Community engagement is a critical part of making lasting changes in low-income places. It’s worth the effort, resources and time to do well at both the grass-roots community level and at the grass-tops political and organizational leader level. “Communities of Opportunity,” a cross-sector partnership in Seattle/King County, recently joined The Integration Initiative with a bold goal of decreasing health and social gaps among low-income residents in our county.
The initiative was born from a 2013 task force charged with preparing two King County departments for national health reform. The task force recommended working to change community features in low-income places that contribute to today’s poor health and social outcomes. At the same time, The Seattle Foundation was interested in similar place-based work. Rather than doing business the old way and proceeding on independent tracks, King County and The Seattle Foundation decided to work together in 2014 to co-design a framework that would set the stage for engaging other partners and investors in a Collective Impact approach. One of the guiding principles the partners share is to actively design strategies and interventions with input from all levels of stakeholders from the southern parts of the county, where the greatest disparities lie.
An important pre-cursor to the Communities of Opportunity partnerships was a large open invitation community forum in late 2013. The community forum brought grass-tops and grass-roots leaders from multiple sectors together to explore what it would take to make changes in under-resourced regions of the county. The 175 participants came up with dozens of ideas about how to work in the intersection between health and community development. From that point, the initiative has worked with a smaller design committee, also composed of cross-sector representatives, to identify three places in South King County to employ these strategies. The committee is advising that we use a “mutual selection” process so communities can decide if they want to work with us too.
175 Participants From across sectors took part in a 2013 Seattle/King County community forum.
Even though we have only recently begun this Collective Impact initiative, we have found the process of working directly with communities to be both rewarding and vital in designing and planning our initiative. However, these benefits also come with challenges. Stay tuned for more insight into the benefits and challenges we’ve faced in steering a Collective Impact partnership.