South Ward Promise Neighborhood Positioned for Long-Term Success Thanks to Strategic Collaboration with Exponent Partners
South Ward Promise Neighborhood (SWPN) is a powerful collaborative of 26 organizations working together to lift up and invest in families in the Newark, New Jersey area. Their mission is to “provide a coordinated pipeline of services and resources that guides and supports families so that their children can live in healthy homes, succeed in school, contribute to their communities, and thrive in life”. The Promise Neighborhood program is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education. The holistic vision of the program is a future where all children growing up in these supported neighborhoods have access to strong systems of family and community support that will enable them to attain an excellent education and successfully transition to college and a career. A future free of generational poverty is truly the goal.
SWPN, together with its backbone agency BRICK Education Network, was awarded a $30M grant from the Department of Education in 2017, to be distributed over five years. The organization grew very quickly because of this funding and was able to dramatically increase the services they were providing to families in Newark. This grant focused on promoting the collaboration of multiple agencies to support families. BRICK’s contribution to this is to provide wraparound services using the two generation approach. This concept focuses on strengthening the family so the child can perform better in school and increase their chances of attending college. SWPN’s partner network of organizations include maternal wellness initiatives, early childhood education programs, charter schools, youth leadership, legal assistance, grief support, college readiness and healthcare access.
In 2018, the organization identified a need to invest in an information system that would help them increase their effectiveness and promote collaboration with the 26 partners that make up the Promise Neighborhood. With this in mind, they reached out to Exponent Partners to help them chart a course for future success.
The Challenge for Exponent Partners
Discovering the possibilities
SWPN and Exponent Partners initially began the first phase of the engagement in September 2018 with a project that focused on launching a portal for partners. The success of this phase allowed the organization’s leadership to see the possibilities for the system and the second, bigger, phase of the project began. The senior team had a vision of leveraging the Department of Education grant to create a Newark-wide database to strategically position the collaborative to continue their critical work even when the grant expired.
Unfortunately, almost as soon as the second phase of the project work kicked off, it began to stall. The team realized there were concerning unknowns in their long-term strategy that were impacting their ability to make practical, tactical decisions about their information systems. It became apparent that taking a step back to address key business process details and strategies was necessary.
Managing complex partner data
SWPN’s network of 26 partners meant a complex web of data relationships. The organization needed a way to gather and consolidate partner data in order to generate the critical data they needed to report on outcomes. Their mission is based on collective impact, not about the impact of an individual organization. As such, their long-term data governance plan and how to incorporate data collected from partners had to be carefully and thoughtfully considered, documented and vetted.
The journey: crisis, stability, thriving
BRICK Education Network, as the backbone agency of SWPN, had a strong reputation in the community of providing immediate, direct support to families as they faced crises. Ready to build on that experience, the BRICK team asked themselves some vital questions: “What if we partner with families before a crisis to proactively work together in a way that helps avoid a crisis in the first place? Additionally, how can we strengthen their resources so they are better equipped to weather a storm?” This was a big idea, and one that the team at BRICK wasn’t sure how to put into practice using their information systems.
The Solution for South Ward Promise Neighborhood
Strategic Advisory Consultation
The Exponent Partners team identified the critical need to strategically engage with SWPN and their backbone agency BRICK. Exponent Partners worked with BRICK for over a year to help them refine their vision and help bring it to reality. The kickoff of this strategic advisory engagement included an on-site planning session with the goal to help SWPN identify the long-term needs for their information systems and subsequently develop their five year vision. The meeting, which was held over two days early in 2020, allowed for the coming together and engagement of both their leadership and front-line staff with the Exponent Partners project team. The goal was to collaborate in strategic advisory work and lay the foundation for their information systems plan.
Focus on Milestones
Exponent Partners’ strategic advisory work, which unfolded over the course of a year after the on-site planning session, included working with Brick to bring the SWPN partners together to build on their deep expertise in key areas of a student’s life cycle and begin the conversation about how to best prepare the family for success at each critical juncture. Next, focus groups were held with the families in the community to hear directly from them what support they would find most valuable. Guided by the Exponent Partners team, Brick was able to bring a wide breadth of service providers, parents, grandparents, and students together to inform the creation of an innovative and proactive milestone-based model for the important outcomes-focused work to support families in Newark. This work allowed them to identify key developmental milestones in each phase of a child’s life and build the plan to capture data accurately in order to tell the most impactful stories. Exponent Partners additionally provided logic models, process maps, guidance on staffing, and training to support this new vision. At the end of the day, data-based storytelling is extremely powerful and allows the collective to truly demonstrate their impact on families in the neighborhood.
Implementation of Exponent Case Management
As SWPN and Exponent Partners began to work together in a trust-based partnership, an important component of their needs came to light: a flexible and powerful case management system. To meet their complex needs, they chose Exponent Case Management: a fully-featured, customizable case management solution built specifically for human services agencies. The system allows SWPN to streamline referrals, consolidate data across programs and partners, and reduce the time and energy spent managing manual processes. The flexibility of ECM allowed SWPN to easily incorporate their new milestone model into their data collection process and to create a way to proactively stay engaged with families for the long haul – from prenatal to career.
A True Success
South Ward Promise Neighborhood’s investment in strategic advisory consulting and information systems design allowed them to build a proactive model for serving children and families throughout their community. Their progress is being looked at as a model for other Promise Neighborhoods throughout the country. The way they capture data makes it possible for them to tell powerful stories of the impact their work is having on families in the South Ward. As a result of this work and their leadership team’s clear vision, they were awarded another five year, $30M grant from the Department of Education in late 2021. This will allow the organization to continue their growth trajectory and ultimately serve more families in alignment with the goal of ending generational poverty.
Into the Future
What’s next for SWPN and BRICK Education Network? Armed with a strong case management system and the data to better understand the effectiveness of interventions that low income families face, they are ready to tackle the next big challenge they set for themselves: “How do we move past getting families to stability and really set them up to fully thrive?” Exponent Partners is incredibly proud of the work they’ve completed with South Ward Promise Neighborhood and looks forward to continuing its support of this impactful organization.
All photos provided by SWPN, learn more here.