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Celebrating Success Loudly

Recently, I was talking with members of a Collective Impact steering committee. FSG has been involved with the effort—helping to facilitate and guide the work—for just about a year. Many of the steering committee members have been around the table for this initiative for over a year, and many have been working on this particular issue for their entire professional lives.

It’s a sticky issue, and these folks are aiming head-on with a big, hairy, audacious goal. They know it will take time, and that systemic change doesn’t happen overnight. But how do you maintain enthusiasm for a 3, 5, 10, 15-year effort? How do you ensure folks don’t just give up under the sheer weight of the social change “lift"?

In efforts FSG has advised and studied, we’ve found that identifying the “low-hanging fruit” and celebrating small successes along the way can be critical to sustaining stakeholder engagement and commitment. As Blair Taylor, from Collective Impact effort Memphis Fast Forward explains, “You keep everyone at the table by having high profile leadership, willing and keeping them there, but also making sure that you are celebrating successes so that’s its viewed as  successful effort. Really making the time to celebrate the process of activity. And doing it loudly, and giving people credit and celebrating.“

  • For example, the Community Center for Education Results Road Map Project, which aims to  double the number of students in South King County and South Seattle who are on track to graduate from college or earn a career credential by 2020, championed a major success last year with its College Bound Scholarship sign-up campaign (a statewide scholarship for low-income students across the state who graduate with a 2.0 or higher and no felonies). With participation from district and school coordinators in each of the seven Road Map districts and leadership from the College Success Foundation and CCER (who sent out regular emails to district superintendents showing their progress toward enrolling all eligible students), 93% of eligible students signed up, an increase from 74% in 2010. Another such success comes with use of the WaKIDS (Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills) kindergarten readiness assessment on the rise. This new kindergarten readiness tool helps kindergarten teachers know where their students are at when they come into kindergarten and also enables connections to early learning providers.  WaKIDS was rolled out on a pilot basis in the 2010-11 school year, and in the 2011-12 school year districts could volunteer to participate. Road Map schools participating account for a significant percentage of participating classrooms statewide.

So what? These successes along the way allow stakeholders—both those deeply involved with the effort and those in the community viewing the effort from the “outside”—to see real, tangible progress being made along the way.

The Aspen Institute’s Voices from the Field III: Lessons and Challenges from Two Decades of Community Change Efforts, a fabulous resource, explains:

  • "Current efforts have a shorter planning cycle and move more fluidly, and organically, between planning and acting. For example, they might embark on some early “quick wins” to gain traction and momentum, even as they build strategies for broader institutional and policy reform. One of the earliest leaders in the… field advocated for “planning while doing” and insisted that planning stood hand in hand with action—never alone."

Indeed, by building in some quick wins, those in it for the long haul can “provide credibility and legitimacy and build momentum while also producing valuable results.”

How have you seen long-term systems change efforts maintain momentum over time?

Emily Malenfant

Former Chief Administrative Officer, FSG