“We must change our measures of success to not only protect children’s physical safety, but to also safeguard their hearts,” is a quote from the organizational manifesto Alia developed alongside Pollen Midwest back in 2017.
Since this was written, so much has changed – in the world, in child welfare, and at Alia. What will never change is the song we sing – and have always sung – about connection and belonging. Alia has always been in the business of safeguarding hearts.
This month at Alia we culminated an 18-month process of inquiry, discovery, analysis, and discourse with a 3-day strategic planning session to develop a new theory of change. We asked ourselves, what specifically, is the vision of change we are trying to catalyze in child welfare? How is Alia best positioned to create that change and what role might we best play? How will we measure our progress toward the greater vision? Outlining how to define, operationalize, share, partner, and measure and capture impact is a strenuous process; the change needed is so big and the unknowns are vast.
Early on at Alia we functioned from a know/do/be theory of change – when you know better, you do better, and when many of us do better, we will be better. Changing mindsets does indeed change behaviors, and the mind and behavior shift of many contributes to great change. However, inherent in this process is a right way of knowing that simply must be understood, that the biggest obstacle is misinformation. While at times this is true and learning new information and seeing ourselves in a different light can cause massive shifts in our world view and behavior, it doesn’t leave room for multiple ways and sources of knowing.
Getting more nuanced in 2021, Alia developed the Phases of Change to an UnSystem guide with five phases of change toward family-centered, community-driven approaches to safety and wellbeing. These nonlinear phases more closely reflect our experience shifting systems: a leader sparks change, team wellbeing and resilience is increased to weather changes ahead, mindsets shift, behavior shifts, and the community moves toward transformation. Like know/do/be, there are ways the Phases hold true. However, in the Phases, where do the expertise and roles of the community enter in? It isn’t outlined clearly enough to match our experience of this critical role.
We believe understanding trauma and healing, building leadership fortitude and a resilient workforce are still prerequisite to transformation. Yet Alia is on the verge of integrating these ideas into our new theory of change where anti-racism and the wisdom of community are foundational and a spirit of curiosity allow solutions to emerge. And of course, we are as steadfast as we have ever been that love and belonging is what makes transformation both necessary and possible.
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