The Integration Initiative began in 2010 with the promise of transforming the lives of low-income people and the communities in which they live in cities across the country. Our five initial site partners in The Integration Initiative (TII) (in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, and Minneapolis/Saint Paul) took a different approach to community development by building cross-sector tables and combining philanthropic grants with capital investments.
Four years later, TII has grown from five sites to nine, and we have learned quite a bit along the way. We recently released an evaluation of the first three years of TII, which has lessons learned applicable to many aspects of our work to build a new urban practice.
Resource Document: The Integration Initiative: Three Year Evaluation ReportDownload More information
One of the most powerful themes that the report surfaced was the value of open sharing of knowledge to help build the field around what works for community development. The lessons we uncovered are also applicable to other funders, intermediaries and grantees. Now, we’ve distilled them down to three general pieces of advice to help you expand your impact beyond the communities in which you work.
1. Repeatedly Share Your Lessons Learned To Make Ideas “Sticky”
Our work in TII has influenced a number of programs, including the Working Cities Challenge, Partners in Progress, and the overall development of the collective impact model. We have learned along side these and other initiatives, adapting with them as we explored what works in community development. But this shared learning did not (and does not) happen naturally–it requires intentional investment in staff capacity to package what we are learning, communicate it to the field and respond to the feedback we receive.
We have committed to open sourcing social change in all of our work. Adhering to this concept will look different depending on your work and what outcomes you are attempting to influence. For us, we spent a lot of time to at conferences talking about our TII work. We’ve written dozens of blog posts and released evaluation reports as our work on TII emerged. We have shifted our thinking along the way (which led to changes in the design of our second round of TII), but our core principles of integrating sectors and supporting systems thinking has not changed. To ensure that these concepts remain “sticky” in the social-sector discourse, we continue to share our lessons with the field in multiple ways.
2. Think of Your Grantees as Innovation Partners
A constant struggle in our work with site partners–particularly in TII–is the tension between learning and accountability. We want our site partners to achieve the outcomes they have committed to, and Living Cities holds itself accountable to organizational-wide outcomes. Yet, a learning frame requires us to push ourselves to look beyond these measures of accountability and consider how and why the outcomes were or were not achieved.
This approach has caused tension between us and our site partners at times. Living Cities is explicitly interested in exposing the successes and the failures of our work, and many people are uncomfortable with opening themselves up to an authentic discussion of failure. There is a propensity in the field to fund “evidence based practices,” which sometimes comes at the expense of open reflection and admitting the need to change course. To manage this tension, we invest heavily in our relationships with sites and think of them as “innovation partners,” not grantees. As partners, we learn together and admit when we have not met each others expectations.
3. Reflect on Progress to Make Course Corrections
Central to all of our open learning is the ability to adapt and change our work. Without flexibility to course correct, our investments in “learning as we go” cannot help us improve. At times, our site partners became frustrated with us because we were changing our messaging and focus too often. So, we learned that alterations in work need to clearly illustrate value for your partners. Without an understanding of how changes will help sites or partners, you can risk coming off as a capricious and overbearing funder–the worst kind.
Again, thinking of grantees as innovation partners can help you navigate how to best adapt to changes you make along the way. Additionally, we have found that the concepts of “build, measure, learn” from the Lean Startup method can support reflections and course corrections as needed.
How have you seen these lessons play out in your own work? Comment here and let us know. To learn more, read the TII evaluation report.