Why a Policy Agenda is an Important Part of Collective Impact Work


A core element of collective impact is changing systems in the pursuit of equity. Pursuing policy change and advocacy efforts are some of the key levers to effectively change how systems operate. But how can cross-sector partners within a collective impact initiative work together to co-create a policy agenda that addresses inequities and closes disparities?

In this discussion we learn how a policy agenda can drive collaborative action and strategy to support collective impact work, how it can communicate where a collaborative stands on issues, what are the challenges in building a collaborative policy agenda (including bringing partners onboard), and how to approach shifts in the political environment.

Joining for this discussion to share about their policy agenda work are Maegan Frierson and Dr. Shayla Young from KConnect, a backbone organization that supports a network of public, private, and independent organizations in Grand Rapids, Michigan. KConnect aims to facilitate and advance a common agenda to ensure all children in Kent County have a clear path to economic prosperity through quality education, family, and community support.

Ways to listen: You can listen below or on your preferred podcast streaming service, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

Please find a transcript of this talk further down this page.

Resources and Footnotes

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The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.

The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.

The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

In this episode, we’re exploring how building a policy agenda can help drive collaborative action and strategy to support collective impact work, We’ll look into how a policy agenda can communicate where a collaborative stands on issues, what are some of the challenges in building a collaborative policy agenda (including how do you bring partners onboard), and how do you leverage your policy agenda while navigating shifts in the political environment.

Joining for this discussion to share about their policy agenda work and what they’ve learned through the process are Maegan Frierson and Dr. Shayla Young from KConnect, a backbone organization that supports a network of public, private, and independent organizations in Grand Rapids, Michigan. KConnect aims to facilitate and advance a common agenda to ensure all children in Kent County have a clear path to economic prosperity through quality education, family, and community support.

Moderating this discussion is Collective Impact Forum director of programs and partnerships Courtney W. Robertson. Let’s tune in.

Courtney W. Robertson: Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast. My name is Courtney W. Robertson, director of programs and partnerships, and I am your host.

A core element of collective impact is changing systems and the pursuit of equity. Policy and advocacy is one of the key levers communities should be addressing to effectively change how systems operate. But how do you effectively leverage the cross-sector partners within a collective impact initiative to build a policy agenda that addresses inequities and closes disparities? Joining me for this discussion from the organization KConnect based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are Maegan Frierson, director of system building, and Shayla Young, postdoctoral fellow. Thank you both for joining us today. If we can start with having each of you briefly introduce yourselves and your role with the organization.

Maegen Frierson: Hello. I’m so happy to be here. As Courtney said, my name is Maegan Frierson and I’m the director of system building at KConnect. I will tell you when I tell people that they’re like, “OK, what does that mean?”

So what that looks like is pretty much essentially my role here at KConnect is that previously I worked with our workgroups. You had workgroups prenatal to third grade, four through 12, and then high school to career, that’s focused us on various different indicators that are on our KConnect workplan to close a lot of those gaps within Kent County. Focus originally were the workgroups now more so align and design team and so those are cross-sector partners from the community that come together, and we build strategy. We build strategies to figure out how to close those gaps, understanding the existing system, and how can we co-create a system that is just for all. Really hitting the pavement and being out in the community working with various private and public organizations in the area.

Dr. Shayla Young: Greetings, everyone. I am Dr. Shayla Young, and I serve as the postdoctoral fellow for KConnect. How I like to frame my work is that I get to set the pace for the organization and PACE is an acronym for Policy and Advocacy Community Engagement. I am tasked with one, in the policy and advocacy space, developing our first-ever policy agenda for KConnect and then with community engagement I am working with community engagement professionals in Kent County to build a comprehensive resource that supports equitable community engagement in Kent County. And I’d also like to add that KConnect is near and dear to me because before I was a member of the backbone team, I was a member of the network, and so I used to be on the high school to career workgroup which Maegan can be, and she’ll tell you more about that when she talks about KConnect.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you both. Shayla, we just have so many points of connection. I too was a part of the work before I joined the backbone team where I was. It’s great to hear. Thanks for giving some context around your roles. Now, let’s give a little context around KConnect. So for our listeners who aren’t familiar, what is KConnect and what is the focus of its work?

Maegen Frierson: KConnect is a collective impact organization. We’re nonprofit here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We’re in west Michigan if you’re wondering where that’s at. A lot of times folks when they hear Michigan, they all of a sudden go to the east side, like the Detroit area, but we are in west Michigan in Kent County, which is where we’re located. Our focus here at KConnect is that our role really is to convene various different members and community partners within the community, facilitate those conversations, and then visualize the data. Data is a very big piece in our work. We are data driven. We’re not just making up things and then say, “Hey, we need to focus on that area in the community.” We really do pull it from data.

KConnect, we’re actually celebrating our 10-year anniversary. Whoop, whoop, so celebrating 10 years this year and when we originated, we really were about kind of building the network and building our framework. KConnect started off with eight success measures that were brought up as areas of focus from leaders in the community that said, “Hey, we have a lot of organizations and nonprofits here that are doing great work, but for some reason, we’re not seeing those gaps close. We’re not seeing and equitable path for everyone in Kent County.” KConnect really acts as a neutral convener to be able to dive in multiple different spaces to bring folks together to have those hard conversations of OK, you’re doing great work but what else can we do and how can we do this together?

So we started off with eight success measures going all the way from kindergarten readiness, going to basic family income. Underneath those success measures we have 27 indicators. They are what we call our levers of change. For example, we know that an indicator under kindergarten readiness is born healthy. We know that if a child is born healthy that they’re more likely to remain on track to be ready for kindergarten. That’s a lot of our focus. We bring public and private organizations together as a movement to build strategy and to make sure that every child, student, family, especially families of color, have a quality education, family and community support. So they have that support from cradle to career.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you. That was going to be one of my follow ups since you all consider yourselves cradle to career in terms of the focus areas of your work. And for those who may not be familiar with the term cradle to career, that’s everything from probably prenatal, quite frankly, through college degree attainment, workforce, etc., and everything in between. So thank you all for that.

All right, so Shayla alluded to, she’s like “I’m here. I’m helping to set or support in setting our first policy agenda. So let’s dive in there because it’s really going to be the focus of our conversation today, and as I mentioned in the intro, we have this framework called the Water of Systems Change, and within it, it identifies six conditions around systems change, so everything from mindset shifts, so thinking about relationships and connections, etc., and the piece that is probably most intuitive for folks and where folks tend to focus a lot of their efforts is around the policy piece, but what we have noticed and what we’ve heard from collaboratives is that they struggle around the policy piece, particularly as you’re bringing folks from different sectors, folks from different organizations, etc., all coming together to build this unified policy agenda. There are a lot of—I see you all shaking your head—a lot of inherent challenges that go into that, and obstacles.

So really want to dive in and sort of set a path forward, if you will, for our listeners. So if they haven’t started doing this work, but what they should and could be thinking about as they start this work, and then if they’re in it, what might be some things that they’re missing? Let’s first start by defining what is a policy agenda for those who may not be familiar.

Dr. Shayla Young: Thank you, Courtney. First disclaimer, right? Consider us right now experts of lived experience because we are—this is something that we’re doing and that we’re piloting. We’ve seen some great success in terms of how we’re rolling things out to our network, but we’re moving step by step and so as we’re talking right now, right, we’re still defining things. I just want to make that disclaimer. When I think about a policy agenda, I think about there’s two questions at a recent MLK breakfast. Dr. Julianne Malveaux was the keynote, and she posed two questions, many questions, but it was these two questions that stood out. One of them was, “What are you willing to do about what’s close to you?” And then the second one was, “What you going to do tomorrow?”

So when I think about a policy agenda and what it represents for an organization, it is a clear communication about what your organization is willing to stand for, stand on, and what it’s willing to do about what impacts the community that you’re serving, what impacts the network that you’re convening and bringing together. And then it lays out what you going to do tomorrow with those different actions, steps, the advocacy strategies that you build, and what your commitments are with that. It’s understanding, again, what an organization stands for. It connects your work to actual policy, and it communicates what you’re pursuing at that time and what’s important.

One thing that this creating a policy agenda has done for us is we’ve been forced to communicate our priorities in a different way. You have the impact reports that you do. You had the workplan that you create, but when you start to connect dots to policy, and again, this is a huge lever of change is policy, then that’s when you start to more deeply ingrain what it is you stand for as an organization within your network, within community, and within a broader level.

Courtney W. Robertson: I love that framing about what are you doing about what’s closest to you and then what are you going to do tomorrow? It’s sort of like what’s the high-level thing, what are we striving towards, and then what are the actions and tactics and things we need to take to get there. So I love that framing. What would you say is the goal of the policy agenda that you all are developing?

Dr. Shayla Young: I’ll answer that. Really the goal of the policy agenda is twofold for our organization. Our original document that really lays out our strategic framework, our shared vision, and in our goals within this collective work is called The Common Agenda and Roadmap. We developed that, you know, collective impact organizations, we probably all have some form of this. We developed that back in 2013, and that original document there was actually a goal that was laid out for policy and advocacy work 10 years ago, and that was around education, it was around advocating for some of those policies and resources, practices that were going to sustain long-term, effective solutions that were aligned to the goals of this initiative, our workplan essentially.

And so part of our goal is to lift up what we’ve always wanted to do around policy work as an organization, KConnect was designed. It wasn’t our original fabric to do policy and advocacy work, but one thing that we saw is that this takes time. You don’t just walk in as an organization and say we’re about to do some policy work. There’s been 10 years of learning that has gone into establishing what this needs to look like. So that’s one facet of our goal.

The other one is around equity and dissolution. Let me define dissolution. It’s a concept that refers to the process of breaking down some of those deeply rooted issues and structures that perpetuate system inequity. This concept came and has since grown through our partnership with Civic Lab. Dissolution is our ultimate goal. We want to dissolve the inequities. We don’t want to manage them. We don’t want to solve them, and we want to push where we’ve been absolving or ignoring and reach dissolution. Ultimately, this really signifies stronger collective action as a network and as an organization for KConnect. Ultimately, when you think of lobbying and who’s out there speaking on behalf of children and families, we want to be the lobbyist for children and families in Kent County. Like you might see a lobbyist for a school district. Like you might see a lobbyist for a business sector. We want to be that for children and families in Kent County.

Courtney W. Robertson: Beautiful. Thank you. And I think that’s a perfect segue, actually, into talking more about the process of developing that policy agenda. So if you could talk us through that process, like what was it, what are some of the factors you all considered as you’re continuing, I guess, to build out this agenda as well.

Dr. Shayla Young: Yes, so I can start with speaking to maybe some steps that we’ve taken, and then Maegan can give you an example of how it has actually happened.

First, kind of initially, as I mentioned, putting in that work, KConnect has done 10 years of building structure, building capacity, building relationships and a reputation, right, because when it comes to your policy agenda representing a bigger collective, trust is critical. If organizations don’t trust us, well, they don’t want anything to do with this policy agenda. So we’ve done that for 10 years really being very vocal, open, and clear about what our direction and our commitments are. That came through that Common Agenda and Roadmap, so leaning on that document to guide our steps and our work as we’ve evolved as an organization.

And then, next we went into allocating resources to this. KConnect had to allocate resources so that I could come on board. We had to make sure we found leadership, strong leadership around this work, so we have a tri-chair model for our policy and advocacy workgroup. These are three uniquely—they’re different, right? Different from one another but they represent strong leadership in the political landscape here in west Michigan and beyond, really, in the state, the whole state. You have Renell Weathers. She was previous director over communications for the Michigan League for Public Policy. You have John Helmholdt. He is the president of Seyferth PR, and you have Kathleen Bruinsma. She is an active attorney here and she has tons of clients as it relates to policy and advocacy. She’s a board member of one of our community colleges. They are just dynamic and strong leaders in this space.

And then we started to develop tools. Two of the tools that I’d like to highlight are our emergent advocacy tool and our policy formulation tool. The emergent advocacy tool actually came from our organization being asked to sign on to the earned income tax credit, right, like EITC. So looking at all that entails, the EITC, we’re like, yeah, this is a no-brainer, right, like the president sign off on this. But then we got to first take a pause and say, “Well, wait a minute. Why is this a no-brainer? Like, what does it align with and who else is supporting this? How are we being asked to show up for this?” So it took us into our first tool that we developed and that was the emergent advocacy tool. It’s also a way for our policy agenda to remain nimble and flexible to emerging needs.

We have seven policy priorities listed on our current agenda, but we have this tool where we can add and take off, you know, as needed to make this agenda most responsive to what’s going on now in community. So allocating the resources, finding strong leadership, and then listening. And I’m going to turn it over to Maegan to really highlight that part.

Courtney W. Robertson: Quickly, before Maegan jumps in, I do have a couple of follow-up questions and maybe Maegan, you can respond to these. But I’m curious with that tri-chair model, was that the design you all set out to have, or was it as a result of we have all these incredible folks, how do we make them all work in this policy space?

Dr. Shayla Young: Yeah, so we initially had a cochair thought, and that is the typical model for our workgroups right now, is that we have cochairs but one thing that happened is that Renell Weathers was actually a part of our technical assistance support and then she was retiring, and we were like oh, no. We need you, Renell. She really wanted to be a part of this work still and just didn’t know how, and that’s how we gained this tri-chair model in addition to technical assistance support through MLPP and then myself and one of our backbone team members.

Courtney W. Robertson: OK, that makes sense. My assumption is that everybody’s sort of bringing a unique strength or skillset to that space.

Dr. Shayla Young: Absolutely, absolutely, yes, and I can talk a little bit more about that around how we leveraged that but, yes, they are so unique that our voting on our priorities is not a unanimous vote on all these priorities. We all are coming with diverse perspectives here but our process allows for that but also having an emphasis on the work moving forward.

Courtney W. Robertson: Then just one more question before you jump in, Maegan. Who in terms of the tool that you mentioned, the immersion advocacy, is it the backbone team that’s making decisions around that or is it in conjunction with partners?

Dr. Shayla Young: Yeah, absolutely. So the tool, how it was created, I—so the backbone team developed a tool. We took it to the workgroup. The workgroup refined the tool and essentially made it their own. They gave us lots of feedback and input. We then took it to our network through APC, our Accountability Partners Council, and so the APC was able to see this, so we have two—well, really traditionally we’ve had two APCs a year, and so this is where we report out our work to the network and they give us feedback. We take things through a voting protocol.

In this instance it was a feedback through something we call the gallery walk, and so lots of team members added their stickies, you know, the sticky note process there, and gave us feedback on this tool. So that’s how that emergent advocacy tool was created, and members of the network or possibly even outside the network can come to us with a potential policy interest and say have you guys thought about this, and then we take it through the tool. So there’s one of our policy priorities that actually came by way of that tool.

Courtney W. Robertson: Beautiful. Thank you for that context. Sorry, Maegan. I’d like to invite you into the space to talk more about the process.

Maegen Frierson: No, actually those are great questions, and thank you, Shayla, for sharing the process. There’s been some phenomenal work done around the policy space, and I will say the beauty about that group is that they have very strong leaders and leaders that understand it as well that have impact in the community, and so I’m going to really kind of provide a little bit more of an example about the process so you can see like how does it work with community partners. I will tell you the beauty about being the backbone is that, you know, we aren’t the context experts. It’s our team. It’s our community partners, the KConnect network. They’re the ones that are really kind of driving the work and we’re just there to support and reach out and build those bridges along the lines as the work continues to move forward.

Essentially a great example of this work is that, as I mentioned before, we keep going back to our KConnect workplan which really kind of drives our work here, and so the areas of focus, and so in our workplan under one of the eight success measures or one of our eight success measures is career readiness, and so that’s an area where our 4th through 12th grade workgroup of cross-sector partners came together and had lots of discussion about what’s happening in the community.

One of the indicators that we chose to focus on was culturally responsive instruction because we do realize that it is imperative for our education, our schools, our districts, to represent the students that they serve, the leaders there, and so we pulled data and found that we have 43 percent students of color but then just six percent educators of color impacting those students and working directly with them, and so the group said, hey, you know, this is a major gap. What should our next steps be?

So the workgroup had the discussion, and then moved on to our Align Design team where their focus is to really build frameworks, goals, and strategies to close the disparity gap. So that’s the next level. Out of our Align Design team looking at that gap, we came up with what we call the 360-degree model, and so that is to inspire students of color to want to become educators in our schools, to train those students that are maybe out of college or others who want to go into the education field and provide those supports to recruit, which is a major deal. How do we recruit educators of color, all educators honestly, to want to work in our schools here in Kent County, and then also the retain piece which is big because I’m from the Grand Rapids area, I’m from Kent County. I am a product of very strong educators from, you know, looking at early childhood all the way up to senior year so having that mentorship and that impact in my school, and so I will tell you we want to be able to keep those educators there in that field. Many of them have left, right? So to have that space for a sense of belonging so that’s a 360 motto, to inspire, train, recruit, and retain.

We recently received a grant around that model to really kind of execute it, to be able to bridge the gap with the communities and so we have a lot of community partners right now that have kind of watched for that so we have community partners that are in the recruit space where they are working to create these cohorts to work in our schools. We also have launched and supported Shades of Strength collaborative which are looking to build that space of belonging and have a network for educators of color, and I say that these different groups came together and they sparked out the strategy but we realized, OK, yet even though we have this strategy, we still need support, and so one thing that I did not mention earlier when I talked about KConnect is that not only, you know, do we have the support of policy and advocacy, we also have a Data and Capacity workgroup that supports us, and then we have Community Engagement because we realize that in these groups we need lived experience voice, and Shayla leads the work great in that area.

So we had the conversation of, OK, we can build this strategy but you’re still dealing with systemic issues where everything is driven by policy, what’s next? And so Shayla came to me and said, hey, Maegan, I want to survey the network. I want to get feedback about what are some priorities that are important to them. She sent the survey and that really got the policy work to moving because now she heard back from the network about what’s important to them so now let’s hold listening sessions.

One of the areas that was really important, I mean, we had done so much work around diversifying the education field, you know, they were like, OK, we want to know what else can be done. What other partners do we need to have? What allies do we need to have? I’m going to actually kick it over to Shayla to talk about those listening sessions that our partners were involved in. I mean we had school districts, we had universities, we had Teach Plus, we had community partners, I mean you name it. They were there to provide feedback and just a better understanding of what’s happening and how we can move the needle forward.

Dr. Shayla Young: Absolutely, and so thank you, Maegan. I wanted to add to that that me approaching Maegan around, hey, I want a survey, it’s even prompted by the network because there was a point where our technical assistance partner, they hosted a training session, a workshop, and they received almost 70 different issues that impacted the day-to-day work of those in our network, and so from there it was clear that there was such an emphasis on education. I mean it was hit after hit, education was huge, and so from there it became, hey, Maegan, there’s the 360-model that exists, there’s this diverse educators’ group, there’s a college enrollment Align and Design team. At that time it was the High School to Career workgroup breaking off into Align and Design teams, right?

And so the work was moving, and it was like, OK, wait, we need to hear from these folks, and so we as a workgroup, Policy and Advocacy workgroup, we invited in those folks that Maegan mentioned and before that even, we connected with the Community Engagement workgroup to see how we should approach the listening too, right? So we were trying to figure out how to integrate PACE, how to create PACE, but knew we needed to hear from the people that knew the stuff, right?

And so we went and we did the listening sessions. We called it Amplify August, and we did a series of two major listening sessions and then we did some smaller ones. One of our Policy and Advocacy tri-chairs came to the diverse educators’ meeting that Maegan was convening and did an update, reported out, received feedback, and so we tried to really integrate listening into every aspect of the process. So the listening that Maegan is referring to was really our beginning in setting this policy agenda, and then once we said, OK, we’ve heard, now we want to know if we got it right. We went to the larger network, and we had something called the PACE Convening, and that’s where folks were able to vote on the slate of priorities and give insight and opinions there too.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you. This is so good. Thank you all, and just the importance—just want to underscore the importance of listening and not just listening at one time and then thinking you’re done, right, but also checking back for understanding and there might be things that folks missed so I do love that, sort of like this continuous feedback loop that you have with your partners.

And then speaking of your partners, I’m curious. You all have started to name some of them but who are the partners who are engaged in helping to set this agenda so both from that workgroup perspective and then within your larger partnership. Just curious to hear how have those conversations been? Have there been contentious points? How have you gotten folks to align or find some points of convergence around the agenda?

Dr. Shayla Young: Yes, so I’ll start with that. So when I think of our partners and who’s been critical in this process, it’s our full network, the folks that have given insights at the point of entry for this work around what those larger issues are, the people that did the survey, who have done the listening sessions with us, all of those folks. To name a few, you have some of our school districts, our larger school district system, Kent ISD. You have Teach Plus Michigan, and the executive director for that work. You have KSSN, the Kent School Support Network with Dr. Keenan King. You have Grand Rapids Public Schools, right? So you have those folks. That’s not a full list but those are just some of the folks that were represented in listening, and then in that PACE Convening you have organizations stemming from early childhood, First Steps Kent, Family Futures, all the way to the business sector, our local business chamber. You have a state-level organization at Trust Midwest. You have the Michigan College Access Network, and the list goes on in terms of the folks that were in the room so that whole cross-sector model is important.

What that really brought into the room, Courtney, was people who might not agree on some of the priorities, right? And so that is why we had to be very intentional, and again this is where that 10 years of work beforehand came in because KConnect had developed a process, a voting protocol to account for disagreement and to leave space for dialogue so we were able to execute that at the PACE Convening. We had folks that represented diverse perspectives and let’s just be real, right? People who were for it and people who were against it. We had some of our more controversial policy priorities, we had those perspectives represented through presentation and also through different policy briefs that we put together too. So we were just trying to give people that 360, that comprehensive look into these policies, and what we found is that—and then there’s more. There’s more. There’s still more that we didn’t understand and there’s still more that we didn’t know, and leaving space to continue this cycle of education, not just for community but also for us as a backbone.

Maegen Frierson: What I think is so great about this is that you know our backbone team, the folks at KConnect, our team, we’re a small and mighty team, six people, but it really is about kind of that overeducation piece so the amount of pre-reads that goes out, you know. I think what really framed it up nicely was the actual training that we got on policy and advocacy just a year earlier from Michigan League for Public Policy. That kind of laid the framework to say, OK, now we can go into the next step and truly act this out, let it play live in front of us, and then what’s so great about policy and advocacy is that, OK, now that we have what we call the PACE Convening, now the Align and Design team is going to say, OK, well, here’s our priority agenda, here’s some policies, what should we focus on?

So it really does drive the work, and so Shayla mentioned about various groups like our College Enrollment Align and Design team certificate completion, there were several policies that aligned directly with them, were like, OK, yes, it’s been discussed, here’s where we’re at, now what do we do next to make sure that we’re looking at this at the systems level to be able to impact our community. So it really does drive the work that the background, strong leadership, you know, the cochairs who actually own it is going to be key in order to be able to progress.

Courtney W. Robertson: I love that. Who—so you mentioned the training that you all had. Who was a part of that training? Was that specific to your backbone team staff or was that open to your partnership as well?

Dr. Shayla Young: We’re doing the hands you all, but it was the whole network. It was the whole network and again that was facilitated by our technical assistance supports through MLPP.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you, and are those opportunities either that you all have continued to provide to your partnership or that you’re interested in continuing to do as you think about this is the first sort of iteration and year of your policy work so just as you’re thinking about it moving forward? I’m curious about the training component of it.

Maegen Frierson: So really, I will say the nice thing, it wasn’t just a one quick training. The first one was a virtual training just because it was in January and we already had to cancel our accountability partners council due to a freakish snowstorm in November, and then we changed it to January and said, nope, we are not going to let this happen again. We are not going to be snowed out and so it actually ended up being virtual but what was nice is that more people were able to access it because again it’s open, right? And then we provided on our website additional information and supports to be able to follow along if you weren’t able to make it, and then there was a second in-person training to anybody in the network too so the tools are there, and there will continue to be more convenings of strategy sessions—I don’t want to get too far into the script—are kind of like the next step so this is not stopping. It really does push the work.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you. I’m curious, Shayla, you’ve named that you all have a relatively small team like six full-time staff I’m assuming who are doing this work. In your partnership how are you all balancing that as the backbone sort of navigating your role in supporting the collaborative with their policy agenda?

Dr. Shayla Young: You mean—well, you said balance in there, Courtney, and that’s the one that threw me off but, no, in all seriousness, Maegan I think named it. Our policy and advocacy tri-chairs are carrying so much of this work. They are, you know, they’ve committed to extra meetings, and then they’re out there doing the work outside of this workgroup, right? So they are well tuned into all of the things that are happening. They’re giving us updates. They’re on the ground. They’re doing the grassroots and the grasstops work. They are doing all the things policy and advocacy so that is one way we keep this work rolling and why it has so much momentum I believe. It’s because there is complete ownership at the leadership level there.

Additionally I’d like to say we have as a six-person team, our leadership, Salvador Lopez, and Mark Woltman, they are committed to this work and we’re not stopping, right? One thing about releasing your policy agenda is that then you start to get into politics, and you start to get the hold on, wait a minute, what are you guys saying here, why are you guys supporting this, let’s pause here, let’s stop for a second, right? It can bring about a whole added layer of challenges and barriers for your organization, and so it is critically important for all backbones to have a strong backbone team that’s willing to push beyond some of that status quo as it relates to the policy and advocacy landscape.

Our board members are—when we say our network, we mean our board members too but this is not an agenda that was created in a room full of board members. This is an agenda that was created network-wide inclusive of board members, inclusive of backbone staff, and so again that’s that ownership. Then additionally we mentioned that Common Agenda and Roadmap, well, we actually did an update to that as we celebrated our 10 years, so we call it the Common Agenda 2.0, and in that 2.0 we have six different high-leverage activities that we’re committed to in our growth, and one of those activities is backbone decision-making ability, right? So we have space as a backbone team to decide on things without it having to go to the network first because that’s just how we’re set up. A lot of our work is vetted through the network. It’s the network but as a backbone we can say, OK, you know what? We’re committed to this policy, and we had to figure out as we were building our tools, well, does that trump a decision here? How does that connect with decision making at this level? But we have factored in space for the backbone to have voice, and that is not always traditionally the case when you think about collective impact groups.

Courtney W. Robertson: Absolutely. I’m curious as a follow up, how was that received by your partnership?

Dr. Shayla Young: They agreed. They agreed that it was time, OK? They knew it. And this is about advancing the work. Sometimes you can get it to a culture sit in your community where you just sit on things, and we needed to have some sort of mechanism where we can move forward with something in the event our community wanted to sit.

Courtney W. Robertson: Love that. It’s so interesting. I won’t ask anymore. I have questions around it but I won’t ask too many around it just because—and I think that speaks to the level of trust and relationship building that you all established to your point, Shayla, that you raised around across those 10 years when your partnership trusts you to make the right decisions, and that’s not always the case and there can be a lot of mistrust for whatever reasons that then stalled the work or that make being able to have input like that as a backbone team can make it very contentious for partnerships. I just want to name that, that that’s not a norm at all, and is to be celebrated for you all so kudos.

I’m curious. I’m also watching the clock, so I know our time is getting to the end. You sort of started alluding to this, Shayla, but I’m curious to know what would you all identify up to this point in your process, what have been some of those successes and what have been some of those challenges for you all, and if we want to package that into something more succinct, what are some of the key lessons that you’ve learned through this process?

Dr. Shayla Young: Yeah, so, Maegan, how about—can I start with the challenges and then you want to end with the success? OK, so I would say some of the challenges for us, and we named this before as a positive and a value-add to our leadership team, but it also posed some challenges having that diverse perspective, you know, and being able to work through some of those different—the differing opinions there, and having to call a vote even when we’re not in oneness or in unity around something.

One of the ways that we got beyond some of those different perspectives is to put the emphasis on what we’re trying to do here and it’s about equity and it’s about access. Another thing is after we took our policy agenda to the PACE Convening and we realized, hey, there is room for refinement, we refined our policy agenda to commit more to equity and access and not a particular piece of legislation. So at first it was, oh, we want the tri-share model. Oh, universal FAFSA, right? And those had some folks in an uproar but when we talked about the fact that this is about equity and access to certain things, then that was received a bit differently from our network. And then when we talk about just that anecdotal, I guess evidence and impact as it relates to policy, there were things that we just didn’t know, and we still don’t know and we’re still learning. There’s ways when you’re in that anecdotal space to overgeneralize and there could be space for bias so always having room to check that in your written material, in your presentations but then having this unwavering commitment to equity too so it’s that balance of, yes, we want all of these voices to be in the room but at the end of the day, this is about equity so I would name those as being some of our challenges along with, you know, I can’t even speak to the challenges that again our president and our vice president might be experiencing but at this level, those are some of the ones that I would name.

Maegen Frierson: Well, on the success side I will say it’s that sphere of collaboration, being able to have the opposing sides being available to discuss. Even for me I was like, oh, I thought I was totally for something. I’m like, well, that’s kind of an interesting fact as you hear the opposing side so to have that all in one space in a room but laying out, making sure that everybody is respectful, making sure that you come as yourself, that there’s no parking lot conversations afterward. We want to lay it all out in an area where we can all feel safe enough to have these discussions.

And then I will say another success for us was that this is new territory for us. We heard of it but then work as a team and dig, and you heard us talk about the backbone team, and I just want to point out because I know we’ve talked about our president and our vice president but really our director of communications, Katie Hop, she is amazing. A lot of the pre-reads that Shayla got out there for the PACE Convening, making sure that the voting is all set and ready to go, like really having someone—an organized process for every aspect of the event. I mean we can’t forget about Stephanie Salamone. She is our executive assistant and operations manager, and she is everything logistics thinking about everybody being comfortable in the room layout. I mean it’s beyond that, just making sure that everything runs well with bells and whistles, so you really are as strong as your team.

I will tell you one thing that was new for me was that seeing the PACE Convening made me think about in the community how impactful could this be? How effective can this be? It was very cool to kind of see opposing sides so just imagine if you had a room of youths going through the same thing, being able to understand a little bit more about policy, other community partners that are maybe not necessarily associated with the network so really opened kind of a fresh new way to understand what’s happening in your area and how you can support and advocate or advocate for it through it, whether it’s your employer or just personally so it just kind of gave us fresh new way of looking at what can drive the work that we do.

Courtney W. Robertson: Oh, I love that, and particularly you talking about having those different perspectives which it sounds like that’s something that you all are intentional about so that you are having the most robust and most complete conversation around whatever that topic is but specifically like your policy agenda.

So a couple—well, one, I want to go to this just because I thought you all would bring this up but I’m like, it’s probably because of where you are in your work, how have you all—how are you navigating or how are you thinking about navigating sort of like the political cycles that exist in this work like, you know, a new mayor, a new administration, a new this, right? We know elections come up, people, administrations change, how are you all thinking about that as you continue to build out what your policy work looks like?

Dr. Shayla Young: Yeah, that’s a fantastic question, Courtney, and part of our reason in deciding to move forward with not framing our policy agenda around just specific pieces of legislation was exactly that. You’re going to have people who shift. Let me just be—can I be a hundred percent honest?

Courtney W. Robertson: Please.

Dr. Shayla Young: We created the policy briefs, right? Katie and I, we had final drafts, and we put the drafts out there, and we put the invite to PACE out there, and then the governor had her state of state, and then one of our policy priorities was no longer being lifted as one of hers. We were like hey, OK, should we have waited three days, but the actuality is that for us it’s not about this particular piece of legislation. It’s about the core here and that is access to affordable and quality child care. It’s not about—or access to paid family and medical leave. It’s not about the FLOC Act. It’s not about Tri-Share necessarily but it’s about those things at its core, and so that was one way that we’re working to navigate that as well as our chairs have a lot of knowledge around that and so they give us a lot of good guidance as well as MLPP on, hey, this piece of legislation is saying this, this is expected to go to lame duck and not expected to be on this voting here, and so we’re learning that still but they are great advisors in that way which is part of the expertise that we’re allowed to leverage from them.

Maegen Frierson: I would add too, we met as a backbone team to come up with what would this look like and maybe thoughts maybe from the community and community partners, and one thing that was clear is that we are KConnect so do the policies align with our mission and vision? That’s the biggest thing. We can stand on who we are. We want all students, all children and families of color, everyone to have equitable path from cradle to career. Does that policy in fact support that, and that’s what really helps us. It’s not us, OK, yeah, I think. No, I know this is what we stand for.

Dr. Shayla Young: Absolutely, Maegan, and also when you look at our goals, a lot of it is around education and awareness on both ways so not just to community about a particular issue but also to like the legislators around a particular issue too, and so we’re looking to have that two way of communication. We’ve seen it happen in our community with some of our tri-chairs around specific issues like the universal FAFSA, and so that is happening and something we’re hoping to build upon.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you all. So I’m curious what are some things that in hindsight you wish you would have known or considered when you started working, doing your policy work? I see big smiles.

Dr. Shayla Young: Maegan mouthed “everything.”Everything. You know, I think there is a heightened level of communication that is necessary when you’re building a consensus or shared policy agenda. As a backbone team, we had to communicate with the board a certain way. We have to communicate with our community a certain way, with the network a certain way, with each other a certain way. The group, right? And the groups that are convening so communication and understanding just how that is so layered, and it’s so necessary to explore how you communicate from the policy brief to the actual policy agenda that you’re writing up, to the email that you send about it, it’s just so critically important.

And then another thing I’d like to add is just knowing when to go slow. Knowing when to go slow and slowing down does not mean that you’re derailed, and so when we jumped into this work in January of 2023, it was like full-fledged, like full force. There were some spaces where I’m like, well, we could have went a little bit slower and thought about this differently but again it’s an iterative process. We’re growing and we’re building on it. This is a space where we like to think that we’re trailblazing because a lot of organizations here in our community, they saw the process that we did, especially again around having that diverse perspective, and they really loved it. They really loved the process. We got a lot of kudos around the process.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome. I just want to underscore your point around it’s iterative, right? And so folks don’t have to feel like, well, what we developed in January of 2023 has to be the thing, right? But to your point, being nimble, being flexible around if things need to shift, if things need to be added, etc., like holding that type of flexibility, and there are things we’re going to naturally learn that sharpen and build our agenda and make it even stronger so being open to that so I appreciate that.

Maegan, is there anything you would add to that question about what you wish you should have known in hindsight?

Maegen Frierson: Not much. I would say the biggest thing that I would add is just how as a team, you know we all have our specific areas and Shayla was really leading the work so understanding how we could support at an earlier stage. I think that’s really what it is, you know. Things are kind of moving and then, OK, yeah, now we’re adding the teams and being a part of the conversation, but I think it’s one of those things we just didn’t know so making sure. It’s process, and I know Shayla, even though it was great work, she had nights where she was thinking about how do I piece this whole thing together or even just making sure your leadership team is good and everybody’s on the same page. I really just think from the very beginning, how could I have maybe supported- and maybe Shayla didn’t know what questions to ask, that’s one of those things too but that’s just out of learning. That would be the only thing I would add.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you all. I guess have there been any—I know it’s just been a year since you all embarked on this and developed that agenda, but have you had any wins, whether you would consider those small or big wins through the policy work so far?

Maegen Frierson: I would say a major win is the next strategy session or the first I should say strategy session that we are planning, and that’s where, OK, now that we’ve gotten the policy agenda out there, we did the voting protocol, now we’re able to bring the key players back into the room, those of the Align and Design team to say, OK, hey, we’re focusing on this, how do you build strategy? I think that’s a major win just because it really provides direction and focus for the year.

Dr. Shayla Young: Absolutely, and I would say we’re really seeing the PACE Convening as a major win for us, just being able to—again, we were able to receive 84 percent of those that attended, we passed, right? We passed with an 84 percent that policy agenda, and so just being able to lift up the fact that we listened, we contextualized, and built a policy agenda. We took it in front of our network and we got the pass, we got the green light, and so that is a big win for us as we go into building the strategy. We did in the midst of this, we had our first legislator come and visit us, and we presented the 360 model and whatnot, and so just getting our feet wet in that space but we really want to be seen as—we want to be seen as like an innovator and an educator as it relates to how community is responding to a certain policy and vice versa, and so just continuing to build that identity. We’ve seen it happen in pockets. We’ve seen it happen with some of our leaders of the workgroup and so we’re just kind of trying to bring it all together but all in all, PACE is a win.

Courtney W. Robertson: Kudos to you all. Yeah, that is a big win, right, to get a majority of folks to align and agree so kudos on that. So the final questions as we wrap up and I’m like can I just call you all so we can just talk outside this space because it’s so refreshing but, one, is there anything that I haven’t asked that you all would like to uplift as we prepare to close out?

Maegen Frierson: The only thing that I would add is that if you are a backbone team member, if you’re a part of the community network or whatever it may be, give yourself grace. If there was a perfect process and there was a correct way on how to do this and a strategy guidebook for everyone—maybe we should write that, Shayla, I don’t know, it may be coming up, but give yourself grace. You’re not going to get everything perfect, and to be honest, that’s OK. Collective impact is different, right? Even explaining collective impact to other people can be confusing that are not working in the same area, and so just give yourself grace. Research is key and then lean on others that are around you, whether it’s your tri-chairs, your co-chairs, and just continue that education piece, continue to educate yourself, stay current because I will say, you know, this was new to Shayla and she kind of crawled her way through and then eventually started—walked her way through it. That’s the only thing I would add. It’s not perfect. There’ll be ups, there’ll be downs but it’s a process.

Dr. Shayla Young: Absolutely, Maegan, and you said guidebook, there is a policy and advocacy toolkit that we are finalizing now, and so probably by the time of this podcast being made public, we will have that for folks to reference. It just outlines what we did, and it includes our 2024 policy agenda list with all of our policy priorities there. Yeah, that is coming soon.

Courtney W. Robertson: Beautiful. We love resources so we’ll be happy to share and help amplify that.

So just in parting and, Maegan, you started to touch on this but if there are folks listening who are like I really want my collaborative to start thinking about our policy work to maybe get a policy agenda or even, you know, we’ve done it and there are some things I’ve heard in this conversation that make me—help me realize that there are some ways we could be doing this differently. What would you all recommend as sort of like the first step, the first thing they should consider?

Dr. Shayla Young: I think the first thing, if an organization is wanting to get into the policy work is to again allocate resources so part of advancing the policy work within KConnect was making sure they had a fellowship present and they had leadership around the tri-chairs to really move and advance the work. Now I will say that the fellow is not—like policy and advocacy was not my thing before I became a fellow, OK? I didn’t know this world as much as I know it now and so it has taken a lot for me to really shift and adjust but there’s one thing that was very present about my skill set and that was people. People. I can emphasize listening in this process because that’s important, and I know how to do that. So it’s OK, right, if somebody has to upskill in certain ways around policy work. Don’t plan to jump in knowing all the things policy and advocacy but know that this is again a learning process on both ends for the organization and for community. Then I would say listening around what is important to the network or your work so identifying what it is that you’re close to, that you’re willing to do something about, and then draw up your strategies and your pathway towards what you’re going to do tomorrow.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you, Shayla. Maegan, anything you would add?

Maegen Frierson: No, nothing that I would add. You like, Shayla, how I plugged in the toolkit, huh? I should write something about that, right? That’s what we’re doing, and you could definitely learn more about the PACE work that we’ve been doing on our website, and that’s k-connect.org/PACE, and so you can find some additional information there. Shayla, correct me if I’m not right. OK, yeah, I got the nod. But it should be there. I don’t want to lead you to a link, you all, and you’re like where is the work? So, no, you can find additional information there and then there will be updates in the future, so we just appreciate the opportunity to talk about the process that we’ve gone through, lessons learned, and how much we truly just love the work that we do and the people that we work with.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you all for that. Maegan doing my job here. She took away one of my questions now. It’s totally fine. Just the only other thing I would lift up if I could answer this question based off of what I’ve heard from you all is finding out how does this well, right? Like who’s really knowledgeable around policy and advocacy and leveraging their knowledge, expertise, etc., to support the work of the group sounds like it’s been really critical for you all, and you have folks who are really committed to the work as well. The way you described them like this is a full-time job is what it sounds like, but it sounds like that they’ve also taken it and really run with it and owned the work so that that does release the backbone from having to take on so much of the responsibility. That is something I would leave you all with, is just to really understand the landscape for policy and advocacy and who might be those individuals in community, whether it’s formal or informal who have expertise around that space.

Anything else you would like to leave with? I know you all have mentioned in terms of next steps for your work. There’s a strategy session. You all are developing that toolkit. Anything else that’s next for your work or just anything else you’d like to leave in parting?

Maegen Frierson: We’re working you all. That’s what it is. We’re working, we’re working.

Dr. Shayla Young: Yes, we’re working and again, thank you for allowing us to be here to share our story around this, and just a word of encouragement. The status quo is meant to be challenged so don’t feel a way about challenging the political status quo.

Courtney W. Robertson: Be a rebel with the cause. I love it, absolutely. Well, Dr. Shayla and Maegan, I want to thank you both for your gifts of expertise, knowledge, and time today, and I want to thank our listeners for your continued support of the Collective Impact Forum podcast.

And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes for this episode. And if you’re enjoying all that we share at the Collective Impact Forum podcast, we encourage you to rate us on your preferred podcast platform, and share your favorite episodes with colleagues.

We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the past, present, and futures of these tribes.

The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.

In Forum news, we’re excited to share that registration is now open for our upcoming online workshop Facilitating Collaborative Meetings that will be held on July 16 and 17. This is a fantastic workshop that is especially designed for those who are new to facilitation. The workshop is being led by my colleague Courtney W. Robertson, and in it he will be sharing guidance and tools to support your facilitation work. If you are interested, please visit the events section of collectiveimpactforum.org to learn more and register.

This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast producer. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, let’s keep working towards collective impact.


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