Welcome to the Community Pages of the Adaptive Planning Toolkit. The pages in this section have been created by partners who want to share their experiences with adaptive planning. Please contact us if you’re interested in contributing to the Community Pages.
In 2013, The Colorado Health Foundation undertook a strategic planning process designed to refresh its goals and grantmaking approach while maintaining their commitment to improving healthcare coverage. They quickly realized they would need an adaptive strategy due to the uncertainty surrounding health reform implementation and the state’s political environment. It was important to the staff that the strategy was flexible enough so grantees could respond to unanticipated events, including changes in the political environment, while still allowing for accountability. The Foundation also needed to be able to redeploy resources on their end without creating instability for their grantees.
To address these dilemmas, the Foundation engaged Spark Policy Institute, and consultants Tanya Beer and Pilar Stella, to support development of a funding strategy that could remain relevant and strategic over time in such a complex environment.
The Foundation used three forward-thinking tools to explore the strategy in order to develop their grantmaking approach:
- Participatory mapping of advocacy and funding strategies used by Colorado funders to assess where there were gaps;
- Scenario planning, designed to surface the many ways health reform implementation could play out and in what possible political environments; and
- Pre-mortem analysis of the preliminary strategy design, to refine the strategy.
1) Participatory Mapping
The Foundation worked with other funders to get an idea of the types of advocacy activities supported in the state. After interviews with the funders, Spark created a matrix of each foundation’s advocacy strategies, which showed the landscape of advocacy funding – the types of funding strategies, what was funded, and how foundations defined advocates. The matrix was then shared with the funders and together they used an adapted version of the Center for Evaluation Innovation’s Policy & Advocacy Matrix to map the collective focus of their funding. This map was used to talk about the advocacy field and its capacity to respond to the shifting environment, helping the Foundation see how their strategy could best support the field, including how they could partner with other funders.
2) Scenario Planning
Given the rapidly shifting health policy environment, scenario planning was a critical step in developing the Foundation’s funding strategy. The Foundation engaged over 40 advocates across the state who, through a mix of large and small group conversations, identified that the two primary drivers that will shape the health policy landscape in Colorado are the political composition of state government and how health reform is implemented. These two drivers were then crossed, creating a matrix of possible futures.
For each scenario, participants looked at which policy priorities would be the most important to protecting or advancing the Foundation’s goals and which strategies will be needed; who will have a credible voice and can influence policymakers; and what strategies and skills will be needed regardless of what the future holds. This focus on the policy priorities and advocacy strategies identified as relevant regardless of which future unfolds allowed the Foundation to build a stable core strategy so it was clear that these are the goals both the Foundation and advocates are working towards no matter what happens. It also highlighted which strategies might be important in different scenarios, allowing the Foundation to set provisional priorities and strategies for the current and most likely futures.
The final step was a “pre-mortem” on the preliminary strategy design to identify risks of failure so ways of mitigating these risks can be built into the strategy design. The design team was asked to imagine that it was four years into the future and the strategy had failed spectacularly. The group then identified internal and external risks, and then developed specific strategies to respond to the internal risks, such as the long attention span needed to support a four-year strategy (especially as the strategy was new to the Foundation); balancing the need for both consistency and adaptation; and the potential lack of support and engagement from and by advocates). To account for these risks, the Foundation and Spark built in a plan for addressing them, including, but not limited to, learning throughout the strategy, how to engage key leadership in an “adaptive mindset”, and communications throughout the life of the strategy. Importantly, these activities are not viewed as separate from the strategy; they are considered part of the strategy.
The Final Strategy
The final strategy took into account the learning from the three future-facing planning activities and was designed to maximize flexibility for both the Foundation and advocates, while allowing for the stability needed for a long-term commitment and the accountability required by the Foundation leadership. It also included learning tools for participatory monitoring of the external environment in case a shift in strategy is needed and tools to ensure this learning is used to shape the strategy in the future.
For more information about the strategy, visit the Consumer Advocacy Funding Opportunity.
Public policy groups, especially a legislatively-mandated Council, Task Force, or Blue Ribbon Commission, may have hefty mandates and a short timeframe to assess and respond to an issue. Often, the outcomes of these groups is a report that sits on a shelf. However, when these groups undertake a strategic planning process –focused on action around necessary conditions, leveraging partners, and identifying the gaps that they then fill – they can become change agents.
One example of a change-oriented group is the Colorado Farm to School Task Force – a 13 member appointed body enacted by the Colorado legislature in 2010. At their first staffed meeting in February 2011, the Task Force was guided through a Strategic Road-mapping process. They:
- Began by identifying the end of the road or where they wanted the state of Colorado to be in 15 years.
- Identified the two possible ways (“conditions”) by which farm to school could be implemented – either (1) Colorado schools & producers work directly together or (2) Colorado producers sell to a food hub that sells to schools.
- Identified the numerous “preconditions” necessary to implement farm to school. Preconditions are the bridges on the road – without them, you cannot get to the other side of the river where your destination lies.
- Identified exactly which organizations were doing what to build each of the needed bridges.
- When all the activities were connected to each bridge, the nuts and bolts and even entire girders of a bridge that were missing became apparent. It is the missing parts of the bridges (the “gaps”) that became the work of the Task Force.
As a result of this process, the group has been effectively working in concert with each other over the last five years to bring “collaborative, sustainable implementation of farm to school statewide”. The Task Force, which is all volunteer, has had a number of notable accomplishments since their inception, including being reauthorized in 2013 with two additional seats and acquiring federal and foundation grants to continue and expand their work.
Show me the impact
The TF runs like a well-oiled machine. Everyone keeps on task, following the roadmap action step by action step. In its first year alone, the TF:
- Provided outreach and technical assistance by request to schools, producers and communities around the state interested in starting or expanding FTS efforts and supported the development of direct technical assistance to schools and producers, including hosting conferences and releasing FAQs and a 50-state legislative scan.
- Supported pilot projects by helping stakeholders define and refine five food hub projects, and helped to locate funding sources and advocate for financial support.
- Conducted quarterly meetings around the state to learn about the needs of different regions. In 2011, the Task Force met in Pueblo, San Luis Valley, Longmont and Denver.
- Developed a Farm to School Grant Template to provide assistance to schools to find funding and apply for grants to buy equipment and upgrade kitchen facilities.
- Designed the Farm to School Information Hub Website, a centralized, sustainable information hub, connects the many different farm to school related resources in one easy to navigate website
- Received a major grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to support its 2012 activities.
Where is the Task Force now?
The Task Force now has 15 appointed members and 10 ex-officios ranging in expertise from school food service to food distribution to legal analysis. Colorado is now seen as a leader in farm to school nationwide, in large part due to the work of the Task Force. States around the country contact the Task Force for guidance on how to start up or improve upon their FTS efforts and the Task Force has developed strong local and national partnerships that have brought new resources to Colorado’s efforts. In the past few years, the Task Force has been involved in a variety of activities from the grassroots to the policy level, including:
Creating easy-to-understand policy & regulatory analysis and guidance, such as documents and webinars on topics including food safety, legislative trends, grant opportunities, and the health and economic impacts of locally-sourced foods.
Continuing to provide local and national outreach & technical assistance, presenting and participating in local, regional, statewide, and national conferences and presentations, including the USDA FTS Grantee National Gathering and the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference and offering FTS Intensive Technical Assistance (ITA) Workshops to communities throughout the state (through a three year grant from the Gates Family Foundation).
Supporting and promoting pilot projects as a method of investing in innovation and expansion of FTS efforts in Colorado.
Developing evaluation tools, such as the Farm to School Evaluation Toolkit, a resource to help FTS programs of all sizes undertake evaluation, which provides step-by-step guidance and data collection tools to assess FTS outcomes related to students, parents, teachers, food service staff and operations, producers, school leadership, and community.
Looking to the future
The Task Force will again re-visit their Strategic Roadmap at their upcoming June meeting to refine the strategic plan for the next year, which will involve re-capping what they have done and identifying the gaps they have yet to address. This process will immediately lead to creation of working groups, a helpful vehicle used by the Task Force to actually get the work done. Previous work groups have been created, accomplished their tasks, and have been dissolved, creating momentum and allowing for flexibility when new gaps and needs arise.
To learn more about the work of the Colorado Farm to School Task Force, and to see their most recent Strategic Roadmap, please visit their website at: http://coloradofarmtoschool.org/