By Kruse Scholar Amy Jones
I recently began a new job as an Evaluation consultant for the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) - a nation-wide mentorship and training program aimed at increasing diversity of the biomedical workforce. One month into this job, I find myself reflecting on the work of the NRMN and seeing some striking similarities between the framework used to develop the various programs encapsulated in NRMN and the Communities of Excellence Framework, and I can’t help but wonder how existing frameworks might inform and complement Communities of Excellence.
NRMN is based on a Collective Impact Framework. The idea is that rather than each organization or institution addressing the same issue in their own way, on their own, issues - such as the lack of diversity in biomedical research - should be approached by a group of stakeholders, organizations and institutions with a common agenda and vision. Uniting in your work around an issue allows for gaps in strength of one organization to be filled by another, and it allows for a pooling of resources and a greater chance of success in the mission.
More generally, Collective Impact is a structured form of collaboration that embraces continuous improvement and rigorous data to drive transformative social change. The utility of Collective Impact in a community setting can be seen through the work of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. The community created a common agenda - a set of goals that they wished to work towards. They then worked to create shared metrics and performance indicators to help guide and inform their work. They established mutually reinforcing programs that utilized the strengths of each stakeholder to fulfill each aspect of the agenda. They relied on constant communication with one another, and was driven by the support of backbone organizations who united and managed the various organizations.
The more I learn about Collective Impact, the more I see echoes of Communities of Excellence. In Memphis, political and business leaders formed Memphis Fast Forward using Collective Impact Framework. The group formed a common agenda that focused on five issue areas: education, jobs and economic development, crime and public safety, health and wellness, and government fiscal strength. Each area was linked to one another and each initiative has a team of cross-sector partners working to implement their respective plans for addressing the issue area. With this framework, Memphis has seen dramatic changes in crime, job growth and more. The work in Memphis of bringing together stakeholders and identifying the issues that were most prominent in their community feeds into the work that Communities of Excellence hopes to achieve.
The work that communities across the nation are doing in Collective Impact to address particular social issues is one important piece of the Communities of Excellence Framework. Communities of Excellence can guide the Collective Impact work and take it further, as communities work to create their profile and examine the intricacies of their communities, issues emerge that can be addressed using Collective Impact Framework. Communities of Excellence can also help establish Backbone organizations that guide the work of Collective Impact Initiatives by bringing together leaders from the community and identifying who needs to be at the table when plans are made to address particular issues in the community.
As we continue our work in Communities of Excellence, I think it is important to recognize other frameworks currently being used, such as Collective Impact. Many of these existing frameworks have the capacity to complement the work of Communities of Excellence and even act as a starting point for the work that Communities of Excellence strives to achieve. Clearly many communities have already recognized the need for collective and collaborative work guided by a structured framework in order to achieve positive and lasting outcomes in their communities. This recognition by communities of the need for a Collective Framework indicates to me the real need for the implementation of Communities of Excellence Framework. Communities are ready and willing to begin to talk across-sectors about what they want to change and achieve and have even begun to make these changes by using collaborative programs to address social issues. I see Communities of Excellence as an expansion of the current work being accomplished one that compliments many of the existing frameworks that communities are using to become stronger together.
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