One of the most difficult components of working in a cross-sector partnership is collaborative work planning. Shifting from individual to collective action can challenge even the most seasoned partnerships, often spending too much time figuring out how to stitch individual actions into a cohesive plan.

ProjectAttain! – a regional partnership based in north central California focused on improving outcomes for adults with some college experience who have yet to earn a credential – has embarked on an ambitious effort to create a collective workplan. This work includes community colleges districts, four-year universities, workforce boards, and rural college collaboratives serving 12 counties in California’s Capital Region.

Through their participation in CivicLab’s Building Rural Community Learning Systems initiative, ProjectAttain!’s guiding team created a new set of processes and tools to co-create a shared workplan for the region. Applying CivicLab’s frameworks and principles, Allison Shaw and Barbara Halsey are leading a multi-month effort to collect both current state supports and future state ideas on how to best serve rural adults in their region.

I sat down with Allison and asked her to walk me through their processes, tools, and partnerships. Allison shared how they applied holistic and contextual systems thinking,  CivicLab’s equity and problem dissolving frameworks, and previewed a self-developed scoring approach into their collaborative workplan development process.

Beyond the tools and frameworks, Allison discussed the need to keep their processes human. Most of their partners are senior-level leaders who do not have considerable amounts of time for collective work. By strategically sequencing their collaborative workplan development, creating strong tools and templates, and providing backbone support, ProjectAttain! has not only made significant progress on creating a collaborative workplan but has begun changing the mindset of their partners to think beyond their own institutions.

From our conversation, here are notable ideas, comments, and contexts from Allison:

  • “Because of California’s population and identity, we tend to get huge investments of money from different federal agencies. Those can come with a lot of distractions. When we really dug into CivicLab’s system-building principles, we realize our systems were broken. We have new programs and resources constantly coming down the pipeline, but we don’t succeed because the system itself is broken.”
  • ProjectAttain! focused on the key contexts adult learners must navigate in the postsecondary education system: (1) Awareness; (2) Outreach; (3) Advising; (4) Enrollment; (5) Persistence; (6) Completion; (7) Employment. Taking these contexts, they developed their collaborative workplan tool to assess what is currently happening at each partner organization, aligned to their targets/outcomes and equity framework.
  • Colleges, universities, workforce boards, and other partners assess themselves using an adapted version of CivicLab’s Four Way to Approach a Problem framework. This scoring assessment will help ProjectAttain! create a scorecard, prioritize collaborative action, and measure system-building and progress year-to-year.
  • This work planning process goes beyond a grant deliverable. It is now the way the partnership works.

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CivicLab’s Building Rural Community Learning Systems is generously supported by Ascendium Education Group.

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