Exactly What We Hoped For

Exactly What We Hoped For

Contributed by Bridget French, Executive Director of Alignment Rockford

This week our Pathways team recapped sophomore site visits that occurred during the last couple of weeks in March. All RPS205 sophomores must visit a business in order to meet this college and career readiness benchmark requirement. Alignment Rockford worked with local businesses to arrange site visits for students. We worked with local businesses and our partners at the school district to find organizations whose work aligned to students' coursework and academy pathway.

Some facts about the site visits:

  • 75 businesses responded to our Invitation to Participate and 54 businesses hosted site visits
  • 93% of students felt the site visits helped them become better informed of their career pathway
  • 80% of students saw a connection between their coursework and the careers they saw at the sites
  • 93% of students felt the site visit was worthwhile and most students wished they had more time
  • 97% of teachers said they saw relevance between the sites visited and student coursework
  • Business professionals donated a collective 177 hours of their time preparing for the site visits
  • 97% of businesses felt the site visits helped them make connections and build relationships with RPS205 staff and students

Even more impactful than these statistics are quotes from the students themselves:

  • I didn't know you needed to know this much math.
  • This was worthwhile to be able to experience the scientific part of careers and it interested me about the chemistry jobs.
  • It gave me better insight on what characteristics I need to have as a psychologist.
  • It seems like there are a lot of construction jobs available that aren’t just building.
  • I liked how they showed us several different careers at a bank.
  • I never considered teaching elementary before today.
  • I never realized how many different jobs there are in a school.
  • I truly saw how interesting being an educator, especially at a museum, can really be.
  • Showed that things we do are used in the real working world, and I could imagine how my future may be.
  • I learned how important goal setting is.
  • It opened my mind to a new possible career.
  • This helped me know even more what I want to become.
  • I learned a lot about a day in the life of athletic trainers.
  • I liked the hands-on activities, not just reading about it.
  • The planes were really cool to see and I saw what it would be like if I pursue my pathway.

There are dozens and dozens more like these.

And one more, from a teacher who attended a site visit: I really couldn't believe the opportunity that our students were given. I would have loved to experience this when I was in high school.

Resoundingly, students, staff and industry experts all said they want to do it again.

Thanks again to everyone that helped us make the site visits possible.

Crowdsourcing to address complex social problems

Even though crowdsourcing is a relatively new term (attributed to a Wired article by Jeff Howe from 2006), it’s a concept that has helped solve problems for centuries. Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary is on the of the oldest examples of crowdsourcing, albeit far before the advent of the internet. 

More recent notable examples of crowdsourcing include: 

  • Wikipedia - this online encyclopedia relies on users to submit and verify information on nearly every subject and topic known to mankind. 

  • Uber - this mobile apps allows users to submit transportation requests that are crowdsourced to cab drivers in their immediate area. 

  • AirBNB - this mobile app links vacationers with local individuals offering short-term home/condo rentals in virtually any vacation destination in the world. 


Alignment Nashville, a 501c3 organization dedicated to align community resources to support the academic success and health of children and youth, has developed a systematic way of using crowdsourcing to address complex social problems in a community. AN’s Invitation to Participate (TM) (ITP) solicits contributions of resources from the broader community to work together towards outcomes such as increasing high school graduation rates, improving kindergarten readiness, and decreasing teen pregnancy rates. By focusing on outcomes versus prescriptive solutions, the ITP process sparks creativity; instead of just doing “more of the same,” partners are encouraged to think about how they can use their resources differently. The ITP process almost always uncovers “unusual suspects” - partners that use their resources creatively and in new, different ways. 


For example, Alignment Nashville recently used its ITP crowdsourcing method to collectively address Kindergarten readiness. Partners that responded to the ITP included:

A growing number of communities are now also using this ITP crowdsourcing method through the Alignment USA network. If you are interested in learning more about how the ITP crowdsourcing method could help your community address its most complex social problems, please consider attending Alignment Institute 2015 to learn from current Alignment practitioners and leaders about how this and other tools created by Alignment Nashville/Alignment USA are helping communities address their most complex social problems. 



Impact: How do we know?

Contributed by Melissa Jaggers, Associate Executive Director of Alignment Nashville

Last month, I observed the Alignment Rockford Pathways Alignment Team as they engaged in Tactical Planning, the first step of the Alignment Process. They spent more than an hour creating outcomes for their work, and they identified that the long-term outcome they are seeking is an increase the high school graduation rates for Rockford Public Schools.

But I wasn’t surprised at all when they came to the same question that most Alignment Teams do:

“How do we prove that our work is increasing high school graduation rates?”

The simple answer is, we can’t. There is no control group when your work is focused on systemic change. And the very nature of collective impact means that there are multiple perspectives and multiple solutions being applied to the same outcome. So how do we know that our work is having an impact?


1) Identify short- and mid-term outcomes

It takes a long time to see improvements in outcomes like high school graduation, college readiness, and others. So identifying short- and mid-term outcomes is important for Alignment Teams, as it creates an “outcome chain” that links the work they are doing today with the outcome they want to see in the long run.  For example, the Pathways Team could have constructed an outcome chain that looked something like this:





50% of participating students report an increase in engagement and relevance in high school experience

25% increase in daily attendance rates

Increase in high school graduation rates




2) Document resource alignment

It’s also important to document the increased collaboration and resource alignment that happens through the Alignment process, so that when we DO see an increase in the high school graduation rate or another long-term outcome, we can look back and see how we got there. When an Alignment Team releases an Invitation to Participate ™ (ITP™) and partners respond, we have a record of the resources that they are aligning.


Complex issues like high school graduation rates, children’s health and wellness, and college/career readiness are not solved overnight. The community has to be ready to be patient and let the process work.


Community Engagement

Community Engagement

Contributed by Melissa Jaggers, Associate Executive Director of Alignment Nashville

Community engagement can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people and organizations. For collective impact organizations, it is a crucial component for effective system change. But how can we do it well?

At Alignment Nashville, we believe that systemic change is only possible when the entire community is engaged and the community’s resources are aligned. Our primary tool for community engagement and resource alignment is the Invitation to Participate ™ (ITP™) process. The ITP is an easy way for Alignment Teams (design and implementation teams) to invite the broader community to align its resources to a common goal.

The advantages of the ITP process include:

  • Transparency – through the ITP process, the entire community has access to common goals and outcomes. They don’t have to serve on a committee, read multiple newsletters, or rely on personal connections – all they have to do is subscribe to the Alignment Nashville email blast list. When an ITP is released, ANY organization or entity can respond.
  • Uncovering unusual suspects – the ITP process opens the door for people, organizations and resources to propose new, creative ways to align their resources in support of common goals. For example, when the Elementary Alignment Team released a Character Education ITP, they would never have dreamed that Marathon Petroleum would respond. But they did – and now have become a strong character education partner.
  • Documentation of resource alignment – once organizations respond to an ITP, their resource alignment is documented as part of the solution implementation. Organizations can use this in future funding requests, and Alignment Nashville can present a clear picture of what resources were aligned to achieve common goals and outcomes. 

For more information about Alignment Nashville and its ITP ™ process in action, please visit www.alignmentnashville.org. 

Alignment Rockford Pathways A-Team

Melissa Jaggers, Associate Executive Director of Alignment Nashville, visited Rockford today and attended the Academy Expo team meeting. Her blog, below, perfectly captures the essence of the Alignment model.

Rockford Pathways A-Team meeting – Rock Valley College

This morning, I was privileged to be able to attend the Alignment Rockford Academy Expo Alignment Team (A-Team) meeting at Rock Valley College. This A-Team planned the Rockford Academy Expo that debuted in 2012 to help Rockford Public School (RPS205) high school students make an informed Academy choice. Since 2012, this event has expanded significantly; in 2014, the event was even opened to a neighboring district.

Based on the success of the event, RPS205 and the Academy Expo A-Team have received requests from other surrounding districts to participate. At the meeting I attended, the A-Team wrestled with these requests and how to balance the desire to maintain the quality of the event with these requests. 

It was fascinating to be an observer and see each piece of the Alignment toolset in action:

  • Principles – diversity of perspective ensured that the needs of partners and schools were met. I heard reminders from business representatives that business partners want to be busy while they are volunteering and would rather keep the event on one day as opposed to expanding to two. I also heard the school district representatives remind the A-Team of the ongoing challenges with transportation and uncertain testing schedules for the upcoming school year.
  • Process – Since 2012, the A-Team used the Invitation to Participate ™ (ITP ™) process to engage partners in the Academy Expo. This process ensured transparency and uncovered “unusual suspects” in the community that had resources to bring to the event.
  • Structure – because the A-Team has the proper composition and balance of members from different stakeholder groups, the conversation reflected that diversity of experience, expertise and perspective. The A-Team is also seeking the input and approval of the Alignment Rockford Operating Board in the decision regarding expansion of the Academy Expo for 2015.
  • Technology – ComCoefficient was used to capture the A-Team’s conversation, recording their reasoning for decisions to avoid backtracking at future meetings as well as opportunities for absent A-Team members to review the conversation and provide additional input.


Here are a few of the most striking comments I heard during the meeting:

“This is the first time in anyone’s memory that the community and region is looking to RPS to take the lead on a successful, progressive, academic event that is valuable to all students in the region, and we want to capitalize on that. The Academy Expo A-Team is dedicated to preserving high-quality learning environments; we don’t want students to just attend, we want this event to have an impact on them.”

“This is the first time I’ve heard of this type of cooperation in this region.”

“When I went to the National Career Academy Conference, it was clear to me that Nashville and Rockford were the only two districts with a systemic way of partnering community and schools; other districts seem to have a piecemeal approach. The Alignment movement has institutionalized this approach.”

By the end of the 90-minute meeting, the group had a clear consensus on the recommendation to be made to the Operating Board, as well as next steps, including a plan to include student voice in the planning for the 2015 event (which could serve as a Capstone project for that student as well!). It was incredible to observe the Alignment toolset in action – kudos to the staff and A-Team members of Alignment Rockford!

Aligning resources benefits both schools and partners

Aligning resources benefits both schools and partners

Contributed by Melissa Jaggers, Associate Executive Director of Alignment Nashville

Many schools are unaware of all of the resources that exist in the community, and many partners don’t have the capacity to develop relationships or deliver services to all of the schools. The Alignment toolset – Principles, Process, Structure, and Technology – have been described as an “easy button” to help schools and partners learn about each other and use resources as strategically and effectively as possible, especially by uncovering “unusual suspects” in the community and finding new, creative ways to partner.


For example, the High School Alignment Team is currently developing an Invitation to Participate ™ (ITP ™) to align resources in support of Advisory in MNPS high schools. MNPS has developed a framework that outlines topics to be covered in Advisory periods for grades 9-12, including topics such as Social-Emotional Learning, Financial Literacy, Study Skills, College & Career Exploration and Preparation, and more. The High School A-Team is using the ITP ™ process to align existing resources for teachers to access online (ie., videos, documents for download, online resources, etc.) to support their efforts to personalize learning for all students.


During a recent High School A-Team meeting, where the group was putting the finishing touches on its Tactical Plan for supporting Advisory, A-Team member Samantha Andrews, Educator for Experiential Learning at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, had this to say about how resource alignment helps her use her resources more strategically and effectively:


"This is solving a problem for us that we have been wrestling with for a while. We can't always send our staff out to individual schools, so we have tried to figure out a way to provide educational resources online and create “virtual experiences” for students across Nashville. This Advisory initiative would provide the perfect platform for us to do just that - instead of working with each individual school to provide these resources, we will be able to upload it centrally and know that it is easily accessible for all high school teachers in the district." 


It’s also solving a problem for school personnel, especially teachers, who often don’t have much time to prepare for Advisory and don’t know where to look for quality resources. High School A-Team Chair Aimee Wyatt, Executive Lead Principal for High Schools, said, It inspires me because of the amount of resources that are out there that as a classroom teacher I wondered how to get – and now we have them at our fingertips and are able to connect quickly. There’s all this stuff out there that I didn’t know was out there before!”


For more information about the Alignment toolset, please visit  www.alignmentnashville.org

The Collective Impact Chronicle, Chapter 1: Transformational Change

Transformational change: Moving from Advocacy to Collaboration -- A new way of working as community

Coordination of effort is a step in the right direction. When we coordinate our work in a community we can say our work is “collective.”  Coordination, however, does not necessarily require that we shift our own agendas to be compatible with other agendas and that creates a challenge for effective collective impact.

Collaboration with others -- a step beyond coordination -- takes us one step closer to effective collective impact and often produces added value. When we collaborate -- and do it effectively -- we incorporate multiple perspectives and this approach returns a wiser and more refined solution. 

Here is the challenging part: Many organizations carry an advocacy agenda. These organizations are usually created specifically to carry out very targeted missions. Examples include advocacy organization for the right to choose life and the right to have an abortion, advocates for public education, advocates for mass transit, advocates for healthcare reform, and more.  Advocates are passionate about their mission and are not usually in the business of compromise, and especially not usually in the business of leaving their agendas at the door when entering the “collaboration room." This is especially true when they are collaborating outside their issue area or within their issue area but with an opposing viewpoint.  Where then do they learn the skills needed to effectively collaborate with others? And, how do they become motivated to do so?

When groups collaborate, reaching the best solution happens when all involved in the discussion are willing to bring their own ideas to the table and also to incorporate the ideas of others. It is important for all to listen and value the perspective of others. It is important to be transparent.  It is important for all ideas to be respected and considered.

As outsiders, we have observed this transformation at the community scale in Rockford, Illinois. When Alignment first began to work with Rockford in 2009, we observed tightly-held agendas from the social, philanthropic, business, and education sectors, and community efforts toward change uniformly floundered. Today, community members meet regularly and are achieving systemic change as a community. The transformation is dramatic. From the incredible redesign of their high schools to real collaboration early childhood education, the change in real in Rockford. 

To follow their progress, visit www.alignmentrockford.org

The AUSA Story Starts Here

Thanks for visiting the AUSA Blog!

Our executive director, Sydney Rogers, and other wonderful AUSA staff will be using this platform to explore and tell the story of the AUSA journey.  Check back often, and thanks for your interest in Alignment.

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Melissa Jaggers
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