THE ALLIANCE STRUCTURE IN A COLLECTIVE IMPACT FRAMEWORK
The Alliance’s advocacy functions are aligned with the components of Collective Impact (CI), an organizational framework that helps multi-sector stakeholders collaborate both more often and more effectively to solve complex social problems.
The Collective Impact concept was first developed in 2011 and has since been adopted around the world to help communities make progress on long-term and complex policy challenges.
For example, the Alliance’s Annual Membership Meetings are intentionally designed to engage members in a way that aligns with CI’s ideas about embracing a common agenda, supporting ongoing communications, and measuring impacts collectively.
There are five components to a Collective Impact framework. They are summarized briefly below, along with an explanation of how the Alliance’s work incorporates these concepts.
- Common Agenda
- Backbone Support
- Continuous Communications
- Mutually Reinforcing Activities
- Shared Measurement
COLLECTIVE IMPACT COMPONENT #1: COMMON AGENDA
The Alliance publishes a Legislative Agenda each year as a Common Agenda shared by the state’s broad early childhood advocacy community. This document focuses on specific requests for policy change or investment within an annual legislative or administrative policymaking cycle.
The process used to create the Agenda is open and inclusive. Any organization is invited to propose an issue within the Alliance’s mission for consideration. The Steering Committee uses consensus decision-making in selecting the final issues and annually affirms the coming year’s Agenda. The proposing organization(s) for each issue on the Agenda then become(s) a “lead” or “leads,” meaning they are expected to provide expertise as well as drive legislative and organizing strategy.
State legislators have seen the value in the Alliance’s collective Agenda-setting process, with Representative Brumsted noting that the Alliance, “puts your legislative goals through a rigorous process so that the final Agenda is something that we can trust has been fully vetted by all of you. I sincerely thank you for that hard work.”
Lead organizations also benefit from the Alliance process. Former VFN CEO Pam McCarthy stated, “The process helped us define and refine what the [Legislative] ask would be and what data was needed to support it. Being part of an agenda that allowed for collaboration and participation – rather than competition for resources – really helped us.”
COLLECTIVE IMPACT COMPONENT #2: BACKBONE SUPPORT
The Alliance serves as a Backbone Organization in the collective work of advancing an annual early childhood legislative agenda. The Alliance staff work closely with the coalition’s leadership, which include Steering Committee members and Lead Organization representatives, on managing the organizational infrastructure that enables effective, collaborative early childhood advocacy.
The Alliance acts as a neutral convener for the advocacy community, supporting all Agenda issues and providing staff expertise and support to align and coordinate activities throughout the coalition. Through our support of the entire Legislative Agenda, we help ensure that many issues are heard and there is space for more voices in discussions in the State House.
Specific processes throughout the year, such as the Agenda-setting process, and evaluation mechanisms, such as the Annual Membership Meeting, annually affirm the Alliance’s neutral convener role for Vermont’s early childhood advocacy efforts.
Michelle Fay, Executive Director of Voices for Vermont’s Children, has observed, “The Alliance is really helpful at informing conversations about why all these things are needed without pushing one single issue.”
COLLECTIVE IMPACT COMPONENT #3: CONTINUOUS COMMUNICATIONS
The Alliance communicates with our membership throughout the year to inform and engage individual advocates on issues and ways to get involved in early childhood advocacy, as well as encourage organizations to collaborate and coordinate efforts.
The Alliance staff manage several communications tools for the general membership, including weekly newsletters, issue conference calls, periodic legislative updates, and advocacy trainings.
The Alliance also has strategically built a system to support communications between the Agenda’s lead organizations during the legislative session. These weekly meetings are critical to building trust, strengthening relationships, and encouraging collaboration among the leading organizations in the state’s early childhood advocacy community.
In addition to sharing information about issues and the legislative process, continuous communication also involves built-in feedback cycles between staff, members, partners, and funders to ensure a healthy and learning coalition. Constant discussions lead to new ways to enhance our collaborations and build on our successes.
Faye Mack, Advocacy and Education Director for Hunger Free Vermont, noted that, “The in-depth issue emails were useful to understand issues I don’t know much about. I save those emails and go back to them, because I really appreciate the different levels of detail and depth to understand the issues at whatever level is appropriate to us.”
COLLECTIVE IMPACT COMPONENT #4: MUTUALLY REINFORCING ACTIVITIES
The Alliance supports member coordination year-round, and especially at key times during the legislative process. We also support individuals and organizations working in their areas of expertise, lending their unique resources and perspectives. This approach reduces duplication and encourages organizations to support and leverage each other – not compete.
The Alliance’s vision of a comprehensive, continuous, integrated system of services provides a unified vision of early childhood success in Vermont. This vision integrates our members’ many different advocacy activities to maximize the collective end result – better outcomes for all Vermont’s children.
Ashley Moore, former State Director of Main Street Alliance-Vermont, stated, “We’ve been part of the Alliance since we were founded and it’s been incredible to be part of a network of people working on different priorities that overlap without being competitive.
Floyd Nease, the former Executive Director of the Lamoille Family Center, observed, “I really appreciate the way the lead organizations work together, it’s a three-dimensional approach to the challenges that we face. Working together in the State House is really powerful.”
COLLECTIVE IMPACT COMPONENT #5: SHARED MEASUREMENT
The Alliance cultivates shared measurement approaches that strengthen the case for investment in critical early childhood programs and services. The Alliance staff, lead organizations, and members work together to identify specific data points to tell compelling advocacy stories that can be used to craft talking points and testimony.
Alliance staff have also used a variety of measuring tools to evaluate our work and provide feedback to our members on their work as lead organizations. In this way we support a key CI value in allowing for continuous learning as well as collective accountability.
The Alliance supports organizations that source data that supports advocacy, such as Building Bright Futures’ Early Childhood Data and Policy Center and Voices for Vermont’s Children’s “KIDS COUNT” Data Book.