The Megacommunity Approach

For the past two days, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with a committed group of people on the issue of how to overcome the dropout crisis in our country. (See previous posts on the problem.) There are many things that are unique about this meeting, including the fact that a graphic artist draws an interpretation of every key presentation to capture the most important information in both word and picture. But the most exciting aspect of the meeting is that it has brought together a cross-sectoral group of folks from specific communities who are tasked with creating solutions to increase the high school graduation rates in those communities. Key partners in the effort include America's Promise, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, United Way of America, State Farm, 12 differerent public school districts, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Urban League, 12 separate chambers of commerce, Booz Allen Hamilton, the Corporation for National & Community Service and Communities in Schools.

Together, these folks represent what the authors of the book, Megacommunities, call one of the key elements of a megacommunity: a tri-sectoral approach. The four senior executives from Booz Allen Hamilton who wrote the book define megacommunities as:

- the space in which complex problems exist, and are addressed
- an collaborative environment where leaders interact according to their common interests, while maintaining their unique priorities
- a lens through which we can examine a complex problem in a new way
determined by the existence of tri-sector engagement and an overlap in common interest

The five key elements of a megacommunity are:
- Tri-Sector Engagement must be present in any megacommunity; the noticeable difference between megacommunities and other public-private partnerships is the civil society component, and the ‘open nature’ of the engagement - specifically, not focusing on just the elements the parties can agree on to tackle together, but also those areas that they may not have common ground to work in tandem
- Overlapping in Vital Interests describes the aspects of any particular issue of which all members have an individual interest - hence necessitating their involvement in the megacommunity
- Convergence is the commitment to mutual action that all members must work toward; no member can exist in a megacommunity with the intent to disrupt or undermine the effort
- Structure describes the set of protocols and organizing principles that must exist to allow for converged commitment on the overlapping vital interests - this structure resembles a scale-free network
- Adaptability is necessary for the megacommunity to function effectively and make progress on the issue itself, and on the individual interests of the participants - adaptability allows the network to be scalable and flexible

While this cross-sectoral thinking is not new, it is exciting to see it brought together in a working methodology by a group of leading thinkers. And it is even more exciting to participate in the creation of a megacommunity that is addressing one of the most critical issues of our time: the catastrophic high school dropout rate. As a part of this America's Promise initiative, megacommunities are being fostered in 12 cities across the nation, including Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Detroit, Nashville, Oakland, Washington, DC, and Jackson, MI. These cities can serve as models for the rest of the nation on how to build megacommunities to address common issues and achieve common goals--follow their progress at America's Promise.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 6:42 AM, Sep 10, 2008 in Permalink | Comment