Network Success: Conversations are Key

Posted on February 11, 2016


Gail Leslie   -  NCDB Project Coordinator Information Management & Dissemination

On February 17th, NCDB will host a national webinar entitled Building Our Community and Network Engagement. This webinar offers an opportunity to continue conversations about our collaboration practices, to catch up on the progress of some of our “collective” accomplishments and consider additional efforts.

Why is it important to create intent for our collaborative work?  After all, one doesn’t have to look too far to sense the buzz of shared activity taking place across state projects.  The use of the NCDB website as a tool for engagement is growing, we have cooperated as a community to build the national OHOA modules, and states are actively participating in national initiatives.  Aren’t we already changing the boundaries of how we work together?  Are these the indicators of what “network”success looks like? 

While OSEP has stated their vision for a deaf-blind technical assistance network, it is important to develop our network in ways that are meaningful to our work, that create pathways for sustainability and have the greatest impact on children. Those outcomes are central to the national center’s technical assistance. 

OSEP’s directives, to utilize technology, create efficiencies, share resources, and develop tools collaboratively, make good sense.  At the heart of those practicalities is an intent to equalize services for children who are deaf-blind across all states by addressing common problems and building national resources together

Individuals around table working on collaborative task

These ideas changed the work of the national center, coaxing us to organize our work around national technical assistance initiatives.  The initiatives create opportunities that encourage states to join in to share in both content and process.  We need each other to do this work and so it is important to identify ways of working that are pragmatic and make us better at the job that we do.  

Are We Making Progress?

Over the last couple of years, NCDB has sought guidance from state projects on messages and activities that would inform investment in the network model.  The Network Engagement Technical Work Group (TWG) and sessions at Summit have helped to seed ideas and set direction.  In the webinar we will look more closely at how we have created structures and tools in response to these.  Some of those suggestions have included: 

  • Develop a digital tool for states to share goals and activities
  • Establish opportunities for a mentoring process
  • Create consistent language for describing ways of working together
  • Create an understanding of TA in our low incidence field
  • Identify collaborative behaviors
  • Create a vision statement for a national Deaf-Blind TA network. 

In early January, NCDB launched the State Deaf-Blind Project Portal.  This group on the NCDB website is open to project staff and offers a simple way for states and NCDB to share specific questions and resources around TA and project management.  The portal also has some newly developed tools for states to use.  One is the State Activities Database.  More than 30 states have shared information about their goals and activities for this current grant cycle. Users of the portal have the opportunity to either find a mentor or become one.  State projects will also find the working draft of the TA Implementation Guide ready for use in their work.    

Individuals at a table working on collaborative writing task

In July, at Summit, in the session on community and network engagement, the group of participants looked at a variety of approaches to defining collaborative behaviors for the DB TA Network.  We identified collaborative practices that are familiar to most of our work, and we looked at ways that the federal government and other national TA&D projects are describing and measuring their collaborative work.  NCDB has since used this information as guidance in organizing content for a new report to be published in March, Working Together for Families: State Deaf-Blind Project & Parent Center Collaborations.  This framework and the collaboration activities reported by projects offer a way to conceptualize shared work, partnerships and technical assistance outcomes. 

In the session at Summit we also acknowledged that the adoption of a network identity involves change.  Creating change takes vision, incentives, skills, resources and an action plan.  It was clear in our session that as a community we are rich in resources and assets.  Identifying those makes understanding a network approach clearer, because so much is already in place.  However, even though OSEP has given us direction, it is important that we have a coherent vision that drives our collaborative work.  The graphic below summarizes the lists we generated in our group and includes preliminary ideas that might inform our vision.   

                                                  Assets of the National Deaf-Blind TA&D Projects 

A honeycomb is depicted with the title, Network Collaboration, in the center and assets listed in the cells of 4 sections: Vision, Resources, Incentives, and Skills. Vision assets include: (Ability to Operationalize, Adults Who Are Deaf-Blind Are Partners, Motivated, Vision For Sustainable Change, Readiness, Diversity and Inclusive, Informed by History, Desire to be Stronger, Passion to be Effective for Children and Families, Energy to Sustain Vision)Resources include: (Collaborative Relationships, Wide Range of Expertise, NCDB Website and Resources, Distance Technology, Generational Knowledge )Skills include: (Sharing Information, People, Projects Working Together, Technology to Build Supports, Implementation Science, State and National, Working with Diverse Orgs, Building Capacity, Local Networking)Incentives include: (Pride of Development, Intrinsic- Desire to be Together, Compliance, Wider Recognition, OSEP Recognition in 2018, Fear/Challenge, Use of Technology, Years of Experience, $$$ Drive More Money to Child Level, Networks are Reinforcing, Access to Resources, Skills and Relationships, No Change = Problems and Stagnation)


What Are the Barriers?

We weren’t just cheer leading at our Summit session.  We identified the perceived barriers to change and a network approach.  We all agreed that lack of time is a constant.  Collaboration takes a lot of work.  If time is a barrier for you and you can’t make it to our webinar, I will offer another suggestion that, again, came from the group.  Let’s make sure we all know each other. Take a minute to edit your profile on the NCDB website to include a photo and a couple of sentences in the Personal Statement box.  It may seem trivial, but new people are coming on to projects and into the network regularly.  Even small things can contribute to the growing strength of our community. Sam Morgan and I hope that you will find time to come to the webinar to continue this conversation and share your ideas. 

Comments (5)

Sorry I missed the webinar, but I am still a busy BEE for this network and talk about it often and share often. Keep it going and growing!! Let's hope we have some time to chat more at DB Summit 2016 in DC!!

Teresa Coonts

Posted Feb 19, 2016 by Teresa Coonts

Bees are busy but they also choose a shape that is highly efficient. I like to believe that we are humming along and improving the connections we make with each other. We have another graphic that we will unveil during the webinar. We are getting picturesque!!

Gail Leslie

Posted Feb 16, 2016 by Gail Leslie

Liking the beehive graphic - it does feel like we are all busy bees in this work and together we build community!

Cyral Miller

Posted Feb 16, 2016 by Cyral Miller

What enthusiasm and excitement, Dee! Please do view the archived webinar and comment again. I too celebrate with you the "relationships" in our network, a critical aspect of the richness of our community's "resources and assets". Thank you for Identifying these again in this message, Gail. I know you and Sam will facilitate a great webinar this week. May our collective vision of this network approach to TA become clearer, and clearer!

Linda McDowell

Posted Feb 15, 2016 by Linda McDowell

I am excited to hear more about this. I know I can't attend the webinar in person. But would love to at least see it at a later time. I hope it will be archived. This kind of networking is important. Building relationships is always important because we never know when that one little thing will happen to touch the right person at the right time and make a total path change for them.
Exciting things and I am glad I can be a part.

Dee Steinbach

Posted Feb 12, 2016 by Dee Steinbach

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