Why Understanding Local Context Is Critical for Collective Impact

Understanding a community’s “context” and its readiness for complex change work is a critical factor for launching and advancing collective impact work.

Knowing the local context is necessary to support work with and within a community–who is part of the community, what are they experiencing, and what are their challenges, needs, assets, and opportunities? Where do relationships exist, and is there enough trust among participants to support a foundation for long-term work? Without a basic understanding of  community context, supporting change within a community is difficult and runs the risk of causing more harm than good.

In this episode, we learn about the state-wide initiative Community Organizing for Prevention (COFP), which is working with 30 communities across Colorado to support youth and prevent substance misuse. By coaching and supporting community mobilizers who train local partners to advance collective impact work, COFP strived to create a collaborative infrastructure of support across the state, but early feedback indicated that each community had their own circumstances and needs, and there wasn’t one strategy that would address them all.

We talk with Kit Jones (Colorado School of Public Health) and Marc Morgan (Community Organizing for Prevention, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) about how COFP moved forward with humility and deep listening, evaluating and evolving their strategies to support what their communities needed to equitably move forward. We also discuss how COFP, as a state funder, is working with other funders to sustain the work and create a stronger infrastructure for collective change across Colorado.

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

More on Collective Impact


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.

Listen to Past Episodes: You can listen and subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

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 learn about the state-wide initiative Community Organizing for Prevention, also referred to as COFP, which is working with 30 communities across Colorado to support youth and prevent substance misuse. COFP strived to create a collaborative infrastructure of support across Coloradoby coaching and supporting community mobilizers who train local partners to advance collective impact work in their region, but early feedback indicated that each community had their own circumstances and needs, and there wasn’t one strategy that would address them all.

We talk with Kit Jones from the Colorado School of Public Health and Marc Morgan from Community Organizing for Prevention about how COFP moved forward with humility and deep listening so they could evaluate and evolve their strategies to support what their communities needed to equitably move forward. We also discuss how COFP, as a state funder, is working with other funders to sustain the work and create a stronger infrastructure for collective change across Colorado.

Moderating this discussion is Collective Impact Forum Executive Director Jennifer Splansky Juster. Let’s tune in.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Hello, everybody, and welcome to the today’s podcast with the Collective Impact Forum. I am Jennifer Splansky Juster, executive director of the Forum, and I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation with Kit Jones, from the Colorado School of Public Health, and Marc Morgan, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

In today’s discussion we’ll be learning more about a body of work called Colorado Organizing for Prevention. As you will hear in this discussion the statewide program with local implementation sites has been on a true learning journey with significant evolution in the work since the program launched about eight years ago. I really admire how the team both at the state level and in many of the communities have adapted the work in response to what has been learned in partnership with residents and community partners. The way the initiative has faced challenges, shifted its work as it progressed and evolved in service of more community context and equity-informed approaches is really quite unique, and I look forward to hearing more from Kit and Marc as we go through our conversation today.

So without further ado I am thrilled to invite Kit and Marc into our conversation. I’d love to start by having each of you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what brought you to your current work. Let’s start with you, Kit.

Kit Jones: What brought me to this work is I was doing local policy and systems change work using collective impact frameworks in my local community and was fortunate enough to build a relationship with the folks, with the funders at the state, and really started to dialogue around gaps in understanding around what the state was asking me and my community to do, and what was really happening at the local level. So when this position opened up as an evaluation specialist to help evaluate these efforts, I thought it would be a good opportunity to be able to provide more of that context around what’s happening at the local level in hopes that we could do a better job of supporting communities doing this work around evaluation and all of those fun things.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Kit, I love how you bring the perspective of having been part of a local implementation and then transitioning to being the developmental evaluation partner. That’s just such a useful and amazing perspective that you bring to the work. And Marc, welcome.

Marc Morgan: Thank you. Thank you so much. I love Kit’s answer because it started making me think, it was like, oh, my gosh, if I was thinking about my 10-year-old- 10 years ago, I would have never thought I’d be working for state government and being a funder. I was a program person. I did program design. I was a program director. I worked for AmeriCorps organization, mentoring organizations, but someone that had worked for me while I was a program director for this mentoring organization in Colorado, said, “Hey, you should check out this program over here. It’s doing some things I think you would really resonate with.” And as I looked into it, I was like, “Oh, you know what? I’ve complained enough about funders and maybe going on this other side and bringing that experience would kind of change the landscape a little bit and be able to influence how we go about funding and supporting programs, from the funder side.” I interviewed and luckily, they liked me enough and I said yes. So here I am almost six years later.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: That’s great. That’s great. And you referenced the program but could one of you just tell us a little bit more about Colorado’s Community Organizing for Prevention work?

Marc Morgan: I’ll take a good try at this. Community Organizing for Prevention is a statewide substance misuse among youth, prevention program in Colorado. Our goal is to focus on the root cause of substance misuse and address ways that, to address those root causes through healthy youth development so that all youth in Colorado can truly thrive. Part of that we recognize that we need to do a really good job of getting to recognize how racism and other overlapping forms of oppression impact our health and systems. Eight years ago, the governor at the time once we were one of the first in the nation to pass marijuana as a retail, in a retail version. We wanted to make sure that we also had substance use prevention to go along with it, and they chose Communities That Care, a collective impact model, as a forum to say, hey, you know what? We could say that we are going to tackle this at a state level, but this really needs a local touch. Communities That Care was really able to offer us a format in that we could provide funding to local organizations of which we do 30 communities across Colorado, and those serve as the backbone agencies for this effort. They hire what we call community mobilizers that really help energize the community and really help build the capacity of the community to understand what is going on with substance use in our communities and what are those local solutions that are really provided. From the statewide perspective all we do is try to say, hey, we’re here as technical assistance. We’re here to help. We know we’re from the state and that hasn’t always been the case, but truly, how do we partner for the betterment of all Coloradans.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: So, at the state level you all are playing the role of funder, and you seeded the community mobilizers who are serving as the backbones across 30 local different communities, and then you are also providing technical assistance to those communities. In addition, you have statewide evaluation efforts, right, that are keeping track of what folks are learning in communities and the progress. So, I think it’s always interesting to bring that kind of statewide, bird’s-eye view, and then going deep at the community level across all 30 of those communities.

My understanding is that the work has evolved a lot since it started and I already sort of mentioned this in my intro, that you’ve had a lot of effort towards adapting learning from what you’re hearing from communities facing some of those challenges and making changes. I thought if you could share a little bit more about some of the challenges and what you experienced that have kind of catalyzed some of that change.

Marc Morgan: This is really fascinating. My first week as a state employee was actually going to a training by the University of Washington who are the program designers of Communities That Care, and within that training—it might have actually been the first day of the training, they were saying a lot of things, you need to change this way. You need to say it that way, and really make sure that people feel these certain ways. I looked at them and said, “It sounds like you’re asking me to code switch. As a Black man that has to do that a lot, it doesn’t feel really authentic.” I think that’s what we’re really trying to get to as a program. And sure enough, that started a lot of conversations along with the University of Washington, but not too long after, Kit was actually one of our grantees in the communities. They had reached out and they confirmed what I was experiencing in that training of this request to be kind of perfect in this not real authentic person engaging with the community and really truly hearing what is going on and what needs to adjust so that we can meet the community needs. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Kit that had reached out. There was a set of grantees from we call it the Eastern Slope of Colorado, so Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs area, a group of them had sent a letter with the same concerns being expressed. Then I got another letter from southern Colorado where they were also expressing that we’re having these struggles and they were the same ones that Kit brought that the eastern part of Colorado was experiencing, what I experienced in my first week.

As I started to go out and meet with all of them to really hear out their concerns, we realized we needed to do something to recognize and really balance how do we meet the fidelity of Communities That Care, but also acknowledge that the way that we were going about coaching was actually causing a lot of harm in our communities. We were being the state people that were trying to tell them like we live in Denver but you live in like Grand Junction, Colorado, which is on the other side of the state. What is best needed in their community and how to go about it? That wasn’t the point of Communities That Care. That wasn’t the point of going and looking at local needs and being able to find local solutions. Those good intentions unfortunately caused harm and we needed to do some work there. Kit, I don’t know if you want to go a little deeper with that. You were there.

Kit Jones: I can add to that, for sure. What Marc says is so true and when Marc came on board there really was a shift. You know, the whole thing around like intent versus impacts. When the state had all this marijuana tax dollars there’s a new like let’s use this for prevention purposes. Great intent. Unfortunately, there were just some blind spots in what to do with that. Luckily, folks have been able to learn and grow. We know that collective impact’s frameworks require a sense of readiness in the community and a sense of urgency, and there was no kind of like pre-work done before giving communities money to see if those things existed. It was essentially somebody coming in. I live six hours away from Denver, down in southwest Colorado, and we’re pretty sensitive to folks from Denver telling us what to do. We’re really different and even though we have some common overlaps, we’re very different. Our community wasn’t ready to do the work. The backbone who received the money wasn’t ready. They didn’t understand collective impact and I was constantly asking Marc’s team to tell my people at the backbone I was working at the time, “Tell them I’m not doing anything wrong,” because I was just trying to bring power into the community and have the community be equal partners in the decision-making process along with all the nonprofits and other entities in the community.

Really when Marc came in there was a big shift in that Marc brought a sense of humility to the work and it’s not often that you work with a funder who can put their ego aside and sit and listen and learn and adapt. But that’s what this work really requires. We’re creating new systems and new ways of operating, and so it makes sense that where that’s rooted at the state with those funds that they’re able to do the same thing alongside local communities and Marc also brought this equity lens. I’m a big root cause person in digging deep into these social issues and I knew that we weren’t getting deep enough and we were causing more harm in the community by just furthering the ways in which things had already been done and with the same focus areas. Marc really allowed us to dig deeper and have those hard and tough conversations that we need to have to really get to the root cause of these social issues that are impacting our communities.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Kit and Marc, and I think what I’m really hearing is that there was, as you said, intent, there is a model that had been proven as evidence based and research suggest success, but without adaptation to the local context both the Colorado context and then even at the unique individual community context. In many cases there was more harm that was happening than good, than benefit. Kit, you gave the example of the community that, in your reflection, wasn’t ready to partner and share power with residents, with really community-rooted organizations in a way that was required in that community context to move any kind of prevention root-cause work forward. So, I think that’s a really important takeaway for folks, right, like thinking about readiness to collaborate in new and different ways that share power, and also research and best practices, super helpful to learn from, and has to be adapted for the local context.

And so, I really just want to underscore those two points that I think are really drawn from your experience and also probably relevant for many, many folks doing this work in community or kind of multicommunity kind of statewide or regional efforts. I think one of the ways that helped you navigate the challenges that I’ve heard you talk about was taking a developmental evaluation approach and working with partners in this developmental evaluation, and I think it would be really helpful for folks to understand more about that process and how it’s contributed to the work and the evolution.

Marc Morgan: Thank you so much, Jennifer, because as we had mentioned, we knew that we needed to change some things. So as much as we’re looking at the capacity building of locals, we had to say, OK, what does that capacity building look like for coaches? For people that are providing that technical assistance, what do they need to know? What do they need to do in order to really help coach people at a local level to build this capacity? So that became a really important question that we needed to answer, and we are incredibly blessed to have partners at the University of Colorado that had been doing it and supporting both the evaluation as well as making prevention science real. Making that connection between what is the research and then what is the action that’s actually been going on? They have been doing this in Colorado before we actually even got started, with the grant they were supporting a couple of communities in northeast Denver.

So being able to partner with them and having Kit who was a grantee now working on that team to really support us and understanding of like what is it that our communities need from us as a technical assistance provider. And so, we asked them, can you help us? Answer these questions and Kit being Kit, started to lead the way so they can really share how that came about.

Kit Jones: Thank you, Marc. Yeah, I was really nervous and excited for this project. Again, I don’t come from an evaluation background so when I was told that I was going to be leading this developmental evaluation, I had never even heard those words but very excited because I’m a policy and systems change junkie, and so the opportunity—really how it all started was I was tasked with putting together a steering committee which Marc was a part of, and pulled in a number of other policy and systems change, not just subject matter experts but we like to also say process matter experts, so not just folks that can talk about this from an academic or professional level but people who have done the work in communities and really understand the nuances. That was really important when I pulled together this group. That’s really what they were bringing. Like Marc said, coming at it from making these things real and relatable because again having done the work on boots on the ground at the local level, I just talk about the way these things are in my words. I never read about them in school. I’m a social worker by trade and so I realized that’s part of the gap in understanding, is being able to translate these things to just how everyday people would talk about them because essentially, we’re needing to pull in people from all different walks of life and backgrounds and races and ethnicities and ability levels and education levels to do this work together to really make it impactful and sustainable at the local level.

So I really appreciated that about this group, was how can we take something so complex, and when we’d meet we needed to cut ourselves off because we all nerd out on this stuff and you could go down so many rabbit holes with policy and systems change and collective impact and whatever, and so brought that group together and what we really decided early on was again these models and frameworks are great for creating kind of a road map of how folks can do these things but what was missing a lot was the why. Why are we doing these things, and when folks have an understanding of why you’re doing certain things, it really changes the way in which you do the work. You have a deeper level of understanding so when you’re training a trainer, so when I talk about that, it’s really training a coach on Marc’s team to then train a community mobilizer at the local level who is then training their coalition and local community members on how to do this work. That’s a lot of people it’s going through and so you really have to have a solid understanding as a coach to be able to explain the whys behind the work because if the why isn’t there, it’s like a part of the work isn’t there, you know?

So what I really liked about this developmental evaluation is not how we highlighted these core competencies and best practices that a trainer of other trainers should know, we’ve done it really in a way that breaks down all these things into four parts so the theory, again, the why, the technical skills needed behind that, the process skills needed along with that to do that, and then the content competency, so whatever the social issue of focus is, the content competencies around that issue and all the work you’re trying to do, bringing those things together. It’s not to say that a coach should be or can be an expert in all of those things to be able to train a community but a coach should know the basics, at least the 101 or whatever, and then pull in other supports as needed along the way. Now we have a beautiful report and even more beautiful executive summary because the report is kind of lengthy but it’s just—it couldn’t be shortened. All of these things were really important in highlighting but we do also have this executive summary which really pulls out these key findings and main takeaways from this work to make it as simple as possible, something that’s so complex, you have to try to make it as simple as possible for folks to digest.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Absolutely, and we’ll definitely include a link in the show notes so folks can look at the executive summary and full report but one of the things that I think is—that surfaced from your work that is likely quite relevant, of course with local adaptation to other communities, are some of the competencies and skills that are needed for your coaches, and then by extension to build as capacities for your backbones that you call the community mobilizers. It is a list that folks can—a description that folks can find in the report but I’m wondering if there are a few that you’d like to lift up that folks would find helpful to learn from your developmental evaluation about what some of those skills might be.

Kit Jones: Yeah, again there’s a lot but definitely there were kind of themes that popped out in our conversations in the steering committee and just in the data that we were able to pull together. The first one and again in no particular order, the first one is really around communities need to be seen and valued as equal partners in this work, and not just community in a broad sense but all the diverse aspects of a community and diverse groups in the community really need to be seen and valued as full partners again to make these things sustainable and impactful because when Marc’s coaches get pulled out, when I get pulled out as an evaluator, if we ever lost this funding, what we really want is for communities to be able to do this work without us. So what we’re doing is building capacity at the local level so communities can do collective impact around whatever issue, social issue or whatever issue they’re working on that they could further that and they understand and they value it. So it’s really important that we treat communities as equal partners in this work.

Marc Morgan: Can I provide an example on that?

Kit Jones: Oh, of course, yeah.

Marc Morgan: Sorry to interrupt but it just made me think there is a community, I’m not going to name which one, but there is a community that they were posting their meetings at the local courthouse. Now for some people going to the local courthouse is disempowering. It’s not a place that is truly welcome for them, and so us being able to actually have conversations with them like, oh, so we see that the demographics of your coalition doesn’t really match the demographics of your community, and you’re hosting these meetings at the courthouse. Do you think there might be another place that you could potentially host this and see if different people show up? Of course, the first response was defensive and, no, of course not, but we kept at the questioning and eventually they did start to host at a different place and lo and behold, different people from the community started to actually show up and start to feel like, OK, maybe I am welcome here because it was simply just a change of venue that led to that feeling that, oh, I can belong here and the power kind of opens up. Sorry, Kit. That just—what you were saying just reminded me of that instance. Of course, I say that short and brief but that took several months for us to get there but that was—man, that was so incredible once we were able to get there and us learning that we had to actually ask that question. We hadn’t asked that question in the several months before.

Kit Jones: Marc, that’s a great example of another reason why it’s important to engage the diverse elements of the community because we’re also trying to do things in new and different ways to solve social issues that have existed for a long time so it requires new approaches and new ways of thinking. A lot of times people doing this work in communities are the same people and it’s really important to pull in different members of the community who think about things in different ways because they come from different backgrounds, have different experiences, and so that’s another reason why I think that part is really important. It came out in our research.

A second point that came out was just something that’s not new to those of us who have been doing the work, that policy and systems change can be really slow and challenging so if you’re training a trainer in a community who then trains out their community members, really working with them on anticipating that. How to navigate frustrations within your community, how to navigate burnout because that’s very real, very real from all ends, you know, of people doing the work. It’s not a linear process. It’s not something—even though we try to do our best capturing that in this report, we essentially—it’s adopting it. It’s hard to put all of this into just a Word document or whatever. It’s like a messy plate of spaghetti if you were going to diagram it, right? There’s no point A, point B, ending. It’s just all over the place, and you have to anticipate that you might have this intention of getting to point B but then you’ve got to go off course because you need to pull somebody in or something happened, a pandemic happened, turnover, superintendent turnover, whatever.

These things happen and we just have to anticipate that and do your best to prepare the person that you’re working with, the mobilizer, of how to navigate those and how to help your community stay motivated and engaged, and also how to know when things sometimes need to fizzle and maybe be rebuilt as something else, an ecological model or ecocycle model from that. It’s OK for things to die sometimes and be reborn in another way. And then there is potential for harm in this work, and really trying to do your best to do this work with an equity lens which is something again that Marc brought to this work that I really valued.

I know a lot of other communities really value and trying to sit back, think about unintended consequences, and another reason to pull in other folks from the community that might be able to help you see things that you don’t see because of blinders that you naturally have on because of your own identity or upbringing or place in society or whatever, and coming at it from humility and putting your agenda aside sometimes and learning.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Kit, those are all really, really interesting findings from the research and it’s also a lot for one person to be proficient, and I’m curious, did your evaluation point to like how to staff these community mobilizer roles or how to embody all of the different required characteristics at the community level?

Kit Jones: That’s such a good question. This is one of those things that we’re kind of building the plane as we’re flying it, you know? It wasn’t something that we necessarily knew when first doing this work, that we knew we knew. Those of us who do the work know this deep down but it wasn’t really talked about as a part of the model or the process, and it’s just something that’s come out and really supporting Marc’s team, the coaches around when they’re working with mobilizers of everybody—every mobilizer is in a different place. Every mobilizer is a different community and has their own identities and their own backgrounds and their own skill levels and so how do you work with 30 very different people around a similar type of work, and how do you support them, right? That’s essentially what Marc’s team is trying to figure out how to do. Marc, I don’t know if you want to chime in with that.

Marc Morgan: Yeah, so there are—I don’t think I said, there are five of us at the state that are trying to coach the 30 different communities, and something that came out in the developmental eval as well was like it’s really difficult for one person to know everything, have all the knowledge, have all the competencies, have all the skills so it became really important that we recognize, oh, where are our abilities and capabilities at, and when do we need to pull others in like to come in on some of our calls with communities to talk about local evaluation and different evaluation efforts that can happen in a community. There’s other people at the University of Colorado in the School of Public Health that they have a lot of expertise on doing policy work and being able to do policy scans and other work and other training that is really needed within our communities. We phone a friend, we bring them in. This became really important to recognize that this isn’t about us holding all and having the weight of the world on our shoulders but it was about sharing that weight with friends and colleagues and people that really care about the communities, and we all can help the communities together.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, that totally makes sense. That’s a lot for a single person or even a few people to hold such a broad set of expertise. One other thing that I think is important about this work that I’ve been impressed with is the intentionality that you’ve brought to planning for sustainability that’s probably informed even the structure to have coaches and trainers as part of the program but I know it’s also informed other dimensions of the program so how have you thought about designing with sustainability in mind?

Marc Morgan: Such a great question and believe it or not, it was actually baked in from the very beginning. I started three years after the beginning but the people that were there, the governor’s office, legislators, and the people working in public health, they really thought through what is a program that is evidence based that can really support our communities and has shown that over a long-term period of time there’s a good cost benefit analysis of whether or not they are actually reducing substance and delinquency, and Communities That Care really fit the bill for us along with the fact that it is a part of this collective impact approach that uses so many of the elements that we all know about collective impact that at least through that research we saw, hey, for every dollar that we spend we’re going to get $11.14 return, and that’s from that reduction of substance use, that’s from the reduction of delinquency, that’s from an increase in wages because people are able to access different opportunities when they’re not so engaged in substances all the time. So from the beginning knowing that there is a model that we can follow that has an element of sustainability was key. The other side of that, it was really important that we had someone like Kit and the university as partners in order to really help us with that research and all these highbrow language and things. They sometimes don’t connect with the communities so how do we actually take this moment of what does it mean to build capacity, and so this idea we need to build capacity around collective impact. We need to build capacity around systems change. We need to build capacity around broadening the power base. How do you organize a community? How do you activate community? Knowing that those are two different things as well as being humble enough to say, yeah, actually I do need help, I need that implementation support so those six areas, broadening power base, organizing community, activating community, systems change, collective impact, and implementation support, that formed our six key components of community organizing for prevention.

Kit Jones: Yeah, and something I really value again having done this work at the local level and now getting to see communities across the state doing the same thing is this is the only program that I have ever received funding for when working at the local level that really allowed me to be intentional around building relationships, that they’re actually allowing funding for me to sit down and take people out for coffee in my community and build those relationships that we need to really build the foundations for sustainability in communities. It all comes down to those relationships with people of all different walks of life and backgrounds, and building trust, especially when working for a backbone organization that in my experience didn’t have trust built within the community and actually had caused harm in the past, and so I was having to repair some of that harm so that people would engage in this collective impact initiative that I thought was really important. That can be really slow. I was really grateful to have that support from the state to be able to focus in on that because that really—without that, nothing is going to last. If people don’t have trust and can’t come together and talk and put their own agendas aside, nothing’s going to last. It will just go back to the way as usual and the same issues will just continue to be perpetuated in my community.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, and, Kit, what you’re talking about makes me think of a framework we often use to talk about systems change which is from The Water of Systems Change. I’m really hearing you talking about relationships and connections and shifting and sharing power and changing mental models around what it means to do this kind of work, and what you really just elegantly laid out is that without—those three dimensions are key to like sustainable systems change so that is such a perfect illustration. I noticed that sometimes people hear sustainability and they immediately think about funding, and that isn’t at all how you answered this question yet I do know, Marc, you are talking with other funders in the state about this work because there are resources required, and I’m curious if you could share a little bit more about your work engaging with other funders and how that is pointing out who can be helpful to consider.

Marc Morgan: Yeah, I really appreciate that because we are early into that work. We are really fortunate that internally we call this the 1276 work because there were legislators that actually passed a bill that’s called 1276 that allowed us to set up what we call the collaborative, and that has afforded us the opportunity to start to bring different funders together. We meet monthly and try to get—actually try to do a lot of the collective impact work. We’re trying to build that common agenda between funders acknowledging who is actually funding what aspect of the work and how do we braid funding together at least in our considerations of as we’re putting out funding to communities, are we really being thoughtful because, for example, the funding that we get for the Community Organizing for Prevention, it is just focused in on the operations of setting up a coalition, a collective impact, providing that financial support towards it and technical support but it doesn’t cover program implementation and we know that’s a critical part of the solutions that communities need so us being able to go into this funders group and have these different conversations like, hey, I can fund all the support and bringing people together in a community, being able to get on the same page with that common agenda and really identify all these great solutions, can you potentially shape your funding so that it’s supporting more programs than duplicating what we’re doing. So it’s a great start.

Like I said, we’re really early into it so maybe if someone’s listening and you’re like I’m not part of that group, reach out to me. We’d love to have more funders at the table because we just want to make Colorado better, right? We don’t want to get caught up in, I think Kit said earlier, that ego side of funders. We just want to say what’s really going to best support our communities so how can we be on the same page. We hear way too often that as funders we’re not on the same page. We use different language. We say all these different things and it’s like that’s not helpful so we’re starting to come together. I’m really excited about the early stages but hopefully a couple years from now I’ll be able to share all these wonderful things that are coming out of us as funders actually getting together and really supporting the communities in the way that they really need it.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: That’s great, Marc, and I think it’s actually unusual for communities to actually have the funding for sometimes we call is the collaborative infrastructure. That is what the state is funding and that is so awesome because those dollars are really hard to come by, and so I wish you luck and have high hopes that some of the other funders will be like, oh, you’re funding the collaborative infrastructure? Well, sure, we’ll fund the program work so wishing luck on that. I know that the state will be better off for the work that you are all doing both with communities but also trying to help align the funder community as well around the priorities that have been identified by community, right? Because that’s what you’re trying to get folks to support which is great.

Marc Morgan: Exactly.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: As we wrap up, is there anything we haven’t talked about that you’d really like to share with folks?

Marc Morgan: There’s this learning that we definitely had as this work has gone on, and it comes from Sheryl Petty who is part of Change Elemental. I’m going to read her quotes as she said it so very well that, “Systems change pursued without deep equity is in our experience dangerous and can cause harm, and in fact, leaves some of the critical elements of systems unchanged, and equity pursued without systems change is not deep nor comprehensive at the level of effectiveness currently needed. Both need each other.”

And so that quote really captures a lot of our learning that as coaches at the state, as funders, as technical assistance providers, we needed to do something like this developmental eval and actually make sure that it was someone external to take a look at us because sometimes when we have those internal dialogues, we still have our blind spots but having someone that was external, is able to say, hey, you know what? You’re doing a lot of great things about systems change but you’re missing all these questions about deep equity, and that really allowed us and allowed me as I came in to say, hey, you know what? When I looked at the foundation of the early writings of what this funding was supposed to be, it talked about equity so it was supposed to be embedded in the very beginning but we weren’t fully realizing that because we saw systems change and deep equity as two separate things, and what we’re really working towards now is now this is—deep equity just allows us to think about how we’re doing systems change differently and ensuring that we’re not having policies that have different impacts on different populations that have been a source of harm in the past.

So certainly want to encourage folks, sometimes you might get caught in that either/or of either I’m going to do systems change or I’m going to do deep equity, it can really be one and the same. That was just an important lens that we had to have throughout all of this work.

Kit Jones: Yeah, I would just add that that’s exactly why I am very proud to be doing this work alongside Marc and his team. It really is what I think is going to create a shift that we need in our communities. It’s the only way if you’re bringing those two pieces together so thank you, Marc, for naming that piece.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yes, Kit and Marc, thank you both, and we will definitely link to Sheryl Petty and Change Elemental’s work around deep equity in the show notes because that’s a really instrumental body of work we hope folks can check out. So I want to thank you both so much for sharing your experiences, your learning, and your wisdom with us today. If folks want to learn more and continue to follow your work, where should they look?

Kit Jones: You can follow my side of the work of things with the evaluation team that I work with at the School of Public Health at cuanschutz.edu, and Marc?

Marc Morgan: You can go to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s website. You will find us at Community Organizing for Prevention. I think I actually did note that if you go to Google and put in Community Organizing for Prevention, I think the two of our websites were one of the first two links there. Hopefully that’s the same across the country. It was for me at least last night.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Fantastic. Thank you. Well, Marc and Kit, thank you again. I am so grateful for the time you spent with us and I know our listeners will be as well so I wish everyone listening and Marc and Kit, both of you, a wonderful day and we’re on the cusp of the weekend so I wish you a wonderful weekend as well.

Marc Morgan: Thank you so much, Jennifer. Thank you, Kit.

Kit Jones: Thank you all.

(Outro) 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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