The International Futures Forum facilitated a workshop to explore, improve and develop the CNS Theory of Change. We convened the local partners we’ve been working with to date along with members of our Planning Team to involve differing perspectives. To get a feel for the initiative we started by offering a ‘straw man’ draft which people studied individually and awarded a mark out of 10.
We then moved into smaller groups to discuss how this could be improved. We agreed to make sure community assets were listed as an input and to change the language: moving to focus on the positive capacity of individuals and communities rather than solely on their deficits and problems; asset-based approaches are about recognising and making the most of people’s strengths.
Most of the conversation was on the context of the model, highlighting the need to ensure our starting conditions are representing the neighbourhood. The group also agreed that adult outcomes needed to be included, as these can impact heavily on children.
This model is not meant as an action plan, but something to build action around. While the model represents our vision for the initiative; pathways, activity strands and substantive routes can be developed further by our local workforce along with community voices.
Best hopes and worst fears
The workshop used the ‘Implemento’ framework, which enabled a wide-ranging discussion of hopes and fears for the initiative in its early stages – looking out over two years. It generated plenty of material to flesh out CNS’s vision and aspirational goals/outcomes for the initiative. These were not just about children and young people and families, but about wider social and structural change.
Discussing our worst fears was a nerve-racking concept but it gave us the space to look at how we would recover. If we can build in some of our ideas for recovery into our initial planning processes, we can avoid our worst fears coming about.
Examples of acts to recover:
- Consult: what can we do next to have an impact?
- Report on our learning so others don’t repeat our mistakes.
- Figure out what didn’t work and why.
- Identify emerging leadership. Build relationships with next in line.
- Did anything work? Can we build on that?
We also explored our highest hopes examples of which were:
- Boost in educational outcomes.
- Cohesive working, sharing data and aligned priorities.
- Increased community capacity (decision making, ability to influence, activists).
- Thorough evaluation demonstrating ‘impact’.
The framework also generates some scales of measurement for the initiative. Each group was invited to offer a ‘minimum acceptable’ level on each scale for the project to achieve in its first year.
‘First, do no harm’ is a good example of minimum acceptable level. These are helpful for communicating the project’s ambitions and sense of responsibility: ‘we are shooting for X, but we know this is difficult and there are risks involved, so promise not to do any worse than Y’. The scales identified were:
- Educational outcomes and achievement
- Range of community assets
- Collaboration (quantity and quality)
- Community Participation/Engagement (awareness and degree)
- Partner Involvement (number and degree)
It was striking that in looking at hopes and fears for the project over the next two years, it was ‘patterns of relationship’ that came to the fore rather than substantive policy themes or initiatives.
The fear is that relationships – with the community, with partners, within the ‘backbone’ – will break down. The hope is that relationships flourish – in families, in the community, between agencies etc. The scales of measurement derived from the conversation are mostly about qualities of relationship.
Since this workshop our team have met to try to take what we learnt and represent that in our Theory of Change – see the new version below. As with emergent practice and complex initiatives like ours, this will continue to evolve with time but we hope this can be a useful overarching framework to plan within and around.
One last thing that came up in the session was a call for more clarity around the backbone organisations role in the neighbourhood – see our next blog for an update on that!
Knowledge Exchange and Impact Officer