Blog

Community Navigator Work

This last month, in partnership with the Denver Foundation’s M. Julie Patiño, Barclay Jones, and LaDawn Sullivan; Joby Schaffer wrote an article featured in The Foundation Review. The article, Community Navigation as a Field of Practice: Reframing Service Delivery to Meet the Needs of Communities’ Marginalized Populations, calls out lessons learned through the Basic Human Needs Navigator…

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Economic Growth

In continuation of the dialogue on the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change, our July Social Innovators Breakfast focused on Colorado’s Economic Growth. We had three amazing panelists that guided the discussion and that we owe our deepest appreciation: Jake Williams: Healthier Colorado Elizabeth Garner: State Demography Office, Department of Local Affairs Lauren Ris: Colorado Water…

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Housing Affordability

Our Social Innovators Breakfast Series summer focus, Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change, continued in June with a panel discussion on housing affordability. We are grateful to our three panelists for representing a range of perspectives and experiences, and for sharing their expertise and lessons learned: Claire Levy, Executive Director of the Colorado Center…

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Moving from Equality to Equity

In May 2018, our Social Innovators Breakfast Series launched a special summer focus: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change. Though we anticipate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) will be an important component for all events in the series, we decided to kick things off with a DEI-specific topic: Navigating the Unintended Consequences of moving…

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Systems and Programs: Moving from Enemies to Friends

Over the past few years, there has been an increasing emphasis on the need for “systems change” to achieve large-scale social impact. As someone deeply embedded in research and evaluation at the systems-level, I fundamentally believe that addressing complex problems requires system-level solutions. An increasing emphasis on systems – including a greater focus on multi-stakeholder…

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Keeping Youth Out of the Juvenile Justice System: Creating Policy and System Change

By Lauren Gase, Spark Policy Institute and Taylor Schooley, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Each year, roughly one million young people are arrested in the United States. Contact with the justice system is not only a public safety issue – research shows that it can lead to a range of negative health and…

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Are You An Inspiring Leader?

Recently I’ve been intrigued by the question, “How can leaders inspire their people?” Maybe it’s the holiday season, maybe it’s something else, but I have spent the last few weeks trying to answer this question. When I was running my second company, we had a team of outside sales reps. You wouldn’t have heard me…

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Where are the High-Potentials?

It’s one of the biggest challenges businesses face today: how to identify and develop leaders. The common approach for many businesses is to create a system for identifying high-potential employees. Oftentimes, a high-performer is promoted to leadership because he or she is deemed a high-potential employee. But there is a difference between a high-performer and…

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Driving Value Via Personality

Let’s be honest most people approach personality assessments like reading a book, read it once, remember a couple ideas that resonate and place it on a shelf to gather dust. One question I often hear is, “which personality assessment should we use?” My response is generally the same, if it’s one of the top 5,…

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WHY YOUR INCENTIVE PROGRAM DOESN’T WORK

WHY YOUR INCENTIVE PROGRAM DOESN’T WORK Incentives are an interesting paradigm, we usually start talking about incentives because we want to see more of something; more sales, more resolutions or more widgets. The prevailing belief is that if we pay people more, they will produce more of what we want. However, there are three primary…

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Culture: Your Strategic Ally

A colleague shared an exceptional article with me recently titled “Is Your Culture Built On the Right Foundation?” by Tim Sanders. Anyone who has worked with a strategy consultant has probably heard them say something to the effect of strategy trumps process, but culture trumps strategy; or as Tim Sanders quotes, “Culture eats strategy for…

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Your Potential is Not Your Past

Seeing the potential in others and ourselves is one of the greatest skills we can learn. Significant research has been done around the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies – both on a social level (see Robert K. Merton) and on an interpersonal level (see Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson).  A self-fulfilling prophecy is a phenomenon that occurs…

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The Mirror of Excuse

There are four inches of fabric separating the two runners. These aren’t just any runners; they are sprinting in perfect unison, with four inches of separation and doing it under an 11 second pace – a pace that is near to the world record. What’s more, one of them is running blind…literally. The four inches…

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Five Steps to Overcome Disappointment

You see it on the horizon like an ominous storm and it’s not long before light and hope are hidden behind the dark clouds of disappointment. Frustration, sadness and dismay wash over you in huge drops of defeat, leaving you hopeless.   Disappointment is defined as, “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the…

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Collective Impact Study Update

By Jewlya Lynn, Founder and Chief Learning Officer, Spark Policy Institute; and Sarah Stachowiak, CEO, ORS Impact Back in May, 2017 ORS Impact and Spark Policy Institute embarked on an ambitious and important study to explore how collective impact contributes to changes in systems and populations through its unique approach to addressing social issues. We are pleased to update…

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Collective Impact Study Sites

Site/Initiative Name Location Issue Area Contribution Site Equity Site Alignment Nashville Nashville, TN Education – Multi-Issue X ARISE Anchorage, AK Education for Indigenous Students X Aspen Community Foundation Cradle to Career Aspen, Basalt CO Cradle to Career – Education Coalition for New Britain’s Youth New Britain, CT Cradle to Career – Education, Early Learning Colorado…

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From Learning to Action

With the American Evaluation Association annual conference coming up Nov. 6-11 in Washington, D.C., our team has been thinking about the theme of the conference “From Learning to Action.” We constantly challenge ourselves to ensure our values are present in our work; our practices produce actionable learning; and that we share our experiences to build…

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Measuring the Impact of Communications

Many of us have fond memories of PBS, whether it be watching a documentary with family or engaging with development programs in school. PBS is continuing its mission to serve the American public with high-quality programming and services by launching the New Generation Initiative (NGI). The 18-month collaborative pilot spans six PBS stations across the…

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Improving the Attendance Landscape for Colorado Youth

A new report commissioned by the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Council’s Low-Risk High-Needs (LRHN) Committee highlights the need for increased cross-system collaboration and holistic programming to support Colorado youth with school attendance problems. Currently, youth who have four unexcused absences in a month or ten unexcused absences in a year are considered truant, and begin…

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Three Tips for Making Network Analysis Actionable for Your Social Impact Project

Many of our partners have adopted what Jed Miller and Rob Stuart called “Network-Centric Thinking.” They recognize that long-term sustainable progress on today’s social problems rarely comes from the efforts of a single organization. Rather, progress requires a strategy involving networks of organizations with the aim of producing network effects. However, the strategist and evaluator’s…

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Case Study: Emergent Philanthropy

A new article in the Foundation Review describes the tools we used in partnership with Harder+Company and The Civic Canopy to support an adaptable design for The Colorado Health Foundation’s (TCHF) Creating Healthy Schools funding strategy. The article dives deep into the principles of emergent philanthropy, and how TCHF worked to co-create their strategy, funding…

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August Spark News: Getting Unstuck – Equity, Advocacy, and Collective Impact

Are We Getting Anywhere? At Spark, we’re experts at developing actionable strategies to achieve meaningful, measurable outcomes. But in today’s complex environment, it’s sometimes challenging for our partners to see the progress they’ve made. In our August newsletter, we’re sharing resources you can apply in real-life settings to measure your progress and take positive steps…

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For the Good of the Group: Be Nice, Respond in Kind, Be Forgiving

When working to change complex systems it can be difficult for individual stakeholders to engage in authentic collaboration. This is neuroscience. We are all motivated to move away from perceived threats and toward perceived reward. Bringing multiple actors together to work toward a common goal can create conflict between doing what is best for the…

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Evaluating Multi-stakeholder Advocacy Efforts

This is the second in a series of blogs on topics we’ll be presenting on at the American Evaluation Association’s (AEA) annual meeting, which will be in Atlanta, GA October 24-29. Today’s advocacy environment is complex, with multiple stakeholders working together in campaigns that range from informal networks to collaborative impact and other similarly coordinated…

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Summer Spark News: Making the Commitment

Our mission at Spark has long been to develop innovative and research-based solutions to society’s complex problems. After a summer that has seen devastating violence and expressions of xenophobia and hate across the country – as well as outpourings of generosity and stories of strength – we see more than ever the need to address…

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Our Commitment to Addressing Inequity

Complex problems are just that: complex. They stem from complicated interactions among multiple actors, against the backdrop of history, systems, and institutions. Within these interactions, we cannot overlook the way race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, country of origin, religion, economic status – all the things that make us unique, and the “isms” they engender…

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Western Slope Wins $90k to Support Farmers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 11, 2016 Contact: Sophie Oppenheimer, Spark Policy Institute & Colorado Farm to School Task Force 720-272-2139; Sophie@sparkpolicy.com Abbie Brewer, Valley Food Partnership 970-249-0705; abbie@valleyfoodpartnership.org Western Slope Wins $90k to Support Farmers The Colorado Farm to School Task Force and CoBank join forces to support farm to school The Western Slope, headed…

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June Spark News: Changing the World, One System at a Time

This month, we’re looking at how organizations can support large-scale systems change, either as a backbone, partner, evaluator, fiscal intermediary, or through many other roles. But we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to talk about what happened in Orlando. Earlier in June, we witnessed the worst mass shooting in our country’s…

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May SparkNews: Transforming Health

All of the rapid change in the health landscape allows for exciting opportunities to engage stakeholders and, therefore, create solutions that are as equitable as they are innovative. However, engaging these voices effectively requires a commitment to the process to ensure they aren’t just token representation, and that their perspectives and lived experiences truly inform the process. This…

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Sparking Social Change

By Laura Trent, Esq. and Alison McCarthy, MSW For many of Spark team members, their commitment to social change finds its way across their 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.  Laura is on the Board of The…

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Healthy Schools Collective Impact: Reaching the Bold Goal, Together

One of the things that has become clear in our work with systems change broadly and collective impact specifically is that no one program or organization can address large-scale issues on its own. Put another way, our impact goes further when we work together toward a common agenda. Over the past nine months, Spark has…

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The Case for Developmental Evaluation

This blog is co-authored by Marci Parkhurst and Hallie Preskill from FSG, Dr. Jewlya Lynn from Spark Policy Institute, and Marah Moore from i2i Institute. It is also posted on FSG’s website: www.fsg.org  In a recent blog post discussing the importance of good evidence in supporting systems change work, evaluation expert Lisbeth Schorr wrote, “To get better results in this…

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February SparkNews: Focus on Equity

One of the things that makes our work so important is the opportunity to affect meaningful change in the lives, places, and systems with which we work. However, we can only realize the bold goals we set by focusing on equity, ensuring that the shape of the starting line does not dictate where people finish.…

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Introducing the new Sparkpolicy.com

You may have noticed our website has a new look! The newly-redesigned website offers a more streamlined design allowing our partners easy access to the rich information our old website provided. In keeping with our commitment to our partners, our new site features a cleaner and more readable design, including additional accessibility features. In the…

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Redefining Rigor: Describing quality evaluation in complex, adaptive settings

This blog is co-authored by Dr. Jewlya Lynn, Spark Policy Institute, and Hallie Preskill, FSG. The blog is also posted on FSG’s website: www.fsg.org  Traditionally, evaluation has focused on understanding whether a program is making progress against pre-determined indicators. In this context, the quality of the evaluation is often measured in part by the “rigor”…

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How do you know if you’re getting the best quality in your evaluations?

How do you know if you’re getting the best quality in your evaluations? Quality in evaluation used to be defined as rigor (and sometimes still is), with rigor meaning the competence of the evaluator, the legitimacy of the process and, of course, applying the best research methods to the collection and analysis of data. These…

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Making planning actionable: lessons from the Colorado Farm to School Task Force

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Margaret Mead, a cultural anthropologist known for her holistic understanding of human adaptation and the interconnectedness of all aspects of human life. Mead believed in…

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Evaluating Collaboration in Place-based Initiatives: Can it Move the Needle?

On October 5th and 6th, I will have the opportunity to facilitate a session on how evaluation can help stakeholders understand and strengthen cross-sector partnerships and collaboration more broadly at the Art & Science of Place-Based Evaluation. The conference is hosted by Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, and…

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Planning for Adaptation

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade thinking about, experimenting with, and refining tools for planning in complex, adaptive settings. As we put together Spark’s Adaptive Planning Toolkit, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect back and think about the genesis of the tools and what we have learned over the years. I…

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How to Build a Health Care Movement

What happens when 14 community organizations, two foundations and several communications experts come together to change how the public thinks about access to health care? You build a movement. Project Health Colorado (PHC) was a groundbreaking three-year Colorado Trust initiative to build public will for access to health. PHC involved 14 community organizations that used…

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Community Engagement: Nine Dos and a Don’t

There is power in voices coming together to protest a broken system or to heal communally after a system has hurt them, whether through hashtags on social media or through US Representatives raising their hands in protest on the floor of the House. But there is greater power in listening to those who stand to…

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What Does Systems Building Really Mean?

Systems building. Partnerships. Collaboration. These are commonly-used words in the world of social change. They come from the realization that nothing exists in a vacuum – even nature’s most basic systems thrive on diversity and interconnectedness – but what does it really mean? And what does it look like on the ground? Over the past…

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Oh DEAR – Why Experimentation is Key to Social Innovation

In preparing for a presentation at a collective impact forum in Oklahoma, I was trying to decide what I could share with a room full of social innovators that they wouldn’t already know. After seeing the line-up –including foundations, collective impact initiatives, community and political leaders – it was clear these were people with tremendous…

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Working with the Faith Community to Spark Social Change

This month, we’ve looked at how to use the private sector to scale change.  Now I want to shift the focus outside of the public/private realm and look at the role other groups can plan in creating meaningful change: specifically, the role the faith community can play in bringing attention to and energizing people around…

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Scaling Change: Market Forces are Part of the Solution

I’ve been thinking about this issue of how to scale social innovation a lot lately. When I was at the D.C. Presidio Fellowship week, we talked with the Social Innovation Fund. Their focus is on mobilizing public and private resources to find and grow the best community solutions. They identify evidence-based strategies that can make…

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Sparking Change for the Better: Why We Don’t Need to Wait for a Visionary Leader

People ask me why the “Spark” in Spark Policy Institute on a regular basis. The answer, in short, is that change has to be triggered – there has to be that moment where inspiration meets commitment. As I’ve delved deeper into causing change through cross-sector partnerships, I am increasingly aware of the importance of that…

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Cross-sector Collaboration Lessons Learned: Implementing a Powerful Tool for Social Change

I was fortunate to spend the last week with 23 other cross-sector leaders who are doing amazing things – everything from changing how PepsiCo sources its fruits in order to benefit local economies and increase the nutritional content of their drinks, to scaling an evidence-based afterschool program throughout the country, to developing and disseminating an…

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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.…

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Evaluating Complexity: Developmental Evaluation in Collective Impact

With a half dozen Collective Impact evaluations in the last year alone, it’s becoming second nature for me to think about the complexity inherent in evaluating Collective Impact. The model’s emphasis on a shared measurement system has been both a benefit to evaluation and a hindrance. Sometimes I find that recognizing the need for shared…

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Why you shouldn’t do this on your own: Making Your Stakeholder Engagement Process Successful

 Learning from the Coordinated Chronic Disease Project During my time in the public sector, I observed many stakeholder engagement processes that went really well and led to meaningful change. Unfortunately, I also process observed like this: Participants arrive. They have been told it’s an opportunity to provide input to an important planning process. After listening…

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We’re all in this together: Why partnership makes advocacy work better

We recently wrapped up an evaluation of a national advocacy campaign, where advocacy organizations were funded in states throughout the country to push forward a common agenda. The evaluation findings highlighted how different advocacy organizations bring different capacities to the table. While technical assistance can expand that capacity, it can’t change the reality that no…

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Systems Transformation for Underserved Populations – The Colorado Daylight Project

Systems transformation, which we explore further in our Resources for Igniting Systems-Wide Change Blog, can be applied to just about any type of population with a defined need. In this week’s blog, we’ll explore how one project is approaching systems transformation for a particularly underserved population: the deaf and hard of hearing in Colorado. This…

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This is going to take us 10 years! What do we tell our funders now?

Many things worth doing cannot be done quickly. Changing public policy systems, building communities, tackling complex social issues, and advocating for meaningful change are not things one undertakes and completes in a single year, three years, or sometimes even in ten years. Yet, at the same time, we all have funders and our funders need…

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Family Engagement in Policy and Governance Boards

Nowadays, family involvement is a pretty big buzzword. What does it really mean, though? It is certainly true that human services agencies, community agencies, and other organizations are increasingly interested in recruiting family and youth partners into their decision-making processes. It is also true that research supports the notion that family engagement is associated with…

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Resources for Igniting Systems-wide Change

Change agents throughout our country are transforming service delivery systems – they are changing how human services, health, and mental health provide care. Some of these transformations go by the name of Medical Home and others call themselves Systems of Care. Regardless of the name, transforming systems is a difficult process. As you undertake transformation…

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How Groups become Change Agents

When we think of change agents, we think “individual.” That one person who takes the lead, rejects the status quo, embraces innovation, pushes the boundaries, takes chances, even breaks the rules. Public policy groups, especially the legislatively-mandated Council, Task Force, Blue Ribbon Commission, have hefty mandates and short timeframes – something a change agent would…

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Why should we focus on building systems versus programs?

What is Systems Building? Those of us who work in social service related fields, like subsidized housing, early childhood education, and child welfare hear almost constant references to “systems building” from our funders, policymakers, colleagues and evaluators. Is systems building just another “jargony” term with a limited shelf life? The answer is no: while systems…

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Blend or Braid

The terms blending and braiding are used frequently, often together, and generally with little definition.  However, they refer to two very different approaches to fiscal coordination.   Rather than lump them together, let’s pull them apart and identify the settings where each is most useful.  Next week, we’ll explore some tips on how to develop your…

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Introducing Spark Policy

At Spark Policy Institute, we are dedicated to helping communities and policymakers solve complex problems.  The Spark blog will focus on concrete strategies and actions you can take as you seek to make a meaningful difference on issues that are challenging, complicated, and critically important to you and your community.   What are complex problems?…

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