Take advantage of outside technical advisors to work through problems, improve communication, and build capacity. For instance, CivicLab, an institute based in Columbus, Indiana, has helped many talent-focused cities navigate the process of stakeholder engagement and collaborative improvement. With maps and workshops and other supports, the facilitators help participants to see the ways that parts of their systems interact. In the process, many communities learn that they are “program-rich and systems-poor.” They think they’ve been solving problems when they are really just working around them. Here are some ways that communities are building capacity and sharing ideas and expertise:
- They have regular learning labs and communities of practice. For instance, when St. Louis held its racial equity institute, it learned much from the experiences of Elkhart. Goshen College, in particular, shared valuable insights on how to engage communities that are rapidly changing demographically and how to change campus culture and programming to meet the needs of new student populations.
- Fresno has taken advantage of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, a leader in developing math pathways to improve postsecondary success. A workshop brought together over 150 community college and California State University English and math faculty, administrators, institutional researchers, and counselors, launching further efforts to help area institutions comply with new California laws for reforming remedial education.
- The Michigan College Action Network worked with Las Vegas to smooth a significant organizational transition at their backbone organization, the United Way of Southern Nevada. It provided technical support to new leadership at the United Way and met with several partner organizations.
- In New York, CUNY has worked with Education Design Lab, an organization that brings together industry, educators, and non-profits to design new models for higher education, to develop several student personas to help them plan reforms. CUNY has also benefited from the assistance of Complete College America on ways to build momentum, as well as from CivicLab on system-building.
- In Albuquerque, Graduate ABQ is using the Project Echo model to disseminate best practices and create a cohort of practitioners throughout rural New Mexico. A free educational model, Project Echo uses interactive Zoom technology to convene partners and provide guided practice with peer-to-peer learning and collaborative problem-solving.
- Detroit leaders developed a pathway for adult learners with the help of CivicLab. And they have engaged Hattaway Communications to help them better convey to businesses their efforts to improve the skills of working adults, as well as to develop a brand, messaging, and marketing materials for the adult students. Detroit is also a provider of assistance itself: It has worked with state leaders on the governor’s “Michigan Reconnect” initiative, holding out its model as one that can be scaled, and has lent expertise to other communities and to the governor’s team. Meanwhile, partners at Wayne State University have helped more than 120 communities interested in replicating its debt forgiveness program.