By Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock
Over the past few years, Denver has been fortunate to experience incredible growth in our local economy. Fueled by new businesses and industries — and an influx of new residents — Forbes Magazine named Denver as the best place for business and careers for 2015, and as of February 2016, the Denver Metro Area’s unemployment rate stood at just 3.1 percent.
The road hasn’t always been easy, but Denver today stands on the vanguard of progress because of the hard work we have undertaken to emerge from the recession. Yet we know that challenges remain. One of those challenges is continuing our economic growth while filling the growing demand for jobs at all levels. Like many cities, an influx of new residents has fueled the growth in our educated workforce, but we must do more to develop our own residents and workforce in order to continue our economic success.
A little more than a year ago, my Denver Education Compact, a network of multi-sector leaders, agreed that a collective impact approach should be one of our strategies for solving the homegrown workforce issue and continuing to fuel our local economy.
Why the collective impact framework? Denver is home to many public and private colleges and universities, a diverse school district with traditional and charter schools, hundreds of community-based organizations, and a multitude of private sector partners. With so many players, the need for a more focused approach to postsecondary and workforce readiness was obvious. The collective impact structure allowed us to bring Denver’s many players to the table and create a dedicated partnership with a shared agenda, metrics and data.
Without this partnership, and these key components, our efforts to grow our own would be far less impactful.
City leaders and organizations began to build out our collective strategy and applied for funds to support the development of collective impact initiatives. Denver secured funds from both Lumina Foundation’s College Attainment Network grant and the Ford Foundation’s Corridors of College Success grant. Soon, Denver was off and running, but as we traveled down the path of collective impact, we realized that our efforts were still too scattered.
So what did we do? We merged our initiatives and created one entity focused on strengthening the ninth-grade-through-postsecondary continuum. The merger minimized overlap and duplicative efforts and maximized impact by combining resources.
A key resource and component in collective impact is shared data, and our partners at the U.S. Conference of Mayors and USA Funds® have worked with us to make that a reality. Their National Pathways With a Purpose Initiative recognizes efforts to modernize the educational system and training programs and improve the connection between education and employment. Denver is the proud recipient of a 2015 National Pathways With a Purpose grant.
Now we are in the process of developing a shared data dashboard that is focused on key citywide metrics and indicators from ninth grade through postsecondary completion.
Many cities have seen complicated dashboards fail, so we in Denver are striving for something that is simple, yet informative. We are fortunate to have partners like Denver Public Schools, our local colleges and universities, and the Colorado Department of Higher Education, which are working together to provide access to the necessary data. This collaboration around data is an early success for our collective impact approach.
However, that effort is far from our only success. Our action teams are hard at work and moving full steam ahead. One action team is finalizing a data sharing agreement between the school district and local colleges, providing better support for students through the transition from high school to postsecondary education. Another team has created a multi-campus approach to supporting our city’s DREAMers with their transition as well, and that’s just the beginning.
Though our short-term results are exciting, we are also focused on ensuring long-term sustainability and success. One strategy is hiring a strong staff. A collective impact initiative needs the right leader — a leader who can balance the importance of protocol and the collective impact framework with adaptability and a can-do attitude. Our second strategy is increasing representation from the private sector on our leadership and action teams, to help us align our efforts with short- and long-term workforce needs and keep our collective relevant well into the future.
What’s next for Denver’s collective impact initiative? With a well-rounded leadership team, a strong backbone, engaged action teams and a dynamic leader, I’m confident our collective will be able to adapt to changing needs, overcome new barriers, support diverse communities and ensure that Denver builds a strong homegrown workforce that has access to multiple, purposeful pathways to careers and success.