Elevating Community Voice

In October 2017, the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, Florida (CSC Broward) was selected to participate in Empowering Families, Third Sector's national cohort of communities working to improve outcomes for children and families. This cohort is supported by a 2016 Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant*. Through this cohort, Third Sector, along with Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), will provide sites with two years of technical assistance (TA) to develop both Integrated Data Systems (IDS) and an outcomes-oriented contracting approach.

At Third Sector, we primarily work with state and local government agencies in our consulting engagements. Our theory of change believes that governments, as the creators of policy and distributors of tax dollars, play a crucial role in creating positive outcomes for communities. However, in order to create those outcomes, governments need to collaborate with their communities to develop well-rounded, innovative solutions that result in improved outcomes. Through our work to develop outcomes-oriented contracts, Third Sector helps our government partners build mechanisms to continuously learn, not only from data, but also from the community members frequently excluded or marginalized from this process: service provider staff and program participants.

Outcomes-oriented contracting can catalyze relationships with community members to produce better outcomes and elevate community-led social and systems change. Our work has shown that government decisions informed by community member voice and lived experience have the opportunity to create more impact than when decisions are made in a silo. Honoring the voices and lived experiences of community members strengthens the evaluation of contract outcomes and creates opportunities for service providers and other community organizations to better understand their impact to more effectively enact change and innovation. By strengthening diverse relationships between governments, funders, and community-based providers and program participants, outcomes-oriented contracting can support individual and community resilience.

In Broward County, Florida, the Children’s Services Council of Broward County (CSC Broward) has made conscious efforts to promote racial equity by understanding how racism continues to diminish life outcomes and to learn with their community how to create equitable community conditions and outcomes. Through comprehensive racial equity and implicit bias trainings, collective impact initiatives, and a new, community-based participatory action research (CPAR) pilot, CSC Broward recognizes the importance of building relationships that honor local community wisdom, builds relationships across social positions, races and sectors, and elevates participants’ lived experiences to create robust feedback networks. CPAR, which is the deliberate inclusion of community members in the social science research process, has the ability to improve the “relevance, rigor, and reach” of community data initiatives and as a result, creates a data-informed continuous improvement process for programs and service systems supporting children in Broward County. (Minkler, 259) Through this, Sue Gallagher, the Chief Innovation Officer of CSC Broward, is championing efforts to build trusting relationships to ensure community data and evidence reflects the lived experiences and outcomes of service participants. As a member of our Empowering Families learning community, CSC Broward is working to build on their commitment to racial equity by incorporating CPAR into the design of their county-based Integrated Data System (IDS). In utilizing CPAR, CSC Broward is demonstrating its commitment to achieving outcomes for all members of the community while also supporting the capacity of community members to create programs and systems that results in positive life outcomes.

CSC Broward is looking forward to learning with the youth, frontline staff, managers, system gatekeepers and researchers how to co-create ways to empower the community of providers and participants in Broward to be active change agents in improving and evaluating programs, service systems, and community conditions. This outcome oriented approach aligns with achieving the shared results of the County’s collective impact initiative, the Children’s Strategic Plan, and enhances the CSC’s relational contracting approach of partnering with providers to achieve outcomes. Thus far, CSC Broward has made efforts to engage community providers and participants in problem and solution definitions, data collection, analysis, and the design of interventions using a “Learning Together” mindset. Building off of this strong groundwork, Third Sector is excited to help CSC Broward engage multiple levels and voices of community members in outcomes oriented contracting across their funded services areas. Through Empowering Families, Third Sector will continue working with CSC Broward to build lasting and scalable systems and relationships that will enable CSC Broward to build solutions that result in improved outcomes for the lives of children and families in Broward.

Building trusting relationships with service participants to inform robust feedback and evidence loops is a key part of the continuous improvement process. All of these components ensure that the data driving continuous improvement isn’t analyzed in a vacuum, and more importantly, that local wisdom is leveraged in the development of program and community solutions. CSC Broward has both acknowledged this fact and developed unique solutions to honor the lived experience and voices of participants to improve program outcomes. Through outcomes-oriented contracting, Third Sector seeks to help all of the communities we work with to more effectively engage with all stakeholders involved in the achievement of outcomes, including those benefiting from the program themselves, much like Broward has done.

As our clients look to set up government systems around continuous feedback, we urge them to consider whether all voices are being heard and to build systems for deliberately elevating the voice of providers and program participants in order to ensure that quantitative data on programs and participant experiences is accurately understood. This community-informed feedback loop ensures that the government systematic improvements we are driving towards will have lasting positive implications for the communities they serve and continue to learn and improve over time to prevent government decisions on social services from being made in a black box.

*The Social Innovation Fund (SIF) was a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that received funding from 2010 to 2016. Using public and private resources to find and grow community-based nonprofits with evidence of results, SIF intermediaries received funding to award subgrants that focus on overcoming challenges in economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development. Although CNCS made its last SIF intermediary awards in fiscal year 2016, SIF intermediaries will continue to administer their subgrant programs until their federal funding is exhausted