Systems Change: Engaging Partners and Stakeholders to Grow and Sustain Evidence-Based Programs

Alexandra Cisneros and Don Smith from the United Way and Area Agency on Aging of Tarrant County  are members of the Evidence-Based Leadership Council.

“What is the most effective thing you have done to expand your Evidence Based Program?”

This is one of the most popular questions a successful organization is asked, and one of the most difficult to answer. The answers could be infinite; however a frequent response is building new opportunities by partnering and engaging stakeholders.  Sometimes it is helpful to take a systems approach when keeping an evidence-based program (EBP) up and running. This post will discuss system change and building partnerships to expand your EBPs.

Here are some things to consider when implementing system change locally:

  • Share successes to garner greater support and innovative insights.
  • Explore partnerships with both traditional and non-traditional organizations such as libraries, health care systems, first responders and universities, etc.
  • Identify and offer your strengths. For example, you might be able to offer a referral system to get participants into a workshop, but not have the staff to host a workshop.
  • Consider data sharing and standard measurements tools.
  • Build on existing collaborations.

Systems thinking, moves beyond the self-interest of individual organizations to the interest of the community or network as a whole. One critical mistake many CBOs make is thinking that they must operate the program within their organization only. This control often limits the potential for growth of the program since the continuation of the program may hinge on whether or not one organization can withstand fluctuations in the revenue needed to support EBP continuation.

For example in Texas, where resources to support health and human services tend to be limited, we have learned to focus more on building partnerships and sharing resources among organizations to develop and sustain EBPs. This requires moving beyond the community wide measurement of individual — and even population —change to system change. It is only through system change that long term sustainability of EBPs is possible.  This requires the formation of cross sector partnerships that incentivize the integration of multiple EBPs into both medical care and social service systems and the development of county, regional and state-wide goals and data sharing to measure individual and population impact across silos.

An active example of system change is the North Central Texas Area Consortium. This Consortium was formed to develop and expand A Matter of Balance and Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management programs throughout a 16 county area. The partnership now includes three Area Agencies on Aging, four hospital systems, health departments and other community-based organizations. All partners have adopted a common agenda and data set, and share information across multiple providers to measure individual, population and system change. Classes are often taught with personnel from multiple agencies and partners have developed shared marketing and outreach strategies and materials.

“No Man is an Island” – John Donne

To read more about the lessons learned on sustainability from the United Way and Area Agency on Aging of Tarrant County please visit their Success Story on the EBLC website.