Connected to Place News, Winter 2018


Backbone Support for Cross-Sector Collaboratives

March 1, 2018

In this newsletter:

  • California Outdoor Engagement Coalition
  • San Francisco Children and Nature
  • Network Plan for Environmental Literacy in CA
  • Collective Impact Convening, April 3-5 in Austin, TX
  • Resources and Opportunities
    • San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Strategic Plan
    • Planet Vision
    • Latino Outdoors ED Opening

Whether working to protect the environment, enhance community health and sustainability, improve educational outcomes or address other social issues, collaboration among cross-sector organizations is complex and challenging. Bringing stakeholders together effectively requires a deep knowledge of what all partners bring to the common enterprise; development of and adherence to a common agenda and shared ways of measuring progress; and structures and processes that support relationship building and finely-tuned coordinated action. Some level of backbone support (i.e. staff dedicated to supporting the collaborative) is needed to perform these and other essential functions for achieving impact.
California Outdoor Engagement Coalition
The California Outdoor Engagement Coalition, at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, supports cross-sector partnerships that “expand transformational experiences in the outdoors for youth who reflect the overall demographics of California”.
On February 13th, the coalition brought its members together to learn more about collective impact initiatives that address equitable access to the outdoors and nature across varied settings in California. I presented, with Damien Raffa of the Presidio Trust, on the structures and processes we use in the San Francisco Children & Nature collaborative. Other presentations included the Richmond Outdoors Coalition, Bay Area Trails Collaborative and ChangeScale/Tree People. The critical role of backbone support was evident in all of these collaboratives. The Richmond Outdoors Coalition is supported by staff at the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition. Change Scale (Bay Area) and Tree People (Los Angeles County) provide backbone support for school district partnerships that bring together school district staff and local organizations to develop and implement environmental learning experiences at every grade level. I am writing a case study on the Alameda Unified School District Partnership, one of the partnerships with backbone support from ChangeScale.  Learning through case studies and sharing networks can help emerging collaboratives for social change develop a plan for backbone support and other characteristics of effective, sustained partnerships.
San Francisco Children and Nature
The backbone structure of San Francisco Children and Nature, a collaborative striving to equitably increase nature connection for children and youth in San Francisco, has evolved to meet the needs of the collaborative’s growth. Starting in mid-2016, a Steering Committee and myself provided backbone support. We were able to support the development and initial implementation of a 3-Year Plan through work groups, regular convenings and the support of an Executive Council. In order to further engage partners and increase coordination, shared measurement and ultimate impact, the lead partners of the Mayor’s Office, SF Recreation and Parks Department, YMCA of San Francisco, SF Public Health Department and Presidio Trust have collectively committed funding and staff time to increase backbone support. This has led to the creation of a Backbone Team of staff from these lead organizations and agencies to oversee management and operations of the collaborative through monthly meetings and other communications. Starting in March, Maria Durana will become San Francisco Children and Nature’s first full-time coordinator. With her leadership and daily oversight, the collaborative is poised to accelerate and deepen its work for children and youth in San Francisco.
Network Plan for Environmental Literacy in California
The Environmental Literacy Steering Committee (ELSC) and Ten Strands have made great progress in advancing environmental literacy for California’s students through increased funding, curriculum standards and frameworks, and professional development. District-level environmental literacy partnerships with backbone support—as provided by ChangeScale, Tree People, CREEC Network regional offices and county offices of education such as San Mateo— has become increasingly important to further this work and make environmental literacy a core outcome for students in all school districts across California. I have been working with Ten Strands and ELSC members in developing a network plan for environmental literacy that prioritizes investment in backbone support to effectively support these partnerships. 
Collective Impact Convening, April 3-5 in Austin, Texas
Laura Rodriguez, Director of Programs at Youth Outside, and I will be leading a 90-minute workshop Building a Local, Cross-Sector Collaborative: Structure and Processes for Equity, using San Francisco Children and Nature as our example. We will share how backbone support has been central to coordinating activities among partners through a governance structure that includes interrelated work groups.
Backbone support is not a panacea for effective collaboration among organizations towards meaningful social change. In fact, some have argued that an over-emphasis on backbone support can deter from the ownership and empowerment of collaborative members. At the same time, effective collaboration requires well-designed structures, processes, and monitoring that align and engage all stakeholders in coordinated action and shared measurement and accountability. Thoughtful, appropriately-sized backbone support can provide these elements while not losing sight or focus on the empowerment of collaborative members. Backbone staff must be dedicated to building relationships of trust and being in service of the greater collaborative mission and impact.
In partnership,
Matt Biggar
Connected to Place
Resources and Opportunities
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Strategic Plan
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition recently unveiled their new 5-year strategic plan. The staff and board of this impactful grassroots organization has developed an ambitious, measureable and dynamic plan to make San Francisco a more equitable, livable, healthy and safe city. I had the pleasure of working with  the coalition to design their planning process, analyze the data and input collected in the process, and develop the framework for their plan.
Planet Vision
With climate change becoming so evident and troubling, we need hope, encouragement and practical ways to address this growing crisis. Planet Vision, recently launched by the California Academy of Science, is a great resource to encourage climate action and hope. Check it out!
Latino Outdoors Executive Director Opening
Latino Outdoors is a non-profit dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors and an involved member of many of the collaboratives highlighted in this newsletter. They have begun their search for a new Executive Director to lead their next phase of development.


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