Hours of Opportunity
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Hours of Opportunity
The Wallace Foundation’s premise was that collaborative approaches across organizations within a city would help enable the creation of a more effective and coordinated OST program. Here, we discuss whether and how the sites used collaborative approaches to enable the initiative to move forward (answering research question 3). Similar to the approach in the previous chapter, we relied on the sites to tell us how they approached collaboration across organizations and agencies and what enabled it. We then placed that information into categories developed from the literature.
The sites used different means to achieve more coordination. Respondents thought that these collaborative mechanisms enabled progress, and, in several sites, the mechanisms became embedded in the new structures and policy supports of the evolving system. New and better-aligned structures, new MOUs, and data and analytic capabilities all became the part of the systems put in place to support the goals.
The interviewees were adamant about several factors that acted as enablers of coordinated system building, some of which were identified in the literature. These factors included whether the site created a common vision during the early planning phase; effectively collected and used data and information; received strong, supportive, stable leadership, especially in the mayor’s office; and gained the active support of the schools. Wallace Foundation funding as an investment and the role of funding generally also enabled coordinated system building. We found that system-building activities bore fruit when all these factors were present. When the shared vision and the active support of the mayor were missing, we found that reported activities were stalled and courses of actions changed.
This chapter first discusses the use of general collaborative mechanisms to develop greater coordination and then highlights specific enablers and inhibitors raised during interviews at the sites.
How Cities Used Cross-Organizational Collaboration to Support Greater Coordination
The literature described a set of activities that social service agencies have used in collaborative efforts to improve services. We adopted them to the OST setting and list them in the first column of Table 4.1. We then used the descriptions provided by the sites to fill in the cells with the specific activities undertaken in each site. Some of these points have already been discussed in prior chapters. For example, Chapter Two showed how early planning and coordination were crucial to identifying targets, consolidating resources and powers, and developing later plans. It also described how sites consolidated or changed structures to improve coordination. These are included in Table 4.1 as activities or mechanisms that enabled greater coordination.
Table 4.1 shows that Providence and New York City undertook many collaborative activities to promote coordinated system building. As discussed later, the early planning efforts described in Chapter Two brought agencies and stakeholder groups, such as providers and parents, into discussions about how the system could be improved and what the initiative would attempt. Interviewees noted that this built tremendous buy-in and goodwill for the initiative. Washington, D.C., undertook a similar effort in the early years when the Trust led the effort. However, with mayoral takeover, the lead role shifted to DCPS, and the nature of collaboration shifted from larger public engagement to intra-agency collaboration.
These three sites successfully put in place consolidation efforts or created new organizations to address OST issues, developed mechanisms to ensure regular meetings of interested parties, made significant progress in developing shared data that could be used in such meetings to discuss how to improve, and created standards, incentives, and training as a means of coordinating with providers. In addition, each recognized the need to continually engage the superintendent and school staff. Providence and Washington, D.C., developed the position of a site coordinator to interact at the site level with school staff and the provider in engaging students in the programs, ensuring that the programs ran smoothly. New York City established MOUs at the agency level to ensure availability of space for after-school programming in schools.
Due to the fact that one agency did not control the majority of OST programming in the city, all of Chicago’s efforts required multiagency coordination and cooperation. Planners specifically selected the development of MI systems as the focus of early efforts because the systems were viewed as a positive first collaborative project for the agencies and because they provided a very tangible reward to partners for their cooperation and commitment. Building from that success, Chicago moved to adopt a quality pilot that involved all of the agencies. However, as of spring 2009, the collaborative efforts had not taken on any potentially contentious issues, such as the allocation of OST resources throughout the city or potential consolidation of programs.
In the initial two years of the grant, Boston’s collaborative efforts focused almost exclusively at the school level on the PSS sites— establishing on-site coordinators and other efforts to link after-school programs to the school day. However, it undertook few activities that effectively coordinated actors and organizations outside of the schools. In spring 2009, we saw evidence of increased collaboration that was led by the mayor’s office—the CLI and the mayor’s subcabinet.
The Importance of Establishing a Common Vision
As part of the planning process, most cities worked to develop a commonly held vision of what they wanted to accomplish across stakeholders, including city agencies, the provider community, the schools and central office, and parents. In some cities, this process required the active involvement of key stakeholders, and, in one, there was less stakeholder engagement with important negative consequences.
As an example of the former, during the planning phase, New York City formed working groups organized around key topics, such as professional development, quality, and cost. Each of the six working groups consisted of advocates, providers, academics, and funders. Each working group submitted reports to the city with its recommendations. Hundreds of people participated in this process. We were told that the goal was to make the planning process inclusive so that all stakeholders would have a voice. Based on the working groups’ efforts and internal coordination, DYCD issued a concept paper on OST and solicited comments from the field. While not all stakeholders supported every aspect of New York City’s OST vision, it was clearly communicated, and key stakeholders reported to us that their buy-in was high at the end of the process.
Similarly, Providence undertook an extensive community-based engagement effort during the planning process in which the mayor convened more than 100 after-school leaders, city officials, students, and parents. While some stakeholders were disappointed when the grant focused on middle schools, support for what was done was relatively high, and the goals were well understood. The mayor had established enough credibility in the community that his promise to move to high school provision next was viewed as credible, leading to continued support across the area’s provider community.
Early efforts in Washington, D.C., prior to the new administration’s mayoral takeover of the schools, resembled those in Providence, with a significant focus on consensus building. After the new administration came into office, broader sets of stakeholders were less visible in the coordination efforts that focused primarily on government agencies through ICSIC. Similarly, Chicago’s efforts focused on governmental interagency coordination, initially around the MI system development.
In contrast, in the initial years of the grant, Boston Beyond did not engage community stakeholders in the development of its PSS model or develop a common vision of system building under PSS. Significant staff turnover during this period likely contributed to this lack of outreach. Because a systemic vision of PSS was not communicated, respondents outside the PSS initiative said that they did not understand how PSS could be a system-building effort; instead, a few respondents described it as a “boutique” program found in a small number of schools. Respondents outside the PSS initiative also described resentment in the community that the grant money was not funding OST programs outside the PSS sites. Comments such as these showed the general lack of understanding of the purpose of the grant, as initiative funds were not allowed to be used for OST programming.
The Impact of Data and Information
We discovered that cities’ efforts to gather data through needs assessments, market research, MI systems, and evaluation created greater coordination (organizations worked to gather and review additional data) and more data-based decisionmaking. Chicago and Washington, D.C., might provide the clearest examples of this phenomenon.
In Chicago, the effort to build MI systems that could easily merge all agencies’ data brought city agency staff together on a regular basis and, from this process, working relationships grew. Over time, interviewees indicated that they began to see a benefit in the coordinated efforts in terms of shared goals and potentially more effective resource allocation, although by the end of this investigation, that remained largely a vision and not yet a reality.
Similarly, ICSIC in Washington, D.C., along with the mayor’s budget office, ensured that the agencies worked together to develop a vision of strong OST services for youth. It was the data from the MI systems that allowed them to actually consider in concrete terms how to move forward and encouraged specific discussions about improvement.
In Providence, the use of the MI system helped the OST system flourish in that its practical uses allowed parents to feel comfortable sending their children to AfterZones, which likely encouraged student enrollment and participation. Using enrollment and participation data, along with student surveys, allowed the planners to begin addressing quality and programming issues, something that would benefit the children. These benefits, along with a collegial approach to problem solving, kept the many stakeholders at the table and involved.
In several instances, data from the MI system and evaluations led to changes in program funding and better policies. The resulting availability of data and analyses then allowed several mayors to publicly proclaim some early successes, which, in turn, drove them to demand data analyses on a regular basis. This ensured that agencies would seek to maintain and use data analyses for decisionmaking.
Boston, on the other hand, had not generated much usable data as of spring 2009. It was still working to develop an MI system and had not continued with an evaluation. Thus, it is not surprising that we did not find evidence of data-based decisions or collaboration fueled by data and information.
The Crucial Role of the Mayor
As noted previously, leadership and, particularly, the support and actions of mayors and their representatives were key enablers of system building. In New York City, mayoral support was critical to successful change within the bureaucracy. The OST initiative shifted resources between several agencies and demanded better coordination and communication among them. Because it was clear that the mayor wanted this initiative to succeed, agencies were forced to communicate, share information, and cooperate with one another. He signaled his interest in the initiative by designating a point person with the authority to coordinate the agencies’ efforts. We were told by those involved in the planning process that the mayor’s special adviser “was instrumental in pulling together [the commissioners] around a unified goal.” When the planning process was over and the special adviser had stepped down, City Hall appointed a replacement to serve as a liaison among the agencies to keep the pressure on for coordination. The mayor also signaled his support for the initiative at press events and in state-of-thecity speeches. Perhaps the clearest signal was that he placed OST as a baseline item in the city’s five-year financial plan.
PASA in Providence benefited from continued support from the mayor, who became a nationally recognized advocate of quality OST offerings. Respondents also noted that the leadership of PASA itself was capable, energetic, and committed. The mayor’s reform agenda and support for integrated OST provision—in combination with wellqualified PASA leadership—was a significant factor in PASA’s success. The chief of police and superintendent, both of whom were strong advocates and contributors to the system, joined the mayor in supporting OST.
Many interviewees in Chicago remarked on the value of having the city’s first family initiate the effort through statements by the mayor and the role of the mayor’s wife as head of After School Matters. There was, however, no push in Chicago to restructure, as there was in New York City. The coordination took place among agencies and focused initially on developing the MI systems on a largely voluntary basis. It seems that, because the multiple agencies involved in OST provision were all relatively powerful, interagency coordination was built on goodwill rather than a dictate from the mayor. It is difficult to tell whether greater active support by the mayor could have moved efforts further.
While a number of key leadership positions changed hands in Washington during the initiative (the mayor, superintendent, and president of the Trust), it still weathered these transitions and maintained supportive and productive leadership for OST. These changes altered the environment and priorities for OST in Washington, D.C., and made it difficult to implement the plan envisioned in the Wallace grant. The commitment toward expanding OST opportunities for students, however, remained high due to the involvement and actions of the new leadership in the mayor’s office. In fact, many significant improvements in the OST system resulted from the focus of ICSIC, led by the mayor, and included the expansion of OST opportunities to students in all DCPS schools, a demand for data to drive the system, and the establishment of a vetting process for OST providers in DCPS schools.
In Boston, mayoral role both enabled and hindered progress. The mayor had always been a strong advocate for OST programming, and he led the charge to create Boston Beyond. While he remained committed to OST in the city, we were told that in the first two years of the PSS initiative, his strategy and that of the then–executive director of Boston Beyond became unaligned. The result was a rift between the two, and some respondents said that people in the OST community perceived that the mayor lost confidence in the leadership of the intermediary. This lack of alignment and loss of connection made it difficult for Boston Beyond to lead system-building activities.
Since the business plan was revised and a new executive director of Boston Beyond was hired, the mayor’s support of the intermediary and its leadership returned. Indeed, the collaborative mechanisms and work described in spring 2009—the CLI and the interagency subcabinet of youth agencies—were both developed from the mayor’s office. In addition, the mayor made OST a top campaign issue in his reelection bid. However, it is not at all clear whether the approach taken by the other sites that encouraged early needs assessment, building of stakeholder buy-in, and the development of a unifying information system would be undertaken.
Buy-In of the Schools
Most respondents in the sites emphasized that the role of the superintendent, central office staff, and principals was crucial to the effort, primarily because so many of the after-school activities would take place in the schools. After-school planners needed to ensure that providers had access to the schools, that facilities would be open, and that responsibility for maintenance, heating, cooling, and insurance would rest with the schools. They also needed to ensure that teachers and principals would work with the providers and encourage students to attend the programs. Thus, while active support by the superintendent or his or her office was desirable, at a minimum, planners needed basic support.
This was found in most sites, although in varying forms. For example, the MOU between the New York City Department of Education and DYCD guaranteed OST programs free access to a specific number of schools during the school year and in the summer; the Department of Education would fund the extended-use fees (i.e., the cost of operating schools after hours and during the 20 school holidays when they would typically be closed), security, fingerprinting of staff, and snacks. However, the chancellor’s office was not heavily involved in the conceptual work of the initiative. In Providence, after the initial superintendent left, the mayor ensured that the process for selecting a new superintendent would emphasize the need to support PASA and the operation of middle school programs. In Washington, D.C., after the mayoral takeover, the superintendent’s office took on the lead in pushing for improved programming and access. It was this active championing that moved the effort forward in that city.
Thus, we conclude that there are many roles that superintendents and their offices can play, but, at a minimum, they had to support the idea of after-school programming in their buildings and ensure the cooperation of the schools.
The cooperation of and coordination with the schools was not guaranteed, even with active involvement of the superintendent. Thus, several cities, including Providence, Washington, D.C., and Boston, created the position of a school-level coordinator to ensure full school cooperation, active recruiting efforts for after-school programming, and coordination between school-day and after-school activities. From the point of view of the program planners, this role was essential in ensuring high-functioning programs. Administrators in all three cities pointed out the differences among schools in their buy-in and support contingent on the specific skills and talents of the coordinator and, therefore, tried to hire the best candidates for these roles and provided them with professional development.
While this type of position was not used across all sites, respondents tended to agree that cooperation from the schools, principals, and teachers was important to a strong after-school program and saw uncooperative staff as a barrier to overcome in pursuit of increasing access and quality.
The Need for Investment and Other Funding Issues
Funding was and remains a crucial enabler of improving OST systems, and a lack of it remains a constant constraint. Each of the sites was struggling at the end of our study to deal with city budget deficits and possible reductions in philanthropic support that would affect their funding streams. This situation reflects the struggle faced by such programs on a regular basis, which is what motivated The Wallace Foundation’s goal of addressing financial sustainability. None of the sites “solved” the financial sustainability issue. However, our study does provide some specific insights about funding issues, especially the need for investment funding, how it could be used, and the issue of stovepiped funding sources, which bedeviled some sites.
The Wallace Foundation made major investments in these cities, and interviewees were clear that without its support, in terms of funding and the challenge of the initiative, they would not have made as much progress. Each of these sites, unlike others throughout the country, received significant funding for needed large investments in personnel time and infrastructure. Site respondents reported that this was a major enabler, but using the funding in an effective manner was crucial as well.
Because all the sites received the funding and used it for a variety of purposes, we cannot say how much was enough. In general, funds paid for the time of market researchers, the administration of surveys, the running of community forums, development of quality assessment instruments, and professional development. It paid for the time of the early planners, coordinators, and leaders. In addition, it was used to develop the MI systems that proved to be a crucial step forward in four of the sites.
There were some contrasts in the payoff on sites’ investments. For example, Chicago used much of the funding to build its MI systems, and New York City dedicated at least some of the funding to the role of the special adviser. Both investments appeared to pay off from the point of view of respondents. This contrasted with several investments in evaluation, a child assessment tool, and a set of quality standards made by Boston Beyond in the early years of the Boston initiative, which went unused during later efforts led by DELTAS after the restructuring.
We described the result of The Wallace Foundation investment that helped cities develop some “system infrastructure,” but at the conclusion of the research, the sites were struggling for regular operating funds in the midst of a recession and considering whether they would need to cut back on slots or personnel in the near future. Clearly, lack of funding is a major constraint on improving programming, but several sites also noted the continuing challenge of “braiding together” funding from different sources that had dedicated uses. For example, the sites received funding from a variety of sources, including U.S. Department of Education Title I funds, U.S. Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, state and city funds, and philanthropic donations. Each has specific rules and regulations about what the funds can be used for and under what conditions. A considerable amount of personnel time went into figuring out how to effectively braid the funding streams in supportive packages. In other words, funding itself required significant attention to coordination and considerable adeptness in determining which programs could receive which funds or which student could receive which funds to make the overall system work. Planners felt that this fragmentation of funding was a major constraint on providing a more coordinated system and that this would continue to be the case.
In summary, the sites used many different collaborative mechanisms to increase coordination across evolving systems. These coordination mechanisms acted as enablers of progress and, in some ways, became embedded in the new structures and policy supports of the evolving system of OST provision. New, better-aligned structures, new MOUs, data and analytic capabilities, and quality-improvement mechanisms all became the part of the system put in place to support the goals of better OST provision.
The cases provide numerous examples that other sites could follow to help build better system supports. While the investment funding provided by The Wallace Foundation was essential, alone, it was not enough to ensure coordination or progress toward the goals of the initiative: At least one site did not make significant progress despite the funding provided. Interviewees emphasized that a shared vision, early planning and the building of the MI systems, mayoral support, and buy-in from the schools were important enablers to move the sites toward the goals of the initiative. Lack of several of these posed significant challenges to coordination. Importantly, lack of funding or fragmented funding streams remained an important constraint to building more coordinated systems. While support from the mayor and superintendent and investments in coordination can, and did in several of these sites, pay off, the sites continued to face constant challenges to improvement.
The question then remains how to ensure that other cities have some of the enablers that these cities did. While we have documented clear steps to take—the actions of the mayors and the steps taken in the early days to ensure some consensus—we do not think that the process can be mechanistically replicated. The cases serve as examples of what can be done, but they are not blueprints. Further, we do not have insights into how other cities can obtain the investment funds needed. These cases do, however, hint at what other cities might be able to accomplish and the process they may want to undertake should investments be made.
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