Alignment in Partnerships

June 11, 2019 0 By mbiggar

In my Winter Newsletter, I introduced the Essential Conditions for Place-Based Partnerships framework (below) that I have developed from my work and research with partnerships addressing social change. In this Spring Newsletter, I am highlighting the first condition: Alignment.


Frequently assess and improve alignment across stakeholders within partnership and between partnership and other initiatives

Backbone Support

Provide sufficient staff capacity and time to regularly guide, coordinate and monitor the partnership

Community Leadership

Involve community members and those closest to the challenges in the core leadership and decision-making; ground the overall effort in lived experience

Design of Partnership

Develop and adapt structure for governance, participant roles, sharing among stakeholders and aligned action

Evaluation & Measurement

Determine relevant, shared metrics and evaluate progress and population-level impact based on them

Meeting Facilitation

Collaboratively plan meetings and use a variety of techniques in meetings to engage, challenge and inspire participants and be productive

Network Mindset

Shift from organization-centered, top-down approach to a systems approach with the collaborative mission at the center, allowing for solutions to emerge and grow

© Matt Biggar, Ph.D., Connected to Place (2019)

Strong alignment among organizations within partnerships is essential in order to advance strategies that improve places and impact the populations they serve at scale. Effective partnerships break down silos and help diverse organizations find common ground and align their planning, action and outcomes. Breakthroughs can happen quickly when organizations come together to discuss what they each do and discover where overlap and gaps exist among their work on related problems. This is the start of systems change needed to address complex social problems. Sustained impact requires a deepening of alignment in which each organization focuses on what it does best and how it can best connect to the other organizations in the partnership. (“Do what you do best and connect to the rest.” – Jeff Jarvis) This eventually leads to organizations shifting their work, reducing redundancy and addressing gaps to change the status quo and achieve collective impact. I’m fortunate to work with clients invested in partnerships and doing this hard work.

Planning for Save Lives.Unite Oklahoma., a cross-sector partnership to save the lives of dogs and cats in shelters across Oklahoma, started one year ago. Through a planning process, participating organizations developed a theory of change that led to three areas for aligned action: affordable and accessible spay and neutering services; support for best practices in shelters; and developing community leadership. Conversation and planning are happening in all three areas with coordinated action starting to emerge. I’ve been working with the Kirkpatrick Foundation, funder for the partnership, and many wonderful organizational leaders across Oklahoma through the initial planning process and into the implementation phase.

The YMCA of San Francisco (YSF) has been a lead partner in many partnerships where its’ strategic priorities align with the initiative and its’ role complements the other cross-sector partners. Shape Up San Francisco, a collaborative committed to reducing chronic disease health disparities, and San Francisco Children and Nature, a collective impact initiative dedicated to reducing inequities in access to nature for children and youth, are two such partnerships where the YSF has taken on a catalytic role. I am supporting YSF’s strategic planning process and development of a 2025 Vision.

ChangeScale is an environmental education collaborative in the Bay Area with over 50 member organizations aligned in support of its mission to “advance the cohesiveness, effectiveness, and prominence of the environmental education field in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas.” To assess the needs and priorities of member and affiliated organizations, ChangeScale recently conducted listening sessions across the region. I am working with ChangeScale to analyze all this input and identify opportunities for deeper alignment among organizations in fulfillment of ChangeScale’s mission.

The Campus and Community as a Learning Laboratory collective impact project, at the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE), brings together school districts with city government, county agencies and businesses to address local sustainability challenges. Many win-win partnerships are being formed that are leading to school-based projects (green schoolyards, waste reduction, sustainable transportation) not possible without strong alignment among local partners. I am planning the project and facilitating workshops with SMCOE’s Environmental Literacy Coordinator Andra Yeghoian.

The Menlo Park City School District is involving its teachers, administrators and community (Board members) in the redesign of its teacher evaluation system to best reflect the high expectations for teaching and learning in this district. Each group and individual brings a different perspective to the process. Through a series of design sessions and the development of a prototype, the stakeholders are finding alignment in purpose and desired outcomes as a foundation for building a system that effectively supports teaching and learning across schools. I have been facilitating the process and developing the prototype.

Happy spring to everyone! Get outside and enjoy nature and all the flowers.

Upcoming Events (supported by Connected to Place)

May 1st

Annual YMCA of San Francisco Board Retreat (Strategic Planning), Buchanan YMCA, San Francisco

May 7th

Save Lives. Unite Oklahoma. Convening, Oklahoma State University

May 13th

Campus and Community as a Learning Laboratory Workshop #2, San Mateo County Office of Education

May 18th, 10:30am-Noon

School District Partnerships for Equitable Nature-Based Learning and Environmental Literacy, Presentation at Children & Nature Network International Conference, Oakland Marriott City Center

May 20th, 23rd and 24th

Teacher Evaluation System Prototype Feedback Sessions, Menlo Park City School District