COO’s Learning Community – A Look Back and a Look Forward

Image from COO Storytelling Workshop features four people sitting around a large white paper with notes, talking & brainstorming.

The Learning Community is a strategy within Communities of Opportunity (COO) that provides funding, resources and activities to strengthen the work of our funded partners and those working in alignment with the principles and values of COO. In 2018 the Learning Community launched with the release of an RFP (request for proposal) to build a team of consultants supporting learning, training and capacity building activities and in 2019 we awarded those funds. This included investments in two local groups to hold cohort style Learning Circles to provide intensive and scalable knowledge-building programs for local community-based organizations and coalitions:

  • African Community Housing and Development held a Learning Circle that focused on Equitable Development in the Black community – Economic Development (ED) Now, which finished in January of 2020.
  • Puget Sound Sage held a Learning Circle for POC-led community based organizations interested in real estate development and land stewardship. The CREST (Community Real Estate and Stewardship Team) cohort deepened their understanding of current models of land use and development as well as alternatives that could lead to increased community control of land and housing over the course of 9 months, ending in April 2020. 

In addition, Communities Rise and lead consultant, Sarah Tran, founder and principal consultant of Sama Praxis LLC and former Executive Director of the Nonprofit Assistance Center (NAC), were contracted to support the development of a capacity building strategy and plan; and Cascadia Consulting Group was contracted to provide administrative and outreach support. While COVID-19 forced significant adjustments to initial plans, Communities Rise, Sarah, Cascadia, COO staff, and Learning Community partners were able to respond to social distancing measures and re-think and re-form the capacity building plan for this different landscape. This has included the following offerings and activities so far:

  • Remote Management through COVID-19 training in partnership with The Management Center
  • A series of communications & engagement trainings with Resource Media, including best practices for Virtual Meetings and Equitable Facilitation, Zoom Operations and Digital Advocacy
  • Development of a Virtual Meeting Resources guide
  • Two Group Coaching Sessions on Reflecting and Strategizing to Move Forward in an Uncertain Future with Wendy Watanabe of Watanabe Consultation and Sarah Tran of Sama Praxis LLC. These partner convenings for those interested in strategizing around challenges and opportunities due to the pandemic and current mobilization for Black liberation by cross-organizing and elevating work for justice, equity and building safe community.
  • As a continuation of the Equitable Development Summit held in November of 2019 (COO co-sponsored event with the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative), this year we supported, A Just Recovery in a Changing World. This follow-up convening brought together 110 people from communities across King County that are engaged in work to mitigate displacement and build equitable developments to share opportunities and knowledge and continue to co-create community-driven solutions.
  • In partnership with Communities Count, a series of participatory data & evaluation focused workshops with topics ranging from Survey Design, Data Storytelling, Logic Models, to Focus Groups and Listening Sessions.
  • Work also commenced with the Commercial Affordability Pilot, led by NDC and consultant team to identify and develop models, tools, and services that will increase community ownership and equitable development opportunities, and support business owners who risk being displaced from their neighborhoods. The intent of the pilot is to support and build on existing projects within the Communities of Opportunity that promote commercial affordability, identify new tools to increase access to capital, and find ways to address other barriers to commercial affordability, such as technical assistance for business operations or capital improvements. Currently, research and information gathering continues to build towards Phase 2 of the effort — implementation, and the deployment of strategic activities and aligned funds. 

As we continue to figure out how to navigate this transitional moment and deliver and support opportunities for learning and network strengthening in ways that keep our communities safe, we also continue to actualize the learnings from our first years of work. We take seriously the information provided as part of our COO evaluation and the feedback from our place-based and cultural community partners and those working on systems and policy change. In the remaining months of 2020 and in 2021 we will release activities and funds to support our partners and community groups working on aligned strategies for greater equity and justice that improve outcomes in housing, health, economic opportunity and community connections.

Image from 2018 COO Power in Partnership event: A person standing considers a question posted on sticky post-it wall paper about tools needed for their work.

This next phase of the Learning Community will move to a series of small grants to invest in the learning priorities of our community, provide opportunities to convene strategic groupings of stakeholders to build shared strategy, and provide the opportunity to elevate new learnings to broad audiences. Look forward to workshops and engagements to support specific skills and needs for projects such as data and evaluation, technology needs, and communications. To help us achieve these activities we will soon be releasing a series of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for:

  • Learning Community Capacity Building Consultants/Facilitators/Leads. COO is preparing three requests for proposals seeking consultants to support three Learning Community strategy activities beginning this fall focusing on: a speaker series, a community of practice for partnership supports, and communications learning events & technical assistance (TA).
  • Learning From Community Stories – the Impact of COVID-19 opportunity will seek applicants to tell the stories of the intersections of the pandemic in low-income communities, communities of color, and immigrant-refugee communities by using participatory approaches to collect and analyze data related to the health/social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Participants will develop materials in order to share these stories with broader audiences to both illustrate positive community resilience in response to COVID-19 as well as illuminate where structural changes are needed for more equitable policies and systems.
  • Learning from Community-Driven Development Models. We are preparing a request for proposals to support and identify local, regional and national models of co-learning, skill sharing, and expertise training to sustain and scale community driven development and help identify a cohesive framework of trainings and opportunities for skill-building, leadership and organizational development, alongside mentorship and relationship building and policy change strategies.

Stay tuned for the release of these requests, more information on proposal specifications, and dates of information sessions. We anticipate finding additional opportunities to uplift the work of our partners to share with multi-stakeholder audiences, and continuing to hear what skills and interests our partners want to bring or receive from the Learning Community.

This is an important and trying moment. In King County and across the country people are fighting for greater justice, opportunity and well-being on multiple fronts. Our goal is to provide resources and activities that seed and strengthen the ideas, approaches and relationships that make such transformation real, while providing platforms for connecting, learning and networking building. We want to meet this moment and support those partners and communities who are (and have been) doing the work to create a more equitable future.

As we all continue to adjust to relying more on virtual platforms for engagement, outreach and learning, and working within the preventative measures needed to be safe amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the COO Learning Community will continue to look to our partners to help guide our work. To learn more about the Learning Community, contact Kalayaan Domingo, the COO Learning Community Lead, and sign up for regular updates and resources, and follow us on social media for COO and partner news.

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