together, will realize the goal?
  • Leadership Sustainability: How will this work be led, and what does it mean to lead a collaborative group of stakeholders?
  • Culture & Structure: How will stakeholders work together? What are the partnership principles upon which our collaboration will be founded?
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Who needs to be engaged to realize the vision and why? How do we engage early champions and influencers?

As we support the group’s exploration of these questions, we continue to focus on (1) creating the conditions for productive conversations and strong collaboration and (2) partnering with the Foundation to determine the role(s) it should play in the interest of maximizing the results of the collaborative.

We encourage you to check back here for updates, subscribe to the Colorado Health Foundation’s Progress Report, and/or follow the Foundation on Twitter to find out how the community answers the above questions.

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About Amy Farley

In her role as senior consultant, Amy Farley leads client relationships and engagements, facilitates diverse leadership teams in bold decision making and supports their execution, and contributes to overall strategic firm initiatives. Amy has a unique blend of business, nonprofit, and foundation experience, with a proven record of leading cross-functional teams and driving creative solutions that have delivered increased revenue and growth. See Amy's full bio

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