2017 Detailed Summary

Tenth Nelson Chair Roundtable on Networking Community-Based Programs: Shared Leadership, Shared Outcomes

Roundtable photos

History of the BPI Partnership


During the 3-year partnership with Boston Promise Initiative (BPI) the Nelson Chair Roundtable has provided a forum for BPI/DSNI partners to gain a deeper understanding of the Promise Neighborhood mission and to learn how BPI initiatives in which they participate contribute to a greater collective impact strategy. Starting in 2015, participants heard updates on the Promise Neighborhood program from the U.S. Department of Education, and attended a panel highlighting challenges faced by Boston-area organizations to improve outcomes on the cradle-to-career continuum.

In 2016 the Roundtable theme, “Demonstrating Collective Impact”, focused on the five key elements of collective impact: 1) common agenda, 2) shared measurement systems, 3) mutually reinforcing activities, 4) continuous communication, and 5) support from a backbone organization. Participants learned about four BPI program partnerships through presentations and structured discussions. Currently in their final year of federal funding, BPI serves approximately 2,500 children under the age of five, 4,500 K-12th graders, and 3,500 young adults ages 18-24 years, all who live in the targeted neighborhood considered the Dudley Village Campus (DVC–areas surrounding The Dudley Triangle in Roxbury and North Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston) and either attend programs or attend DVC schools. BPI works through a network of 48 partner organizations and 13 sub-grantee programs.

Collective impact – The commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem, using a structured form of collaboration.
Cradle-to-career continuum – Cradle-to-career programs seek to provide children living in poverty with a high-quality birth-to-employment education through a continuum of services that include health, social, and economic supports in addition to school. School-family-community partnerships and data-tracking of student progress are central to the cradle-to-career model, which asks not just educators but all community service providers to take responsibility for student outcomes.
Backbone organization – A defining feature of the Collective Impact approach is the role of a backbone organization – a separate organization dedicated to coordinating the various dimensions and collaborators involved in the initiative.


The Five Elements of Collective Impact

Common Agenda – the need for all participating community organizations to have a common vision or understanding of the problems, as well as actions that will lead to solutions

Shared Measurement Systems – ongoing collection and sharing of data among community organizations, allowing for continued transparency

Mutually Reinforcing Activities – frequent collaboration between organizations to achieve a common goal

Continuous Communication – open communication used across organizations

Support from Backbone Organization – using a specific agency to coordinate activities within the community by the collective initiative (such as the role that DSNI plays in facilitating BPI efforts with Boston Public Schools and their community partners).

2017 Roundtable Overview


The 2017 Roundtable theme, “Shared Leadership, Shared Outcomes”, represented the fourth year of a collective impact strategy to reinforce and strengthen bonds of organizations involved in an initiative to share leadership responsibilities and leverage partnerships in order to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes with the common end goal of supporting children and families in the community. The mission of the 2017 Roundtable was to assemble BPI partners working on three separate community initiatives to discuss successes, challenges, and strategies related to the shared leadership approach. Each group, dubbed “Mini-Roundtables,” consisted of BPI partners from the DVC. They were composed of community and youth stakeholders, representatives from BPS, and members of the Boston College Roundtable network.

Mini-Roundtables were organized around three main focal points to guide this year’s discussions:

  1. Principals as School and Community Leaders: Focusing on potential within principals’ dual roles as school administrators and community leaders with the intent of connecting schools to community organizations to increase local resources.
  2. Mutual Data Sharing Agreements: Exploring how school district and community-based organizations can partner to utilize school and agency data to determine collective impact.
  3. Building Pathways for Young People: Integrating youth voice and participation to define effective and meaningful strategies to support youth development beyond primary school years.
Stakeholders – In education, the term stakeholder typically refers to anyone who is invested in the welfare and success of a school and its students, including administrators, teachers, staff members, students, parents, families, community members, local business leaders, and elected officials, such as school board members, city councilors, and state representatives.

This year’s Roundtable also included two plenary sessions which presented concrete strategies, models and tools for inter-disciplinary and inter-organizational collaboration:

  1. Networking Partnerships for Educational and Community Change: An exploration of how Social Network Analysis tools can be used to enhance collective impact strategies.
  2. Using Data to Inform Policy Development and Sustainability: An illustration of how community-based organizations can use data for policy development and sustainability efforts using two Boston-based case studies.

The mission of this year’s meeting was to consider how BPI initiatives can continue without federal funding and move away from a reliance on a backbone organization to a shared leadership approach. The 2017 Roundtable presented an opportunity for school and community leaders representing agencies in Boston, across the nation, and around the world to discuss best practices, identify challenges and opportunities at multiple levels of operation, and envision next steps for taking action through the identification of resources and skillsets across organizations. Participants were asked to contribute their perspectives, experiences, and questions with the goal of fostering critical discussion and developing recommendations for supporting ongoing BPI developments and creating transferrable action plans for continuing this work in Boston and beyond.

Principals as School and Community Leaders


Photo of School Principal

School principals play a key role in promoting learning and bolstering community support for the success of students. As leaders of learning and representatives of the missions of their schools, they hold a dual role within their districts as school and community leaders. Principals play a key role in shaping a vision of personal and academic success for students, creating a climate that fosters safety and cooperation in education, cultivating leadership in others, supporting advancement and best practices in instruction, and managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement (Wallace Foundation, 2000).

This mini-roundtable was facilitated by Katrina Brink, School and Community Specialist at DSNI, alongside BPS principals Donette Wilson-Wood of Haynes Early Education Center, Khita Pottinger of Martin Luther King Jr. School, Megan Webb of Orchard Gardens, Lisa Gilbert-Smith of Dearborn STEM Academy, and Dr. Lindsa McIntyre of Jeremiah E. Burke High School. Participants of this group were school and community leaders working and organizing around issues of policy development, housing, family engagement, student support, and more. Over two days, participants were brought together to discuss the challenges facing students, families, school leaders, and decision-makers in their communities; to construct a framework for meaningful and sustainable partnerships; and to catalyze deeper dialogue about concrete and collaborative action steps for systemic change.

What were the targeted learning outcomes for participants in this mini-roundtable? Participants and presenters co-constructed an agenda based on shared learning and skill-building goals, which included:

  • Understand the dual role of principals as school and community leaders
  • Identify resources that exist, as well as those that are needed, across schools
  • Exploring resource-sharing and maximizing strategies
  • Discuss the positions of, and relationships between, stakeholders – parents, families, schools, organizations, communities, government agencies
  • Discuss DSNI goals and missions and their impact on community members
  • Explore capacity-building strategies to mitigate shared concerns
  • Identify and expand the list of individuals and agencies who share interest and responsibility in children’s wellbeing
  • Explore different avenues for duplicating DSNI initiatives in other parts of the state and country
  • Identify what makes a sustainable partnership

Using the Principal Community of Practice as a framework for organizing at multiple levels to advocate on behalf of shared challenges of equity, participants learned about how DVC principals joined together to identify and address key issues facing their schools and collectively pursue structural changes. A fishbowl discussion was facilitated wherein the principals from the Community of Practice shared their experiences, focusing on the challenges they faced when working independently to find solutions for their schools and the motivation to build a coalition of principals to collaborate on solutions for shared concerns within their schools. Participants heard from DVC principals about how connecting with fellow principals has improved their work and helped to sustain the impact of their dual roles as leaders within schools and the community. An overarching goal of this group was to discuss the impact of DVC schools getting connected, how this might inform future resource allocation, and what next steps for this group might be.

The Principal Community of Practice is a shared leadership strategy spearheaded by DSNI to support principals’ collaborative efforts in advancing equity and achievement for students and their families. With DSNI as a facilitator, principals convene monthly to talk about their practice, relevant policy issues, and how to leverage key resources to meet shared goals. Starting in 2010 as a response to the need for greater communication and collaboration between school leaders and decision makers, this arrangement has gone through many iterations over the course of seven years. Presently, the Principal Community of Practice is composed of principals of the DVC schools that meet monthly as a group and engage key stakeholders and decision-makers in discussion of the issues that are most important to the success of children and families in the DVC area communities.

Mutual Data Sharing Agreements


Individuals, agencies, and organizations involved in public health research and social change efforts have access to various and often distinct forms of data. While data collection, evaluation, and exchange presents opportunities for generating new knowledge and bolstering collective impact efforts, it raises a host of social, ethical, and administrative challenges. Effective data exchange can increase the efficacy of programming and expand opportunities for funding. However, too few guidelines have been established regarding the formal mechanisms for data sharing, including what to include in data sharing agreements, and how to engage in conversations regarding data use and re-use (Jarquin, 2012).

This mini-roundtable was facilitated by Andrew Seeder, DSNI Data Systems Manager, and Akshata Kadagathur, Evaluation Associate from the Offices of Data and Accountability/School and Community Partnerships for Boston Public Schools (BPS). Participants were introduced to the steps involved in planning for data exchange as well as the accountability processes involved in effective data sharing through a guided review of a Mutual Data Sharing Agreement (MDSA) between DSNI and BPS.


Who can benefit from a deeper understanding of MDSAs? Participants of this group were leaders and learners working in education advocacy and reform as well as family support programs nationally and around the globe. They shared a range of interests and learning goals:
  • To learn what has changed in data sharing and evaluation work
  • To explore strategies for demonstrating with data the impact of programming
  • To develop approaches for formalizing data collection, analysis, and sharing
  • To understand, interpret and represent qualitative data more effectively
  • To use data to tell a rich, compelling story of the work that is being done in communities and between organizations
  • To explore how the conversation around data ownership and sharing is negotiated with various stakeholders – students, schools, funders, organizations
  • To build and strengthen partnerships for the purpose of using data effectively
Photo of Roundtable presenter


How can MDSAs support community/academic partners in planning, enacting, and demonstrating collective impact strategies? The discussions that ensued were grounded in an in-depth exploration of a MDSA between DSNI and BPS that was written up in support of ensuring data-driven, high quality and student-focused outcomes for the Boston Promise Initiative. The purposes of the agreement are to:

  • Establish a mutual data sharing agreement for DSNI and BPS with the specific purpose of streamlining data sharing between case managers and school administrators for No Child Goes Homeless (an initiative spearheaded by DSNI and Project Hope to support families facing homelessness), and to set up an evaluation framework for a cohort of Promise students.
  • Enhance the ability of both partners to improve targeted program enrollment and academic achievement for DVC students by allowing access to individual student records consistent with the requirements of the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA).
  • Establish terms and conditions for the sharing and protection of student Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and other program data between the partners (this type of data sharing is necessary for DSNI, BPS, and their community partners to identify which programs may help each child succeed, to assist program staff and volunteers in their roles with each child and family, to monitor and track student progress over time, to assist program effectiveness, to complete reporting requirements and program evaluation and research.
  • Identify roles and responsibilities of BPS and DSNI as they pertain to data sharing
  • Establish data analysis and reporting mechanisms that will allow DSNI and BPS to report on progress toward shared goals and to demonstrate the efficacy of collective impact.
  • Allow DSNI community partners (other than BPS) to join this partnership and data sharing by agreeing to the conditions and terms laid out in the original agreement 
Resources: If you are a civic and/or community leader wishing to use shared data to improve academic and life outcomes for students while protecting student privacy, see this toolkit from the U.S. Department of Education. To learn about guidelines and best practices for data sharing agreements in community-academic partnerships, see this resource created by the Community Health Data and Monitoring Committee of the Colorado Clinical and translational Sciences Institute’s Community Engagement Core.

Building Pathways for Young People


Too many postsecondary students drop out or graduate from college in debt and struggling to find good jobs. Incorporating the experiences, needs, and goals of young people is vital to the success of advocacy efforts and programs designed to create opportunity for youth. Schools, community-based organizations, work investment boards, and other stakeholders can collaborate to implement consistent, data-driven processes for exploring career pathways that are relevant and attainable for young people living in a variety of socioeconomic contexts. Ensuring that youth voice and participation are part of collaborative and planning efforts between schools, postsecondary programs, and industry employers can lead to partnerships that provide localized, sustainable access to in-demand, and livable wage jobs for youth.

This mini-roundtable was facilitated by Carrington Moore, who previously served as the High School to Career Manager for DSNI as well as the liaison and facilitator for the partnership between the Youth Voice Project (YVP), Jobs for the Future, and DSNI; four Peer Leaders from the YVP: Shayla Fonfield, Amanda Shabowich, Shannon Simpson, and Katryana Tovar; and three community partners engaged with the YVP: Kristin McSwain, Executive Director of Boston Opportunity Agenda, Erve Niclas, Youth Council of Boston Youth Service Network, and Rob Surrat, Postsecondary Employer Account Manager of Boston Private Industry Council.

Youth Voice Project Presentation: Peer Leaders kicked off this roundtable session with a presentation of the Youth Voice Project. Participants learned about the mission and goals of YVP as well as its role in establishing viable pathways for youth success. Presenters discussed the implementation of YVP as a means of expanding pathways for Boston’s youth through key partnerships, including The Connection Center, Best Bet, Success Boston, and Single Stop USA. The group identified three key barriers to success for the project, which were housing instability, financial literacy, and clarity around pathway options.

Roundtable photo
Roundtable photo

Group Activity – Pathways to Success: To model the process by which programs and partnerships have been developed by DSNI as well as explore barriers and solutions for creating opportunities for youth, roundtable participants completed a group activity in which they broke out into three groups: Persistence through High School, Persistence through College/Postsecondary Credential, and Persistence through Career. They were instructed to brainstorm a pathway for youth that leads to success in each specific realm of development.

Participants identified the following barriers that may keep young people from progressing through pathways:
  • Access to health care
  • Mental health challenges
  • Time management
  • Financial aid and literacy
  • Limited funding and resources
  • Access to secure housing
  • Access to transportation
  • Food insecurity
  • Availability of jobs and training

Networking Partnerships for Educational & Community Change: Social Network Analysys

“When the knowledge base of an industry is complex, expanding, and widely dispersed, the locus of innovation is likely to reside in the interstices between organizations rather than in individual firms.”             Ibarra et al., 2005


Kyle Fagan and Amanda Weber, doctoral students at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Boston College, gave a presentation emphasizing the importance of utilizing existing networks to achieve collective impact results. The main challenge that was addressed by this presentation was how individuals and organizations working on complex issues of social change can collaborate, rather than working in isolation, with the goal of improving interventions and outcomes. Despite the value of collaboration being one that resounds across organizations in their efforts to maximize capacity to solve problems, there continue to be challenges in understanding what the process of collaboration looks like, particularly in terms of breaking down agency “silos” and developing an infrastructure of systems and resources. The goal of this presentation was to increase audience understanding about the collaborative process in an effort to better support partnership efforts of organizations engaged in social change on various levels.

The presentation began with an overview of networks and collaborative relationships grounded in Social Network Theory. Following this, a strategy called Social Network Analysis was presented and explored through the lens of the partnerships that have been created within the Boston Promise Initiative. Social Network Analysis is a research methodology that focuses on relationships between actors, or partners in collaboration. It is a tool that can be used for systematically assessing the nature of partnerships and intervening at critical points to sustain and improve collaboration. This strategy can enhance a community’s capacity to:

  • Combine diverse knowledge and skills for effective solutions to complex problems
  • Influence decision makers and opinion leaders
  • Be responsive to community needs
  • Coordinate collective tasks and services efficiently
Roundtable photo
Social Network Theory – Social Network Theory is the study of how people, organizations, or groups interact with others inside their network.
Social Network Analysis image

This image shows an example of a Social Network Analysis completed for BPI's partner network.

Using Data to Inform Policy Development & Sustainability


This plenary session sought to illustrate how the wealth of institutional data can be identified and used for evaluation as well as for policy development and sustainability. Rebekah Levine Coley, Professor of Counseling, Developmental, & Educational Psychology at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development began by laying the groundwork for data collection and use by organizations. Next, Laura O’Dwyer, Associate Professor in the Department of Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics & Assessment at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, presented on City Connects as a case study for using data to influence policy development. Finally, Kristin Haas, Data & Policy Coordinator at Project Hope, shared how Project Hope used data for tracking evictions and changing city policy.

Why should organizations collect and use data?

  • Self-monitoring and quality improvement
  • Access to funding and support
  • Advocacy and policy development efforts


Dr. Coley's presentation went on to cover:

  • How to exploit current systems to build data
  • How to build new data systems
  • How to access other extant data sources such as administrative records, federal surveys, and national statistics

Projcect Hope Logo

Case Study: Project Hope

Project Hope is a multi-service agency at the forefront of efforts in Boston to move families up and out of poverty. It provides low-income women with children access to education, jobs, housing, and emergency services; fosters their personal transformation; and works for broader systemic change. Integral to the work of Project Hope is understanding the causes of, and potential solutions to, family homelessness. As a smaller organization, this agency benefitted from partnering with Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development to access and analyze Boston Housing Court eviction data over several years. Doing so enabled Project Hope to identify factors that were directly impacting families’ experiences of housing instability and contributing to rates of homelessness in Boston. Findings from this data directly informed the development of key partnerships and creation of city-wide coalitions to help address evictions of low-income families. Further, the findings informed advocacy efforts that have since resulted in policy developments to help protect families at risk of homelessness and engage government agencies in tackling systemic issues promoting (or preventing?) homelessness in a meaningful way. Data evaluation of the program’s impact shows an 8-15% decrease in evictions of low-income families over three years, proving that large datasets can contain opportunities for important policy change and that partnerships are critical for large-scale data analysis.  

Photo of Dr. Laura O'Dwyer

Case Study: City Connects

City Connects is an organization that grew out of a partnership between Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development, a BPS elementary school, and several community agencies whose aim was to explore the ways that out-of-school factors impacted students’ success and thriving in school. In an iterative process, City Connects convened school principals, teachers, other school and district staff, representatives of community agencies, and families to develop a system that re-organized their efforts into a successful system for student support that addresses a range of contextual and developmental domains. By collecting data in a student support information system, City Connects was able to record, monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness of their interventions for the goal of improving student outcomes. Now a scalable implementation, City Connects offers services along three tiers – prevention and enrichment, early intervention, and intensive intervention. By collecting data on reviews, services, partnerships, and program fidelity, City Connects is able to give immediate feedback to those involved in implementing the interventions; manage quality control by tracking adherence, deviations, and variations from its original model; and report on areas of implementation focus, progress, and opportunity for improvement to district leaders. The data collected by City Connects informs district-wide decisions on school resources and programming, helping to support students in all of the areas that are most important to their long-term success.