This post is brought to us by Kristi Slette, Secretariat of the Whatcom Resource Information Collaborative in Washington state. Welcome, Kristi!
Washington state’s Whatcom County – the north western most county in continental U.S. – is a resourceful community with many collaborative community-based organizations that serve residents in need.
For many years, the leadership and staff from many of these organizations have voiced a desire to improve the accessibility and reliability of information about resources available in our community. In the past, this desire sparked several attempts to develop a centralized resource directory – but in each instance, our vision was hampered by the complexities of this challenge. We all shared the same goal, but different organizations had different needs and interests; when it came time to address all of them in one single website, we struggled to move forward together.
Learning from the past
In 2019, a series of community assessments and strategic planning sessions once again surfaced the need for a resource directory as a priority for Whatcom County, and a coalition of human and social service organizations convened to address this challenge with fresh eyes. This time, we sought to learn from previous efforts.
Through extensive dialogues with three different groups – social service providers who had been involved in the previous resource access initiatives, the conveners of those initiatives, and managers of current resource directories in our area – we perceived a set of key themes: the importance of leadership, human capacity, and buy-in from the community.
Through this reflection, we recognized that technology – which had previously been our primary focus – is actually only part of the solution. Rather than just designing a new tool, our new initiative would need to focus on building the capacities and relationships that will be needed to ensure that any such system is adaptive, sustainable, and trustworthy.
Building capacity for collaboration
In 2021, having made it a priority to improve access to resources for families with young children, the Whatcom County Health Department provided some seed funding to support our new initiative to establish a resource directory information system for the county. This time, we resolved to build a system that would be collectively “owned” by our community as a whole. Continue reading