If you build it, will they come? Lessons in creating a multi-sector collaboration

Casual observers of the health and human services landscape may be surprised whenever they learn about a new program, service, or a new organization that seems to spring whole-cloth and overnight from “nothing” into “something.”

In reality, the origins of the most successful “somethings” begin with long awareness of a specific and compelling community need and a passionate commitment to help. Years of research, planning, and development may be required to figure out the best way to make a difference. When needs are met with creative solutions and sufficient resources, the resulting new organization, program, or service can indeed seem like an overnight miracle!

There is another type of “something” that can be even more effective in responding to a compelling community need, but in some ways, can also be more challenging to develop and maintain: a diverse collaboration.

How do collaborations happen, what does a successful collaboration look like, and what has to happen so other stakeholders see the value in coming together to address the identified need? If you build it, will they come?

For more than 40 years, The Whole Person (TWP) has connected people with all types of disabilities to the resources they need to live independently. TWP is adept in developing new programs and services to meet the changing needs of those we serve, and is experienced in working with diverse community groups.

In 2018, TWP spearheaded the creation of Accessible Sports-Greater Kansas City (AS-GKC) – a bi-state, multi-sector partnership of nonprofit organizations, agencies, and businesses supported by a Healthy Communities grant from Health Forward Foundation.

We began inviting prospective participants to join the collaboration as soon as the grant award was announced in July 2018, and hosted the first Regional Roundtable meeting in mid-October. At each meeting, attendees have recommended new potential partners so the collaboration has continued to grow.

Lessons learned in the first year can be boiled down to three questions: Why? Who? What does success look like?

Why? A shared concern

The concept for the project grew from decades-long frustrations with barriers to healthy active living opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the Greater Kansas City region. Many local organizations, agencies and businesses experienced at least some of these frustrations, including previous disappointing efforts to form a bi-state coalition.

Who? An experienced organizer and partners

A successful collaboration needs someone to spearhead its development and members willing to share in the decision-making and participate in group activities. TWP was uniquely positioned to organize, stabilize, and catalyze adaptive sports opportunities through a new collaboration because it serves people with all types of disabilities; its service area encompasses the entire bi-state area; and it has long and successful relationships with Parks & Recreation departments, disability services organizations, and many other adaptive sports stakeholders. TWP figured that its frustrations with past attempts to share resources and break down barriers, as well as its desire to make positive changes on behalf of people with disabilities, were common among many of these potential partners, and this proved to be true.

What does success look like? Passion, momentum, longevity

“Eyes on the prize” should be the mantra of every partner in a diverse collaboration. Once a core group of stakeholders was identified and invited to quarterly regional roundtable meetings, AS-GKC partners have helped to expand outreach to all geographic areas of the metro and as many adaptive sports stakeholders as possible, in order to establish strong and mutually supportive networks across sectors (including private nonprofits, health and sports centers, and public agencies). The more diverse the partnership, the greater the need for focus on the mission.

Through shared decision making and collaboration on committee projects, AS-GKC has developed its own website and community calendar, designed and distributed a Community Gaps Survey to hear from affected populations about the barriers they face and their accessible sports needs, developed an Accessible Venues Survey, and will complete a three-year action plan this summer.

Momentum is building to connect people of all ages and with all types of disabilities to AS-GKC resources, and to make AS-GKC the go-to hub to connect with accessible sports and recreation opportunities throughout Greater Kansas City for many years to come.

Follow activities of Accessible Sports on Facebook.

Editor’s note: This is a three-part blog series. Find part 1 here.


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Health Forward Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact Health Forward Communications Officer Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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