My last site visit was to E3 Alliance on two hot days in vibrant and fast-growing Austin in Central Texas – with a couple of cowboys, Elvis look alikes, lots of country music, wild flowers, guns, and BBQ. Central Texas has a rapidly growing population (about 1.8 million, with rapidly increasing diversity) where, like Auckland, there is a mismatch between the skills of local people and industry demands.
E3 Alliance is a specially created backbone organisation, driving collaboration around the Blueprint for Education, to build the best skills pipeline in the country. Their four goals: school readiness; eliminate achievement gaps; high school, college and career readiness; community accountability.
Making the economics of education (and the cost of failure) visible in their organisation strapline is strategic – it helps bring business to the table and keeps return on investment front of mind when planning what actions to take up. The small Board of Directors is always chaired by a business person. To maintain neutrality, their organisation bylaws preclude any elected politicians.
E3Alliance does not see itself as a grassroots organisation. ‘Engaging with community’ in their case means powerful and on-going collaboration with stakeholders with the power and influence to change the system.
The change process is iterative, with data central to everything they do. They actively work to grow the capacity of stakeholders to understand and use data and hold quarterly data shows that draw in large crowds! The organisation promotes a graph a month, so over time stakeholders become exposed to a wide range of issues. A common question ‘What 2 things could you/your organisation do now to make progress toward shifting that data?
The community accountability workstream is one aspect of their work that is different to Strive Together’s cradle to career model and has proved to be one of the most powerful. It enables conversations about success being everyone’s business. An example – attendance comes under community accountability because families, health services and employers have roles to play in keeping young people at school. For example, fast food outlets have been challenged about employing school aged students during school hours.
E3Alliance staff were very generous with their time and expertise. Seeing the depth and progress here after nearly a decade was inspiring. I came away loaded up with good ideas, new understanding of collective impact in action – and having had wonderful Tex-Mex food.