We recently concluded a 9-month community planning process focusing on children’s mental health in Travis County in partnership with Austin Travis County Integral Care. It was quite a journey and truly a collective impact effort, and my hope is that it will serve as a case study for future community planning initiatives. Like the search for enlightenment, it will be an ongoing process and in many ways the hard work is only just beginning. But in the spirit of the Buddha’s wise aphorisms, I bring you some pithy mantras for community planning based on reflections about this process:
On Getting Folks to the Table (and keeping them there)
• Step #1: Define a clear set of outcomes (ideally three; definitely no more than 5). Re-read. Can you remember them? If not, start again.
• When in doubt, extend an invitation to participate. If you have an inkling that someone may be interested, invite them. They won’t come if they’re not.
• Engage executives as key champions –and don’t be afraid to put them to work.
• But remember that the “mezzanine” level players – people in the middle of the organizations or systems with knowledge of both the system-level issues as well as the front-line challenges – are the people who will have time to really focus on the effort.
• Don’t close the gates to participation part-way through – participants will migrate to the process as it gains momentum and even until the very end, and that’s okay. In fact, they are a good test for you in ensuring that you have developed clear and actionable project goals.
• Engage community stakeholders as early as possible to ensure that community members’ thoughts and experiences with the issue are in line with executives and mezzanine-level participants.
On Developing Plan Goals
• All planning processes have a tension between process and product – it’s a constant balancing act to keep the scales even, but you must persevere.
• Embrace other connected efforts with open arms. Have many cups of coffee with people to understand how their work can be affiliated with yours.
• Read, read, read. And then utilize those resources to help define the optimum scenario in your local climate.
• Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good – you are creating a living document and there is never a last chance to “get it right.”
On Presenting the Plan
• Don’t be too academic. Your plan must be clear, resonant, and action-oriented.
• Visuals are a must. Graphs, and charts and icons, oh my!
• Engage the right people to share personal stories to make an emotional connection to the plan.
• Thou Shalt Not Forget to Include a Glossary of Key Terms (doh, mixed biblical metaphor!)
With this handy set of mantras, you’re all set to embark on your next collective impact initiative. Or if you need assistance on your path to community planning enlightenment, we’d love to be your guru!
For more information on the Travis County Plan for Children’s Mental Health: