Sometimes, it is all too easy to get caught up in the how of work that we forget the why. How do we identify the leverage points that will cause a systemic shift? How do we sustain change? These are important questions and they constitute the bulk of what we DO, but they don’t answer the WHY. Why do we engage in systems change work? At the end of the day, often the answer is: because of people. Because we want to make a meaningful difference that improves the lives of people in our communities. They are the heart of systems change, the reason behind it in the first place.
At Spark, we keep this focus by thinking through outcomes – the change we want to see in the world – and keeping these outcomes at the forefront of all of our work. For example, our work with Healthy Schools Collective Impact isn’t just to build a stronger system for school-based health and wellness in Colorado; it’s to better serve students and teachers, and to ultimately improve student outcomes. We have also developed a series of tools that help us keep this focus on people, like Tools for Engaging Nontraditional Voices and Tools for Integrating an Equity Lens, as well as other great resources including this blog and brief on how advocates can use storytelling as a powerful tool for change. In addition, this newsletter includes a great new resource from Fourth Quadrant Partners on “emergent strategy”, which hinges on the idea of expanding agency – the capacity to act – to a greater number of players in a strategy, reminding us of the value of community in a strategy and the power of incorporating multiple insights to improve our work. This reminder of why we are here also drives us to identify ways outside of work to improve our communities through volunteerism, which is highlighted in a great blog this month by Laura Trent and Alison McCarthy, two project managers at Spark.
Spark Policy Institute develops innovative, research-based approaches to help clients solve complex societal problems that defy easy solutions.
Tools for Social Innovators
When we originally envisioned the toolkits, we saw them as a collaborative, shared resource contributed to by a network of change agents who are eager to share their knowledge, experiences, and tools for social change. So, after developing 12 toolkits on a wide range of topics for our Tools for Social Innovators series, the most recent of which is Tools for Integrating and Equity Lens, we’re hitting the pause button and taking a moment to reach out to you, our partners, for contributions. If you have a resource or case study to share we encourage you to head on over to our “contribute” page where you can submit your resource for inclusion in a toolkit!
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For many Sparklers, their commitment to social change crosses between professional and personal life. For Laura Trent and Alison McCarthy, project managers at Spark, this commitment means volunteering for organizations that support survivors of interpersonal violence. This blog looks at how they are using their drive for social change to help two Denver-based organizations support women who are survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
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How many of us have worked on a project, program or initiative and thought about how great it would be to “just do it myself”? We think it will be so much simpler – that we can get it done faster, avoid dealing with those people that are never happy, and escape the organizational turf issues. While this simplicity may seem enticing, in the long run it doesn’t lead to meaningful or sustainable change. This blog post from 2012 looks at why stakeholder engagement is important, and how organizations can approach stakeholder engagement to improve outcomes.
Making a Meaningful Difference
One of our values and priorities at Spark is working closely with our partners, learning every step of the way, and achieving outcomes that make a meaningful difference. We believe in going beyond project by project work and applying the lessons we’ve learned that can help the field and others learn and grow.
April is national volunteer month, a time when we honor people who donate their time to address problems facing our communities. We usually use this space to highlight the work Sparklers do out of the office and on their own time, but many of the organizations we work with have or support a cadre of people who are dedicated to volunteerism and we want to take a moment to recognize their (unpaid) hard work and effort. Without volunteers, much of the social change we see – that we at Spark are dedicated to supporting – wouldn’t be possible, so here’s a big thank you to all the volunteers out there!
Interested in getting involved? Check out Volunteer Match, a national organization that connects volunteers and nonprofits.
This article in the most recent issue of The Foundation Review, by the folks at Fourth Quadrant Partners, makes a case for distinguishing between adaptive and emergent strategy. The article also describes how the core tools of Emergent Learning support emergent strategy by “expanding the circle of agency,” that is, growing the number of players in the field who bring their lived experiences and perspectives to bear in a making an acting on a decision, allowing a whole system to think and learn together.