Invested in capacity building, technical assistance, and infrastructure, rather than programs
The Memorial Fund has long been committed to providing supports beyond funding to its grantees, particularly coaching and facilitation, technical assistance and training, and access to experts and current research.
Particularly in the early stages of collaborative development, funding for these types of activities is often difficult to obtain. Discovery took the approach of combining modest grants to communities with a major investment in technical assistance.
Capacity Building in Communities
A range of supports were provided to Discovery communities, including:
- Community Liaisons: Each community was assigned a community liaison; a consultant to offer advice, give feedback, provide limited facilitation support, encourage use of other capacity-building supports, and promote understanding of the Discovery values and goals as they apply in the community’s unique context.
- Opportunities for Peer Sharing: Communities regularly had opportunities to learn share experiences and strategies at convenings and through a listserv.
- Training and Tools: Access to expert knowledge, tools, and other information resources was provided electronically through the Discovery web site and weekly digest, through single-session workshops and training sessions, multi-session institutes, and on-site technical assistance.
Technical assistance was designed and tailored to correspond to community needs and readiness at a given point in time. Communities were asked about the kinds of technical assistance offerings they wanted and, at times, there were different versions of training on the same topic to accommodate their community needs and readiness.
Written materials and handouts were also posted to the Discovery website and community liaisons encouraged and supported the use of particular supports as a community reached the appropriate point in their work.
Communities Valued Peer Learning
Discovery communities particularly valued opportunities to learn from each other, check in, share successes and challenges, and learn about other communities’ strategies. These opportunities occurred informally during technical assistance sessions, but were also formally built in, via the annual Stone Soup conference and other events.
Liaisons Supported Reflection and Shared Learning
Community liaisons provided an opportunity for reflection and support to communities while also reinforcing and communicating the values and goals of Discovery. Additionally, because the liaisons worked with multiple communities, they could encourage information sharing across communities.
Delivering Technical Assistance to 49 Communities is Challenging
A key lesson of the first years of implementing such an ambitious technical assistance strategy was how difficult it was to deliver technical assistance to 49 communities, each starting at a different place and working on somewhat different strategies.
Prior to 2008, the Memorial Fund worked with consultants to design and implement the technical assistance and found it overwhelming to develop tailored technical assistance while trying to meet community needs in real time. Beginning in 2008, technical assistance focused on 3 core capacities, was offered through multi-session workshop series', and was delivered by organizations with expertise in each core capacity.