No one agency at the community level has the responsibility, the expertise, or the resources to meet all of the needs of children under the age of five. This is one of the reasons it is critical that local providers and stakeholders work together to improve outcomes for the children and families in their communities. To work well together, community partners need strong collaborative capacity as well as a well-defined governance structure.
Network capacity is also critical to system improvement efforts. By building their network capacity, AOK Network partners become more capable of creating powerful and sustainable system improvements. They are also more effective, efficient, and resilient as they pursue their goals despite changing conditions in the early childhood system and local community. And since Network capacity can ebb and flow over time, AOK Networks continually put effort into building their collaborative capacity.
The Network Capacity Initiative focuses on building the collaborative capacity and structure that is needed to improve the system and enhance outcomes for children and families. AOK Networks focus on four network capacity core areas: Shared Agenda, Collaborative Leadership & Engagement, Continuous Learning & Adaptive Action, and Network Governance. Each of these core areas are further defined by core area elements.
During each five-year program cycle, AOK Networks use assessments like the Wilder Survey and the Illinois CSD Benchmarking tool to identify collaborative capacities they want to strengthen. These assessments align well with AOK Network core areas and elements. For example, an AOK Network may want to improve their collaborative leadership by focusing on how they will engage parents as partners in making the system work for them. Their initiative may include additional approaches for removing barriers to parents involvement, professional development opportunities to strengthen their leadership skills, and strategies to provide stipends to compensate parents for their time and contributions.
Sometimes Networks also create network capacity strategies related to their System Building and/or Child and Family Initiatives. For example, they may develop strategies for engaging other community stakeholders whose involvement is critical to another initiative. Additional approaches might include developing and implementing a recruitment plan, developing and securing memorandums of understanding, and engaging members in work groups where there is mutual benefit to their involvement.