Field Notes: How to Plan a Learning Collaborative – Step One

written by Anna Blasco
March 28, 2013

There is a deep gulf between what we know we should do, and what we actually do. We can see across it, we can even describe what the other side looks like, but we are not sure how to actually cross it. This is where some homeless service providers find themselves in their efforts to move toward rapid re-housing.

Last year the Alliance trained 172 organizations in Virginia on rapid re-housing. We also brought in Kris Billhardt, Director of Volunteers of America, Oregon’s Home Free program, to conduct trainings on rapid re-housing for survivors of domestic violence. The next step in helping service providers in Virginia adopt rapid re-housing was to help them bridge the gap between what they now know about rapid re-housing, and the practices and policies of their organizations.

To accomplish this, the Alliance launched seven Learning Collaboratives. A Learning Collaborative is an opportunity for organizations to make changes in the way they operate, while being supported by their peers and experts in rapid re-housing.

Here is how it works: Your organization applies to be a part of the Learning Collaborative. Once your organization is selected, you pick a team of three people from your staff. This team will attend trainings, set goals for improving your organization’s rapid re-housing program, and lead plans for instituting changes that will help meet these goals. They will meet and receive support from other teams from organizations in their community who are also working to improve their rapid re-housing programs.

Currently, we are planning two meetings where teams will learn about rapid re-housing, set goals for their organizations, and map out how they will meet those goals. In between meetings, teams will participate in monthly conference calls, peer site visits, webinars, and other opportunities to share their experiences and help each other resolve challenges.

I am organizing the Learning Collaboratives, while my colleague Kay Moshier McDivitt will lead them. Starting today, and throughout the year, I will blog about how you can plan a similar initiative in your community. So without further ado…

Step One: Do Your Research

The Alliance’s Learning Collaborative model is a blend of a number of different models. So my first step in designing it was to do my research and learn more about what’s already out there. Here’s a look at what I found:

EveryOne Home in Alameda County’s EveryOne Housed Academy

This two-day retreat helped shelters develop tools and strategies to more effectively and efficiently move people to permanent housing. Topics included Housing First, implementing rules and policies that support housing, progressive engagement, harm reduction, and a strengths-based service model.

The Rapid Results model

The Rapid Results model has participants test change on a small scale in a short timeline, just 100 days. This model involves a lot of work after the first initial meeting. Teams meet weekly to review reports on their progress and make adjustments to their approach.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “Breakthrough” model

This approach is similar to Rapid Results, but with a longer timeline. Teams meet twice to learn and plan. After these sessions, they return to their organizations to test the new strategies and plans they developed.  Reporting on progress is also key to this approach. Teams set monthly goals and meet frequently to discuss their progress and make adjustments.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Learning Collaboratives

This toolkit is an excellent resource, and provides very detailed information on each step in planning and conducting a Learning Collaborative.


View the Series: How to Plan a Learning Collaborative

Step Zero: Staffing and Cost

Step One: Do Your Research

Step Two: Create an Application

Step Three: Metrics and Measuring Improvement

Step Four: Recruit Participants

Lessons from the Everyone Housed Academy

Step Five: Assign Pre-Work

Interview with Learning Collaborative Participants

Step Six: Facilitator Preparation for First Meeting

Step Seven: Facilitating the First Meeting – Part 1

Step Eight: Facilitating the First Meeting – Part 2