For organizations seeking to identify new partners to implement solutions across sectors, the considerations described below can help guide this process. Assessing existing conditions, as outlined in Stage 1, is one way to identify and engage with potential partners who are likely to be interested in working together toward a common goal. Appendix E, under resources for Stage 2, provides a summary of many common housing and education organizations to consider when developing partnerships. These include public housing authorities, community development corporations, school districts and education backbone organizations, or organizations that serve as facilitators or leaders of work across multiple organizations or sectors in a community.
Community Leadership and Representation: Community leadership can include tenant associations, resident advisory councils, religious leaders, neighborhood watch groups, parent- teacher associations, youth groups, families and community leaders. Key questions to consider include the following:
- Have we considered the power dynamics of the organizations that comprise our partnership?
- Does our partnership include consistent and diverse representation and leadership from the community or population that we are intending to serve?
Geography of Partnership: Geographic differences can be noticeable, particularly when housing and education stakeholders come together in partnership. While education stakeholders may operate at the school district level, housing stakeholders often target a smaller area, posing a potential spatial mismatch in the populations served by each organization. Key questions to consider include the following:
- Have we identified organizations that work in our area of focus and identified geographic differences among potential partners?
- How will geographic differences affect the implementation of our partnership and sustained community engagement?
Existing Partnerships: Existing partnerships might include housing authorities working with school districts on data-sharing procedures, affordable housing providers working with nonprofit organizations to provide educational support as part of resident services programming, or a local Continuum of Care Program working to coordinate services for individuals and families experiencing homelessness (see the summary of common housing and education partnerships in Appendix E for more detail). Key questions to consider include the following:
- Are any existing partnerships focused on serving the target community or population? If so, can we work with them to avoid duplication of effort?
- Is a local or regional foundation supporting local work? If so, which organizations and partnerships are they supporting?
Service Providers: Service providers can include food banks, job counseling services, homeless shelters, after-school programs, faith institutions and other social service organizations. Key questions to consider include the following:
- Which individuals, organizations or institutions have existing experience serving our community, even if their work is outside the housing or education sector?
- Is there any ongoing cross-sector service provision, such as resident services offered at an affordable housing development?
Additional Stakeholders: Additional stakeholders may include local government agencies focused on public safety, food security or transportation; city or town councils; local and regional foundations and philanthropies; cultural institutions and arts organizations; and anchor institutions, such as hospitals, universities and large employers. Key questions to consider include the following:
- Who are the local or regional stakeholders with decision-making authority or funding relationships that work in our community, within and beyond the bounds of housing and education?
- How can we secure additional support to ensure that all partners have sufficient resources to participate in the collaboration?
TOOLS AND RESOURCES FOR ENGAGING PARTNERS
A number of approaches are useful to consider when identifying and engaging with potential partners. To start, we recommend the OPPORTUNITY360 Community Engagement Toolkit, published on Enterprise’s website, to explore a range of resources for engaging with residents and stakeholders to better understand community dynamics and address local challenges.
Appendix E, under resources for Stage 2, offers additional guidance for each of these engagement tools — as well as for establishing partnerships more generally, including formalizing a partnership structure — and other examples that can inspire thinking in your own community.
- Focus Groups: Focus groups are a useful tool to understand multiple perspectives on a particular topic through a facilitated small-group discussion. By bringing together multiple stakeholders, such as parents or local residents, to discuss an issue, focus groups can provide valuable input, help build relationships with community members and begin to identify possible steps forward.
- Surveys: Surveys can be used to better understand the perceptions, needs and priorities of a population and to establish a baseline to track change over time. Surveys can be administered to particular sets of individuals — such as youth, parents or neighborhood residents — and on differing scales, such as at a school, in a housing development or across a neighborhood.
- Participatory Asset Mapping: Participatory asset mapping is a tool that allows groups of community stakeholders to visualize, or map, the assets and strengths of a community to help build partnerships and achieve collective goals. Some examples of assets include a community school, a local nonprofit organization, a library or a neighborhood park.
Stakeholder Mapping: Stakeholder mapping exercises are a way to create a visual representation of the various stakeholders who affect or are affected by relevant issues, thereby helping to identify possible partners for collaboration.
The stakeholder mapping process can also serve as a guide for community engagement when assessing existing conditions, as in Stage 1.
- Network and Systems Mapping: Similar to stakeholder mapping, network and systems mapping helps to visualize not only the stakeholders involved in a given community, but also the relationships between stakeholders and their influence over such systemic issues as funding or policy. These maps also can focus on the intersection between key issues within a given area and the factors that influence them, making them helpful references when seeking systems change, as seen in Stage 5.
- Hosting Community Events: In addition to seeking potential partners, organizations might also consider joining or hosting an open house, meeting, or workshop where staff can meet with residents and other stakeholders to describe their organizations, explain their motivations for cross-sector work and begin a conversation about the possibilities of partnering.