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Collaborations develop over time; a newly-forming collaboration has different challenges and successes than one that is well-established. Listen as two Cornell Cooperative Extension educators describe the collaborations with which they work.

Describe your collaboration.

Robin N. Travis, MS CDN
Nutrition Program Leader
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Yates County, New York

Evolving Collaboration

The Yates County coalition on childhood obesity began with an interest meeting that we at Cooperative Extension organized in 2004. We put out a general letter of invitation to organizations, schools, and agencies that might be interested in the topic and had about 30 to 35 responses. Our goals included creating awareness of the epidemic of childhood obesity and then looking for ways to work together to address it.

Catherine Moore, RD
Nutrition Program Leader
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Jefferson County, New York

Established Collaboration

The current collaboration they want to refer to is the Steps to a Healthier New York. This is a formal coalition that is managed by our local public health service. There are also numerous working committees, which include participating agencies—some, but not all, who receive funding to achieve certain outcomes. The real collaboration, however, began at least ten years ago when a network of a number of different community agencies started to work together on different health and nutrition projects.

What is the commitment of members in terms of particiation?

Robin N. Travis - Evolving Collaboration

Right at the start of forming the coalition, I guess I made the executive decision that not everybody would play an equal role in this coalition. What we were looking for was involvement from a wide variety of people. I know that not everyone is going to be able to participate at the same level. Therefore, we designed three levels of involvement.

Starting with level one, that is called a Cheerleader or Supporter level. This may be, for instance, a school or a doctor—we have actually several physicians who have signed up at that level one. They're committing themselves to maybe two or three meetings a year and they're going to support us by spreading the word on events, and sometimes perhaps by putting dollars or other resources into the event.

Level two is kind of the worker bee. These folks will plan and conduct different types of interventions, they'll collaborate with other agencies, provide data, and keep the coalition informed of what they're doing in their individual organizations. They may work on specific projects. And they would meet more often.

Level three is the leadership role. This is the core. This is the direction-setting body, and we have about eight people who serve in that core. They are really supposed to set the direction, keep us on course, seek funding, and prepare reports.

Catherine Moore - Established Collaboration

In the Steps to a Healthier New York there's a broad coalition that involves quite a few interested community agencies, and they meet quarterly, more for updating and informational purposes. Then there are these work groups that are much more focused on what we're trying to do. And so coalition members might participate just at the quarterly coalition meetings, or they might participate very focused in these work groups to really try to achieve specific objectives. For example, I attend coalition meetings and I also attend the diabetes obesity workgroup meetings. But I don't attend certain school-based or asthma workgroup meetings because it's not within the goals of our organization right now to participate in those. So participation is varied as well as different intensities of participation.

What have been some of your challenges?

Robin N. Travis - Evolving Collaboration

One of the things tht I found frustrating to start with but have some insights into now is that as we pulled together this group of people that had not necessarily worked a lot in the past together is that we found people really, really focused on the causes of childhood obesity. Everybody had their own ideas of causes. It was very hard to facilitate those meetings and get people to move beyond that. That took three or four meetings to get past that. It took a lot of facilitation skills to say, okay, we're done with that discussion; we're moving on. And we finally have come around now to saying what are we going to do as a coalition of agencies. We certainly want to support each member organization the efforts that they're doing singularly. But we also want to do something collectively because we that in order to really address the issue of childhood obesity it's going to be a collective effort.

Catherine Moore - Established Collaboration

One of the biggest challenges is, if we're going to rely on relationship building, then just like what happens in any organization internally where you have staff turnover, it can affect the whole balance of your collaboration and your relationships. So, again, that need to constantly be orienting new agencies and new employees within that agency becomes so very important.

What have been some of your successes?

Robin N. Travis - Evolving Collaboration

The biggest success is that we have a core of deeply committed individuals, people who really want to address this issue in a collaborative way. Many of us do single interventions where we target a particular population or sponsor a particular event. But this group understands that if we're really going to make a difference we need to work together.

Catherine Moore - Established Collaboration

I thought hard about what some of our successes were and I think that by collaborating, we've helped other agencies to be successful in getting grants and getting funding. But even small, very specific program efforts have been enriched. An example I was thinking of: We don't just play host to a really nice farmers' market here at Cooperative Extension in Jefferson County, but we host a farmers' market where Office for the Aging is really visible. And our Know It program is very visible. We have an Eat Well Play Hard nutrition program for school-age children. And our food stamp programs are all really visibly promoted because we have those collaborations and because we have these partnerships and relationships.

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Cornell NutritionWorks: Preventing Childhood Obesity
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