Early Learning Network – Collective Impact in Action

by Natalie Fall
UWSL Intern

If you have been following United Way of Salt Lake in the last few weeks, you’ve likely heard the great news; UWSL has received the Common Good Award from United Way Worldwide for Innovation for the work being done by South Salt Lake’s Early Learning Network to drastically improve early learning opportunities in the community.  We’ve seen meaningful progress as the product of hard work and cross-sector collaboration in the ELN and it’s very exciting to receive this kind of recognition.

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SSL’s Early Learning Network is a great example of Collective Impact in action. There are five conditions of successful Collective Impact initiatives and the Early Learning Network incorporates each of them. Here’s how:

Common Agenda:  In order to create large-scale change, partners must identify an understanding of the problem and a shared vision for the outcome of their efforts.  In the case of the Early Learning Network, UWSL and partners agreed on two main goals after assessing the needs of the community.  These goals (to have infants and toddlers   demonstrate age appropriate development and to ensure every child enters kindergarten ready to learn) called upon public, private, and social sector participants, as well as funders, to align resources and programs as the first step toward success.

Shared Measurement System:  This principle of Collective Impact can be a complicated one to implement, but it remains a priority for partners of the ELN. By collecting data about kindergarten readiness and developmental checkpoints for students in SSL, UWSL and partners are able to make data-driven decisions about where and how to spend time and resources for further progress. This principle requires the tracking and sharing of agreed upon indicators of success by each of the network’s members.

Continuous Communication:  A commitment to open and frequent communication facilitates consistency in Collective Impact collaborations. This has been critical to the success of the Early Learning Network. The ELN meets in person bi-monthly as a whole, and monthly meetings are held among partners working with different age groups.  These regular meetings are key to building trust and developing strategies within the initiative.

Mutually Reinforcing Activities:  In a Collective Impact initiative, it is important for stakeholders to engage in practices that best serve the mission. This does not necessarily mean taking uniform action at all times, but identifying an organization or businesses strengths and using them to support their partners skills. For example, the ELN recognized the successful structure of Granite’s early learning program. They then built partnerships with private preschool and childcare facilities where they could implement Granite’s program, increasing capacity in SSL. The ELN has also agreed to take an active role in supporting advocacy and systems changes that reinforce their efforts.  Partners seek areas where their skills are needed and get to work.

Backbone Support:  Finally, it must be acknowledged that these first four principles would be difficult or impossible to achieve without people whose role is solely to coordinate and manage the relationships within a collaborative effort.  Along with United Way of Salt Lake staff, Janis Dubno of Voices for Utah Children has served this role for the ELN, planning and logistically supporting the network along the way.

With exciting changes happening for the Early Learning Network, like the introduction of a new Salt Lake Community Action Plan Headstart facility and the incorporation of new early learning partners, this initiative is one you’ll want to keep following.  All partners in the ELN should be credited for their dedication to seeking developmental success and kindergarten readiness for every SSL child through a collective impact framework.

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