Early in the collaboration, the network partners spent more than one year establishing a shared vision and reaching consensus on how to best frame overarching issues (prior to more specific goal-setting). They also identified synergy in working styles and clarified each other’s roles. Some of the partners had to get more familiar with each other and with VPP’s role as an intermediary organization. Providing time and space for this group process allowed the partners to develop clarity and recognize each other’s strengths. Once trust and mutual understanding were established, the network began to identify priority areas for action and developed a collective agenda.
VPP’s vision with the SIF investment is to serve 20,000 young people in five years. During their working group meetings, the network partners collaboratively selected more specific secondary goals. With the support of Monitor Deloitte, a strategy consultant, the partners engaged in an asset-mapping activity to identify each other’s key services, competencies, and strengths, and subsequently identified areas of overlap and synergy that could be leveraged to enhance positive youth development. This interactive activity helped to ensure that the partners were trying to solve problems that were relevant to all of their work, and that they had the necessary resources for problem-solving. From this activity, the partners reached consensus on several goals, including the creation of a Common Outcomes Framework (described in greater detail below), and decided to pilot and scale up a process for working in the same place (a “place-based collaboration”), such as in a school or other community-based setting. LAYC Career Academy, an independent charter school affiliated with LAYC, was selected as the pilot venue. They also agreed to advocate for improved youth access to transportation and behavioral health services.
The Common Outcomes Framework is a series of outcome measures that allow the partnering organizations to see how their individual programs are contributing to collective results. The Framework includes short- and long-term indicators of positive youth development, including postsecondary credential attainment, workforce participation, and a healthy lifestyle. It serves as the dashboard that depicts progress and outcomes for the 20,000 youth that the partners are responsible for serving.
The Framework allows partners to take stock of the current progress in the network and to move forward efficiently and productively when starting new activities. The Framework offers an alternative from having to start from scratch when thinking about what should be evaluated. For example, when the network partners started to work together in the LAYC Career Academy, they used the Framework as a starting place for conversations with each other and with the school partner about evaluation, including how the network partners’ outcomes intersected with the school’s outcomes for creating a stronger college and career readiness culture.
Overall, the Framework represents the network’s theory of change of helping youth transition to adulthood. The framework is based on youth development research and illustrates the intersection of the six network partners’ program models, which contributes to the goals that that they are collectively driving toward. Additionally, the framework provides a basis for dialogue about terminology (e.g., what does it mean to “have a positive relationship with an adult”), thus helping the partners to establish a common language about progress monitoring and evaluation. Individual organizations have also used the Framework to refine and update their own indicators of program success (e.g., upon learning about a more reliable and valid measure for measuring positive youth development).
Implementing a place-based collaboration is one of the key initiatives of youthCONNECT. In a place-based collaboration, network partners provide an array of services in a single location. Providing services under the canopy of the youthCONNECT network helps to ensure that efforts to improve outcomes for youth are coordinated and synergistic. The network partners have worked together to introduce a place-based collaboration at the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy, a small public charter school in Washington, D.C. serving young adults (16 – 24) with multiple risk-factors. This collaboration has involved a series of contributions by the network partners, including implementation of curricula for college access and matriculation (College Summit) and sexual health education (Metro TeenAIDS). In addition, students have access to career readiness workshops and related elective courses (Urban Alliance). The effort is helping to improve youth’s access to needed supports and promotes positive youth development among those with multiple needs.
In addition to the benefits that youth receive directly from youthCONNECT, school administrators are seeing signs that positive youth development messages are beginning to permeate the broader school culture. VPP is planning to replicate the youthCONNECT model in other locations throughout the National Capital Region, including at a traditional large public high school.
Sustainability has been a key priority throughout the development of youthCONNECT. It has always considered and planned for sustainability, so that innovative practices are integrated into the daily work of the organizations. Through the network’s leadership, evaluation, and program communities of practice, the network is operating across multiple levels of the partner organizations. The leadership community of practice, made up of executive directors, is contemplating a joint fundraising strategy to support youthCONNECT beyond SIF funding. In addition, the evaluation and program communities of practice, comprised of evaluation directors and program directors, build relationships, utilize each other’s programs, and leverage the collective knowledge of their peers in the network to better support the youth that they serve. Thus, the partner organizations are working to ensure that by the time funds from the SIF grant run out, the most effective innovative practices will become part of the core programs and operations.
 The Latin American Youth Center Career Academy is distinct from the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), which is one of the six nonprofit partners in youthCONNECT. The charter school is a separate entity that LAYC helped to found.