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Project U-Turn

Best Practices

Learn more about the practices that have helped Project U-Turn to be successful in working collaboratively to alleviate the dropout crisis in Philadelphia.

Have an intermediary and the funds to support it

The ability to fund an intermediary—PYN—has helped to sustain the collaboration and ensure good working relationships between partners. Having an intermediary dedicated to the work is not cheap—there are costs associated with staff time, meeting costs, and other partner costs.  But an intermediary’s work coordinating and connecting members on all levels, leading additional fundraising efforts, and managing the work plan helps to engage all partners, ensure that they feel comfortable, and sustain the collaborative. For Project U-Turn, funds associated with the intermediary also allow partners to participate in activities (e.g., conferences) as a collaborative that they might not have been able to afford without additional support.

Build relationships and trust

Building relationships and trust have been important priorities throughout the collaboration. As the intermediary, PYN focuses on relationship building and management, coaching members of the collaboration on how to work together and helping them to have open and honest communication within meetings.

Provide funds to partners

Through a close relationship with the William Penn Foundation, a regional foundation that has provided major support to the collaboration, Project U-Turn is able to provide small grants to organizations to help sustain their participation. For example, the collaboration might provide a small grant to a local parent organization to help disseminate information to other parents in Philadelphia about Project U-Turn’s efforts.

Link funds to the workplan

Project U-Turn seeks funds to support its collective efforts, as well as those of individual organizations. Every two years, the key partners work together to update the Project U-Turn workplan. Funding requests are then made based on the objectives and funding needs identified in that plan. In addition to providing a clear set of priorities and objectives, the workplan acts as a tool that shows all partners what money has been raised, where it will be spent and where they still have funding gaps, and the partners responsible for the work. Once funds are procured, the funds for that line item go directly to the partners who were identified to do the work. Because the decision-making process occurs in advance, all members of the collaboration know who will be receiving which funds when they are available, and what the expectations are for their work. For some items within the workplan, there may not be a partner identified. In these cases, an RFP or a partner may be identified at a later point.

The funds for items within the workplan are raised collectively through the collaboration and individually to support Project U-Turn goals. For example, there may be some line items within the workplan where the school district is better positioned to pursue funding than the collaboration as a whole. In addition, there are many tasks outlined in the workplan that fit within the scope of work of a member organization and therefore do not require additional funds. See Collaboration Structure for more about the workplan and funding.

Conduct a needs assessment

Before the collaboration moved forward, an in-depth analysis of the dropout problem in Philadelphia was conducted. This report, Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crisis, 2000–2005 (PDF, 52 pages), by Ruth Curran Neild and Robert Balfanz, used the Kids Integrated Data System (KIDS), a set of data that merges individual level data from the School District of Philadelphia, and Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health, Department of Human Services, and Office of Emergency Shelter and Services. By using this comprehensive data set, the collaboration was able not only to understand the number of youth who dropped out but also to identify predictors and factors related to graduating and dropping out. The collaboration used this report to develop a call to action, Turning it Around: A Collective Effort to Understand and Resolve Philadelphia's Dropout Crisis (PDF, 28 pages), and purposefully linked the release of the report with a call to action at the beginning of the campaign. This reinforced that the dropout issue was not just viewed as a problem, but as a problem that could be addressed by the city through specific actions by a variety of stakeholders. See Collaboration Purpose for more about how the needs assessment shaped the purpose of Project U-Turn.

Create a data dashboard

Annually, Project U-Turn uses data to track the progress of the collaboration’s efforts along five dimensions: 1) the current graduation rate, 2) the rate of ninth-grade students on track for on-time graduation, 3) the number of available seats in multiple pathways alternative education, 4) the number of youth asking to be reconnected, and 5) how many dollars have been leveraged for the collaborative. Early on this information was shared publically to raise support, but it is now used as a method for internal evaluation. In addition to using data to evaluate the collaboration, Project U-Turn looks at whether its message and goals are still relevant within the city, and whether organizations and members continue to value the collaboration and remain engaged.