For years, many cities have undertaken the task of developing a citywide plan, agenda, goals, etc. around children and youth development and success.  In most cases, this work is a collaboration between multiple organizations, including the school district, city agencies (parks and recreation, libraries), city funded agencies and community based nonprofits.  While the core values that these organizations have around youth success are common, bringing these organizations together to discuss and arrive at a common mission and set of goals, objectives, standards, and measures to work towards can take years to accomplish.  Examples of this type of work are the Nashville Children and Youth Master Plan, Milwaukee Succeeds, Grand Rapids Youth Master Plan, Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, Chicago Out-of-School Time Project, Ready by 21 Austin, among many others.  Even more examples are included here, on the National League of Cities site.

A sampling of some of these plans is included in a table below.  Even doing a quick scan of these initiatives reveals many common threads in the goals and objectives that were the result of the months/years of collaborative work: youth/children are prepared for school, succeed academically, are healthy, are supported by caring adults, and contribute to the community.

In a recent conversation I had in discussing how to start this type of work, the question was raised “why don’t we just use what has already been done?”  So why spend years redoing the work when it has already been done?

Reinvent the wheelto waste time trying to develop products or systems that you think are original when in fact they have already been done beforeCambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006

The reason for spending the time, effort and resources is because the participation in this type of process is as important or more important than the output.  Bringing together leaders across the city who may or may not have worked well together in the past to discuss not only their own organizations, but also how as a city they can work towards a common set of goals and objectives is incredibly powerful.  Building these relationships and knowledge about each other’s work should increase the chances of success in work towards the common goals.

Even though there is a lot in common with the outputs (master plan, goals/objectives) from each of these efforts, they also each have a unique aspect to them.  Each of the efforts involved a unique set of people and organizations who have their own perspectives about priorities in their city and communities.  These citywide plans and goals are something that (hopefully) these organizations will be working together on for a long time to come, so it should be something that they each feel a connection with – something that they helped create.

Of course, this does not mean that efforts like this should happen in isolation, when there are clearly good examples of what worked well (and what didn’t work well) in the past.  So, these type of resources should be utilized to learn from, but not for the purpose of cutting out any of the important work in the development of the end product.

At the same time “reinventing the wheel” is an important tool in the instruction of complex ideas. Rather than providing students simply with a list of known facts and techniques and expecting them to incorporate these ideas perfectly and rapidly, the instructor instead will build up the material anew, leaving the student to work out those key steps which embody the reasoning characteristic of the field.”

Questions like this continually come up in the work we do.  Why spend months developing a particular school district process with participation from unions, principals, teachers, parents, etc. when there are good examples that have already been developed using this same type of process in other districts?  Why hold another community meeting or  focus group session if you think you already know what people think about a particular topic?  Because the process of “inventing” is as important as the “invention.”


Samples of Citywide Youth Master Plans

Nashville Milwaukee Grand Rapids Minneapolis
All children and youth will have a safe and stable home and a supportive, engaged family. All children are prepared to enter school Early childhood development, life-long learning & education All Minneapolis children enter kindergarten ready to learn
All children and youth will have safe places in the community, where they are welcomed and supported by positive adult relationships All children succeed academically and graduate prepared for meaningful work and/or college Employment & financial independence All Minneapolis children and youth succeed in school
All children and youth will develop valuable life skills, social competencies, positive values and become law abiding, productive citizens All young people utilize post secondary education or training to advance their opportunities beyond high school and prepare for a successful career Basic, physical & psychological needs All Minneapolis young people have access to quality out-of-school opportunities
All children and youth will have confidence in themselves and in their future Recognizing the difficult economic realities facing our families, all children and young people are healthy, supported socially and emotionally, and contribute responsibly to the success of the Milwaukee community Mentoring, afterschool, cultural activities & strategic planning All Minneapolis children and youth people have opportunities to prepare themselves for the responsibilities of an active civic live
All children and youth will have opportunities to have their voice heard and positively impact their community Civic engagement, training & leadership
All children and youth will experience social equity regarding access to opportunities, resources and information that are critical to their success in the 21st century
All children and youth will experience a safe and caring school environment that supports social, emotional and academic development
All children and youth will achieve academically through high quality, engaging educational opportunities that address the strengths and needs of the individual
All children and youth will be physically healthy
All children and youth will learn and practice healthy habits and have access to the resources that support these habits
All children and youth will be mentally healthy and emotionally well
All children and youth will have access to and participate in quality programs during out-of school-time
All children and youth will have safe outdoor spaces in their neighborhood that provide opportunities for play and recreational activities
All children and youth will have safe transportation options that allow them to engage in activities, and access services and supports that the community has to offer