Vital Village Network: Leading Together

This story was originally published in the 100 Million Healthier Lives Change Library and is brought to you through partnership with 100 Million Healthier Lives and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

"Those closest to the problem are the closest to the solution, but furthest from resource and power." — Glenn E. Martin

Vital Village is a network of residents and agencies committed to maximizing child, family, and community wellbeing.

As a network, our ability to achieve this mission hinges on how effectively we distribute power and meaningfully engage those who are most impacted by health disparities in Boston: community residents. Since 2010, Vital Village has been in constant pursuit of changing this narrative by lifting up, working alongside and following the lead of Boston residents.

Every project initiated, every meeting held and every data point shared by Vital Village is identified in partnership with community residents and aims to lift up existing community-led solutions through leveraging the power of our network.

Our network uses a Service Learning and Leadership Model (see diagram below) to create opportunities for every partner to advance along a leadership trajectory through strategic alliances, expanded social connections and networks, mentorship opportunities, strategic partnerships with community-based organizations and skill-expanding trainings and workshops.

Networking at the Leadership Summit 2017

Our monthly Network Connection Meetings (NCMs) are a primary avenue for promoting collaborative action and alignment. NCMs were launched in January 2014 at the end of our strategic planning year. The 40-person planning team requested and designed the NCM to promote shared learning, exchange of resources, cross-sector partnerships and incubate opportunities for collaboration by creating a space that builds connections, trust and collective responsibility. Annually at the January NCM, we host a network visioning and design session to harvest the desired focus of meetings for that year. Vital Village staff then works with partners to coordinate, plan, and host the NCMs. Although NCMs have always been co-designed, Vital Village staff and community champions have taken a larger role in hosting and facilitating the meetings.

In 2018, we made it our goal to raise the bar higher: having all Vital Village events co-designed, co-hosted, and co-led with our rich community partners and network members and to track  our progress with our updated Villager Feedback Form (see Progress and Reflection Tools below). 

Ice Breaker at the March 2018 Network Connection Meeting

Co-Design, Co-Host, Co-Lead

This language: co-design, co-host, and co-lead demands a more fluid interpretation of the word “expert” that recognizes many forms of wisdom. Every member in our network is an expert in their lived experience. The incorporation of lived experience is essential in our collective efforts to address discrimination in all its' forms and promote equity for all children and families.

Using human-centered design strategies to promote co-design and shared leadership has been central to our network from the beginning. However, through our experience with the 100 Million Healthier Lives initiative’s signature program: Spreading Community Accelerators through Learning and Evaluation (SCALE) we were able to think of this in a new way: leading from within, leading together, and leading for change. During SCALE 1.0 we were able to begin to think about co-design and co-led processes from a perspective of individual leadership growth, team or group leadership, and a mindset of collective responsibility for leading change.  Using this model helped us intentionally scale up community champion leadership to promote child wellbeing. In SCALE 2.0 we worked to further expand opportunities for leadership, and to measure and transparently share our progress.

Poem reading at February 2019 Network Connection Meeting

With this shift, Network Connection Meetings have been consistently co-hosted with partners to lift up the diverse expertise and innovations in our community, share wisdom and resources across sectors, and meaningfully engage members within our ever growing network. Network Connection themes have spanned a wide array of topics and activities including: mobilizing for early childhood summer enrichmentdata walks for network visioning, mental health and resilience from 2018 to 2019, and more.

Progress and Reflection Tools

Villager Feedback

To continuously reflect and improve upon our co-designed, co-hosted, and co-led meetings, we collect data from our short Villager Feedback forms (modified from Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Rapid Feedback form) that are distributed at the end of every meeting. Participants share their feedback about their participation & leadership, and if they also saw others participating & leading throughout the meeting. Results are publicly posted on our Data Dashboard monthly and shared with co-hosts during Network Connection Meeting debrief sessions.

Through this journey, that Villager Feedback data results uncovered that NCM attendees were reporting "I led" less than "other participants led." This has been a great opportunity for us to examine how leadership is interpreted and to identify other leadership opportunities within NCMs. Essentially, at every point of co-designing our NCM agenda's we aim to pose the question to ourselves and partners: who in the network could help us lead this part of the meeting?

Journey Map

As a part of SCALE 2.0, we participated in an intensive Storytelling process that included an activity called a Journey Map. A Journey Map is meant to provide a snapshot of the project, key shifts and milestones/outcomes.

Our team enjoyed using the Journey Map as a tool to reflect on our time with SCALE because it provided a creative outline to visually break down and process different things our organization had been through over the past few years with SCALE learning community. We are currently working on a guide (adapted from the SCALE guide) to help us use the Journey Map activity to reflect on other projects throughout the network. Specifically, we intend to use it to reflect on our co-designed, co-hosted, and co-led Network Connection Meetings.

Annual Leadership Summit

Beyond Network Connection Meetings, we apply co-design, co-hosting, and co-leadership across network projects and at our annual Leadership Summit. Our co-hosted Leadership Summits have planning committees that reflect the diversity of lived experience in our network including resident leaders, organization partners, and advisers who made strategic decisions collaboratively. Year by year, we convene the network as an opportunity to enhance their leadership through co-designed Summit themes from Connected by HOPE in 2016 to Community Resilience: Roots of Collective Empowerment in 2018.

 Related Topics

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Community Engagement