September SparkNews: 
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Spark News

This Month’s Focus: Better, Together

Like a good book and a rainy day, cookies and milk, road trips and your best playlist, some things are just better together. Why? Because they are able to bring out the best in their partners. It’s often the same in systems change work: when we strategically partner with each other, the whole is better than the sum of its parts because of the synergy created from the collaboration.

This is not to say good collaborations just happen. As anybody who is in a relationship can tell you, they take work and commitment; sometimes they take compromises; and almost always they take introspection and honest assessments. This month, we’re taking a look at how to do just that. We’re featuring blogs and actionable tools around strengthening collaborative efforts, as well as taking a look at what collaboration and collective impact really mean in practice, in an effort to help us get to better, together.

Spark Policy Institute develops innovative, research-based approaches to help clients solve complex societal problems that defy easy solutions.

Tools for Social Innovators

Although we haven’t solved all of society’s complex issues, we are working toward this goal by supporting incremental change. Recognizing that we are all in this together, we’ve collected a lot of lessons and developed a lot of tools over the years, which we have compiled in our Tools for Social Innovators series. We’re highlighting a few here that are designed to drive systemic change while keeping a focus on equity and inclusion of those most affected by the change.

  • The Strategic Backbone Toolkit focuses on the critical, strategic roles and actions a backbone organization – whether part of a collective impact initiative or other collaborative structure – can take to elevate the initiative’s overall work and impact. This toolkit it is a next-level guide for backbones that want to be more than a basic supporting infrastructure, or that are going from managing to directing a complex initiative.
  • Tools for Complex Decision-Making provides information on how to structure a multi-stakeholder decision-making process amid complexity and in high stakes environments. The toolkit can help you think about when to use facilitated processes vs. negotiation or mediation, how to select the right decision rules and participants, and even when and how to bring new information into the dialogue to get to better quality decisions.
Along these lines, we recognize the great work you as our partners are doing and contributing to these fields and encourage you to contribute a tool, resource, or case study.

Join the conversation: What do you think is better, together? Tell us using #SparkTogether!

Blog: Evaluators’ Varied Roles in Collective Impact

By Jewlya Lynn, PhD
Although collective impact (CI) is just one path out of many, it is clear the framework has taken hold as a means to tackle complex problems through a systemic lens. By their nature, however, CI initiatives are complex and emergent. One thing we have come to realize in our work with CI initiatives is that as varied and complex as these types of initiatives are, so are the roles of their evaluators. This blog looks at some of those roles and offers a preview of our presentation at the upcoming American Evaluation Association’s annual meeting this October.
Blog: Setting the Stage for Collaborative Initiatives in Rural Kenya

We all do better when we work together. This is particularly true in the social justice world, in which systems change and collaboration are intricately and inextricably linked: systems change cannot happen without key players, systems, and sectors joining together to accomplish a common goal. Recently, one of our team members dove deep into a systems change process to that laid the
groundwork for supporting collaborative initiatives in Kenya to address challenges in family planning.

In the spirit of self-reflection, we’d like to hear from you about what’s working and what’s not working in our newsletter. Is there content you would like to see in the newsletter? Any topics you can’t get enough of? Let us know – send an email to

ICYMI: Leaving the Abstract Behind: What Collective Impact Really Means

From reducing infant mortality to addressing climate change, Collective Impact work seems to be everywhere these days.  At Spark, we’ve been excited to get involved with Collective Impact efforts at all levels, from facilitating the planning process to being the backbone to providing evaluation support early in initiatives and in the later years as well. But, Collective Impact can feel pretty abstract until you’re in the thick of it. Moving from that abstract, this blog takes looks at the concrete elements that are necessary for success in any Collective Impact enterprise.

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.

This month, we’re looking at you! Voting is one of the most fundamental ways we can affect change, from the local level all the way up to the presidential level. Yet, fewer than two-thirds of eligible voters exercise that right, and that’s in presidential election years. Turnout for midterms is even lower; just 40% of the voting public showed up to the polls in 2014.

This year, we’re asking you, our partners, to get out there and vote, starting by getting registered. And don’t just vote for president: votes for local offices and state representatives are equally as important as those for national offices. Similarly, ballot and bond initiatives are a chance to help shape the direction of your city, county, and state. So go exercise your voice and vote!

  • Not registered? The U.S. Vote Foundation has voter registration information and deadlines for all 50 states.
  • Curious to know what initiatives will be on the ballot in your state? Ballotpedia has a roundup, as well as a summary of how they got there for both state and local elections.


Learn more at Spark Policy or find us on Twitter: @SparkPolicy.  Have a great day!
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