THE ALLIANCE STRUCTURE IN A COLLECTIVE IMPACT FRAMEWORK
The Alliance’s advocacy functions are aligned with the components of Collective Impact, an organizational framework which we use because it helps multi-sector stakeholders to collaborate more, and more effectively, on solving 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 many long term, complex policy challenges. Learn more at https://collectiveimpactforum.org/what-collective-impact.
Alliance staff was trained on the Collective Impact framework and began integrating the components into Alliance’s functions in the fall of 2016. The Alliance’s Annual Membership Meetings are designed to engage members in our efforts to be more in alignment with Collective Impact. Discussions at these gatherings helped evaluate our annual efforts and plan for the future. See quotes in the text boxes from discussions at the Annual Meeting in May of 2018.
There are five components to a Collective Impact framework, summarized briefly below. Follow the links below or scroll down the page to see more details related to the Alliance’s work within each component.
- Common Agenda
- Backbone Support
- Continuous Communications
- Mutually Reinforcing Activities
- Shared Measurement
The Alliance publishes a Legislative Agenda each year as a common agenda shared by the early childhood community. This document focuses on specific asks for policy change or investment within an annual legislative or administrative policymaking cycle.
The process to create the Agenda is inclusive in that 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.
In 2018, the Agenda-setting process resulted in ten issues on the Legislative Agenda, with two additional issues being closely monitored and ten lead organizations.
Lead organization representative Ginger Farneau from Hunger Free Vermont (HFVT) shared how the Agenda-setting process “helped HFVT with clarity around what our [Legislative] ask was – it’s the mechanism we use to figure out our work plan and coordinate our issue working group.” Commenting on the collaborative nature of the Agenda-setting process, she said, “It was good to have a group of people to bounce ideas off of.”
Another lead organization representative, Pam McCarthy from the Vermont Family Network, agreed. “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.”
The Alliance serves as a Backbone Organization in 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 early childhood advocacy.
The Steering Committee guides a responsive and sustainable structure for coalition operations through governance decision-making and setting the annual Legislative Agenda. Lead organizations provide expertise on legislative and organizing strategy, especially during the Legislative Session. Staff gives year-round, hands-on support inside and outside the State House, from managing the coalition’s functions and funding to strategic planning on issue development and messaging, consultation on ever-changing strategy, and skill building directly with advocates. 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 role as a backbone organization for Vermont’s early childhood advocacy efforts.
Another lead organization representative, Amy Brady of Voices for Vermont’s Children, noted that Alliance staff were valuable in adding expertise and advice during the fast-paced conversations in the State House. “As a new person in the State House, it was helpful to have people there who have the history and the ability to share the nuance of how best to address this issue.”
Alliance member Nancy Bloomfield from The Family Place shared that the State House tour hosted by the Alliance through Early Childhood Day at the Legislature (ECDL) helped her feel more comfortable in her advocacy. “I attended ECDL and had my first tour of the State House,” she said. “I had been in the building before but never had a tour. Just having a chance to walk into the cafeteria or to understand that I can walk into a committee hearing at any point – and simple things like knowing that the agenda is posted outside the door – demystified the process for me. It made me much more comfortable when I returned to the State House to meet with legislators a few more times this year.”
The Alliance publishes continuous communications 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 manages several communications tools, including weekly newsletters, issue conference calls, training webinars, and a Facebook page.
In 2018, the Alliance added professional capacity to improve its communication tools to share background information, news, and calls to action on the priority issues included in the Legislative Agenda. These enhanced tools invited advocates to take action by telling them what they could do to have their voices be heard, and when. Alliance communications also provided status updates on legislative activities.
In addition to sharing information about issues and the legislative process, continuous communications 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.
Judy Pransky, an Alliance Steering Committee member and owner of Emerson Falls Playcare, said that the Alliance “lets you know what you need to do, when. Whether it’s getting on calls or getting the email briefs, it’s immensely helpful.”
Another lead organization representative, Pam McCarthy of the Vermont Family Network said, “There’s a lot to be said for having somebody physically able to communicate outside a closed circle under the Dome. We’re out in all of our jobs working, but when that communication was relayed we were able to do some things that catalyzed our work in the [Legislative] session.”
The Alliance coordinates mutually reinforcing activities year-round with an emphasis on key times during the legislative process. The coordination of differentiated, individualized activities that are aligned towards achieving the shared goal is a key feature of Collective Impact. Each individual and organization undertakes the set of activities at which it excels, therefore lending unique resources or expertise. This approach prevents duplication and allows organizations to support and leverage each other – not compete.
Most policy advocacy requires a long-term commitment. Connected activities that build over time in a coordinated, collaborative way can establish a strong foundation for when political will or opportunity is right, and change becomes possible.
Alliance strategic partner Carolyn Wesley, with Building Bright Futures (BBF), and Alliance member Erhard Mahnke, with Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC), reflected on the previous Legislative session in which they both had events scheduled for the same day at the State House. Alliance staff facilitated coordination by the two organizations together. Carolyn stated, “It was nice for the Alliance to bring us together,” sharing that VAHC is not an organization that BBF normally works with despite overlap on the issue of housing. Coordinating on that day “allowed us to connect and show how we are aligned,” said Wesley. “That’s one value of the Alliance, helping us to keep track of how we intersect and work together.”
Erhard added that it is helpful for the advocacy staff positioned in the State House daily to be better connected with advocates engaged on similar issues in communities around the state. “It gives those of us in the State House more gravitas because we’re connected with people working in the field,” he said.
The Alliance cultivates shared measurement approaches that strengthen the case for investment in a critical early childhood program and service. As one of these approaches, the Alliance uses the accepted methodology of Results Based Accountability (RBA) to convey how Vermonters are “better off” because of public funding. The Alliance staff, lead organizations, and members work together to identify specific data points to “tell a compelling advocacy story,” that can be used to craft talking points and testimony.
The Alliance supports organizations that source data, such as Building Bright Futures’ Vermont Insights website and Voices for Vermont’s Children’s “KIDS COUNT” Data Book.
Lead Organization representative Pam McCarthy of the Vermont Family Network explained how the shared measurement approach is helpful. “We were looking at trends in funding and caseloads and trying to illustrate the story very clearly, not only with data points but also with the qualitative information that tells the story.” Plus, she continued, the shared measurement approach helps each member connect to the bigger picture of early childhood: “This is all within the context of other important data points, so there is connectivity within the Legislature across the Agenda.”
Another member, Sarah Kenney with Let’s Grow Kids, agreed. “It’s helpful being able to know that I have talking points for the issues on the website, so if I need them on the fly, they have already been crafted. I really appreciate that aspect, it forces us to be more disciplined about [our own data and talking points], and we have access to everyone else’s.”