Magnolia Place – a US case study that is changing outcomes for 35,000 children and young people in five square miles of LA

One of the most impressive applications of Collective Impact we saw in America was the Magnolia Community Initiative (MCI).  While MCI strongly exhibits all elements of the Collective Impact Framework, there are aspects about the way the framework has been applied that make MCI stand out, particularly element #3 – aligning mutually reinforcing activities.  In this case study we examine the innovative ways MCI has influenced the practice of their 70 partner organisations.

To provide some context, the common agenda for the MCI is that all 35,000 children and young people living in a defined five square mile (500 block) area of Los Angeles break all records of success in their education, health milestones, the nurturing they receive from their family, and the economic stability of their family.   Of these 35,000 children, 10,000 are under five years of age, 65% of the children live in poverty, 35% are obese, 40% enter kindergarten unprepared, and 40% will fail to graduate on time from high school. There is a high rate of child abuse, child neglect and spousal abuse that devastates the future for these children and families.

In drawing from the evidence base, shared measurements were developed around the protective factors that have been linked to child wellbeing and a reduction in child abuse and neglect.  Measures were also developed around enhancing relationships between community members, families and organisations.  Progress against these measures is disseminated to the community and MCI partners in a monthly the MCI Community dashboard.

More than 70 faith-based and community groups, organisations and public agencies are engaged in MCI.  In working to align their activities to the common agenda and shared measurements, MCI’s staff – Lila Guirguis and Patricia Bowie – have applied an innovative and carefully planned process of practice change.

To explain – Lila and Patricia from MCI realized that the MCI’s theory of change presented a significant step-change for almost all partner organisations.  MCI works as a population level, applying a prevention framework that promotes protective factors of individuals, families and communities, while most partner organisations worked at a client or family level, applying an intervention framework to address risk factors.

To help partner organisations change – or broaden – their practice, MCI first educated and then equipped.  To educate, MCI ran well-attended monthly sessions on what protective factors were and how partner organisations could strength them in children and families.  Participation was heightened when partner organisations began leading sessions as a way of sharing their experiences of changing their practice.  To equip, MCI trained and then coached partner organisations on how to provide empathic care to children and their families.

Parallel to this, MCI partnered with University of South California and used clever (and cheap) network software to map the relationships between partner organisations.  Through network analysis they learnt a small number of people and organisation were well known to others, were well trusted and often approached for advice, information or referral.  In network terms, these people and organisations were the ‘hubs’ and ‘connectors’.  MCI recognized them as the ‘glue’ of the current system and saw the vital role they could play in changing the practice of the system.  MCI worked closely with these people and organisations knowing it would influence the practice of many.

The effect of the change in practice by partner organisations is measured through the experience of families.  Monthly surveys with random samples of families show improvements in protective factors such as parents reporting ties to their neighbours, positive relationship with their child, and parents receiving empathic care.

Through an innovative and carefully planned process of culture change MCI is influencing the practice of a system that supports 35,000 children. The results speak for themselves with increases third grade reading scores and developmental progress at kindergarten entry.  No other previous initiative in this well-known neighborhood has achieved the results MCI is facilitating for children and their families and this community.

About Kerry Graham and Dawn O'Neil

Social change consultants

One comment

  1. Chris Boyle

    I had the pleasure of visiting MCI whilst on my Churchill Fellowship in December 2012. Alex Morales has developed a truly remarkable place with a dedicated team of staff.

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