Follow This Playbook for Post-Secondary Ecosystems

Posted by PHENND on May 25, 2020

from the Partnerships in Practice: Recommendations for Partners in Post-Secondary Educational Attainment

Our colleague Ben attended an NCAN Webinar on May 14th summarizing the findings of a research project in which PHENND and other Post Secondary Success organizations participated. The research conducted by Blessing Douglas, DaQuan-Lee Cook, Maggie Jacobi, Mykelle Richburg, and Travis Reginal from the George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration focused on how organizations create ecosystems for post-secondary success. They highlighted 5 key characteristics:

  1. Evolution: Strategic Planning and Problem Solving
  2. “Data Clearinghouse:” The Coordinating Role
  3. Face to face Networking and Meetings: Key to the Partnership Success
  4. Facing Challenges: Outcomes Mismatch
  5. Challenges and Successes with Data & Technology

First, with Evolution: Strategic Planning and Problem Solving, the team outlined how organizations use strategic planning for long-term success and problem solving for quick short-term solutions. Both are used to grow or tweak things as they come up as well as scale up best practice resources. The culminating results are guidelines for policies and procedures in order to better train community leaders to carry on the work thereby building the organization’s capacity.

Next, with “Data Clearinghouse:” The Coordinating Role, the discussed how often times these organizations coordinate evaluations and partnership data to send out to wider audiences. Much in the way as our newsletters and updates try to be your go to resource guide, other organizations try to share resources to their networks. The major limitations in doing so are differences in data sets or priorities, navigating bureaucracies, and the capacity to store everyone’s data. The team noted that most of this is mitigated through setting clear boundaries in the partnership when establishing the initial MOU or through the first key finding (strategic planning and problem solving).

lastly, in terms of successes, all organizations utilize Face to face Networking and Meetings. If you saw our Google calendars you’d see this as one of our strengths! The team described this key best practice as a way of making partners feel like their success is part of the organization’s broader success. These organizations create such successful networks because the key objective is relationship building. In building these relationships organizations are able to do many things, notably: building boundaries and onboarding materials to increase efficiency and consistency in service delivery; establishing regular contact for crisis management; and widening their network to allow the organization to pivot when needs be.

The team noted that it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Two key findings show how these organizations are tested and what they do to pull through in success. The first barrier is Facing Challenges: Outcomes Mismatch. The biggest barrier to achieving success as a data clearinghouse is different priorities or metrics for success, especially when different partnerships are in conflict or competition with each other. Not resolving these types of mismatches can ultimately lead to issues in proper resource allocation. acting as the moderator, the convening organizations can often times squash the beef or set very clear expectations for priorities.

Another barrier can be Challenges and Successes with Data & Technology. Essentially, the team noted, it’s hard to make people data driven. However, data often convinces funders among other things. Additionally, how do you promote persistence from student partners to use and collect more data. If there is mismatch in priorities or metrics this can further stymie success. The team noted a few ticks to overcome these challenges. Successful organizations have centralized their partners’ data into easily accessible data visualizations and data trackers shared on their website. Further, they create resource guidebooks that use layperson friendly terms.

In all, these organizations focus their efforts on convening through intentional engagement. They note where conflicts among organizations lie, and they bring them together to resolve conflict and bolster cooperation. Where these is obscurity, they bring people together or meet with partners one-on-one to demystify issues. They do all of they as an issue arise, i.e. they don’t let things linger too long. They are able to build partners’ success through iterative goal setting. This type of goal setting consists of creating open dialogue, re-centering priorities, balancing long- and short-term problem solving, and navigating differences in preferences. Most importantly, their approach is based on using empathy and a community core drive.

For organizations interested in boosting their own post-secondary ecosystems, the team outlined some general actions steps. Begin by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is your institutional capacity? What is its limitations?
  • How will you balance increasing your footprint and delivering high quality services? Which is the priority for you, if the two are mutually exclusive for you?
  • What already is out there? What are your existing partnerships already bringing to the table? Who’s missing from your table?
  • How will you manage sweat equity, i.e. ensure not one person is doing all the work?

Overall, before you get started, ensure you have really specific research questions to ask.

The research was conducted by the team using a 4-phase process. They initiated with literature review of methodologies such as 6-Sigma, Collective Impact, etc. They used they to generate actionable feedback and identify promising best practices. The literature review informed their next step–conducting a Qualtrics survey. This survey narrowed down a pool which they used to conduct phone interviews as their following step. Their last step was a call for follow-up document resources such as partnership MOUs. They noted that limitations of the study included its generalizability and narrow scope of analysis. To learn more about the study and its outcomes, you can check out these 2 resources: Case Study: FL CAN and Their Guidebook


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