By Mary Kate Gulick, Vice President
Everyone loves a new idea. An untested innovation. Something that no one has ever done before. Really, it’s only human nature. But in the business of social change, this fixation on breaking new ground may do more harm than good. The truth is, we know what works. Tested ideas that have made a powerful impact at a local level are all around us.
So the question partners, funders and change agents should be asking themselves isn’t “What’s the next big thing?” Instead, we need to ask ourselves how to scale up the impact of what’s already working.
“You want this thing to go further, hold steadier and move faster? Don’t reinvent the wheel. ADD 3 MORE WHEELS.”
This is what Kelly Medwick, Chief of Staff at Nebraska Children, said to a roomful of program people at an organization-wide meeting. And it captures a universal truth. It is more effective to focus energy and funding on growing solutions that we know work and to experiment with new things when needed.
Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) knows it too. Their Scaling What
Works learning initiative recently generated a host of insights about how funders who want to have a real impact can help maximize what already successful programs are doing.
Scaling is not organizational growth.
At Nebraska Children, we’re focused on growing our impact, not our head count. That means building our capacity by investing in technology, critical infrastructure and new partnerships.
“We have several initiatives that substantially improve outcomes for children and familes,” said Medwick. “The goal is to double or triple or even quadruple the reach of those outcomes, while keeping organizational growth to a minimum. We need partners and savvy investors to make that happen.”
Jeffrey Bradach and Abe Grindle recently described this type “Transformative Scale” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Here’s how Nebraska Children, our partners and investors who want to impact the lives of children can scale up these positive outcomes.
1. Work within existing systems.
Where effective platforms exist to deliver services to children and families, Nebraska Children is committed to increasing quality, expanding access and supporting growth. Our Beyond School Bells initiative, for example,
works with eight city-wide afterschool programs to improve, enhance and
sustain the services they provide.
2. Recruit and coordinate others to deliver services.
Instead of developing our own programs to deliver services, we often
contract with multiple proven service providers and coordinate them into a comprehensive system. The result? Children and families can go through
any door to any provider and still gain access to a network of services to help them thrive. Our Project Everlast community systems in Omaha and Lincoln are an example of this model in action. Five years ago, Omaha service providers found themselves duplicating efforts for the same 60 foster youth. Now, the organizations in our Project Everlast system are serving more than 500. The same is true of our seven Child Well Being communities.
3. Use technology to reach a larger audience & strengthen the field.
Transformative scale requires an organization to look beyond its own programs. At Nebraska Children, we not only want to amp up the impact of our own work, but of the work others are doing on behalf of children and families. We are currently working on a data dashboard and interactive toolkit that will give Nebraska communities unprecedented access to child welfare and program outcomes data. They will also have access to the community building tools that we use to create effective collaborations and online learning opportunities to help improve their ability to do social change work.
4. Raise awareness to change policy.
Educating the public on issues like child abuse prevention, the power of
afterschool education to shut down the achievement gap, and the critical role of
early childhood education is the first— and most important step—to changing
public policy. Nebraska Children is committed to a bigger megaphone. We want everyone in the state—parents, educators and policymakers—to know how their decisions affect our state’s most vulnerable citizens. Whether this is through our work in educating home visitors, long-term support of Nebraska’s Child Abuse Prevention Councils, or ongoing awareness and education campaigns, creating understanding about the needs of children and families is critical to permanent change.
5. Invest in leadership development and collaborative relationship building.
At Nebraska Children, we say it over and over again: permanent change for children cannot happen without solid partnerships. The impacts we’ve achieved rest largely on the collaborations we’ve built over the years with service providers, policymakers and school districts. Our ability to build these collaboration depends on the quality and training of our leaders, and the time available to commit to cultivating these imperative relationships. Partnerships are not optional. Without the means to expand and steward our partner base, change for children can not happen.
NEBRASKA CHILDREN’S 2015 PRIORITIES FOR SCALE
• Continue statewide expansion of Project Everlast into more areas
• Complete the data dashboard and community toolkit to make all child
well-being efforts in the state more effective through transparent access
to data and collaboration tools
• Hire and train community consultants to expand our in-the-field
collaborative work in new Child Well Being communities
• Provide consultation on using the most current data to help them build
• Add more quality early childhood programs across the state
• Dramatically increase our education and awareness activities to create
a statewide culture that demands change for children
Put more power behind what works. Become an investor in the future of Nebraska’s children. Contact Kelly Medwick now at 402-476-9401.
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