Collective Impact through a community Portal?
The BigTent Online Community
Many partners entered the 90 Day Challenge at unique starting points. Not only did they have unique aims, but many had plans that were specific to different organizational structures. Guided by critical feedback from our network meetings to improve transparency and opportunity within the network we created a BigTent online communication platform dedicated to supporting partners to utilize the network throughout the 90-Day Challenge. We all wondered: would anyone use it?
BigTent served multiple backbone functions: coordinator, organizer, and a connector. These functions helped keep participants from the Leadership Summit connected. With BigTent at our disposal, we were able to create a meeting space that required minimal coordination effort, but still achieved the results of supporting the network throughout the 90 Days.
We divided network interests into different forums; Male Engagement, Centering, Early Childhood Education, and Parent Engagement. Partners engage in forum discussions, information specific to one of the topics above, upload documents, events, or share their post openly in a public forum. Partners also made personal connections using tentmail. Currently we have 66 Network Partners online in the BigTent community. For about one-third of the summit participants, BigTent has played a role in sustaining network communications. Thirty-four participants from the Leadership Summit joined the BigTent community and have contributed to discussions relating to the topics above. We were able to maintain the collaborative energy established during the Leadership Summit online.
Mobilizing and Self-Organizing
By taking advantage of online communication platform, partners were able to organize and pace collaborative engagement in the 90-Day Challenge work. Whenever there was ‘an ask’ on BigTent, the network has responded well, providing resources and guidance. At times a sounding board was needed, while in other discussions included real-time problem-solving with peers. In forum discussions partners shared links to articles, offered opinions, support, and reviewed best practices. Partners that had faced difficulty accessing perspectives of community members on their project, were able to connect and get informal feedback on survey questions and engagement approaches.
Partners that work in different male engagement and fatherhood initiatives came together on BigTent to identify gaps in services through a ‘One Day Challenge’. This challenge cumulated in a strategic planning meeting on Male Engagement efforts within the network and the possibility to do more together. Fourteen network partners attended the meeting and their aims reflected the intersectionality of our work; Legal advocates, housing advocates, education specialists, community residents and fatherhood advocates collaborated and participated in discussions around male engagement.
BigTent has extended the possibilities for collaboration within the network. The interactions on BigTent have unmasked the knowledge, resources, and creative solutions that partners bring to the network. By decentralizing our communication the community of practice expressed a new level of vitality. Partners began to drive progress by seeking opportunities, organizing themselves, and making more richly interdependent connections. Rather than awaiting organized meetings, people could meet up online and on their own initiative. Both dynamic and flexible, BigTent was there when you need it.
As we prepare to launch our next 90-Day Challenge on March 9th, we will continue to depend on the knowledge within the network, finding new ways to simplify communication and collaboration.