Strategic Criteria for a Systems-Focused Collaborative Network

October 2, 2018 5 Comments

I have been working with a national environmental health and justice network for the past few years, and at a recent retreat, the core leadership team wrestled with a set of criteria for guiding the creation of equity-grounded, whole network-mobilizing and systems-shifting strategies. This is where we landed:


  • If successful, the strategy will move us towards our long-term systemic goal.
  • The strategy is fundamentally collaborative in nature.
  • The strategy is consistent with network’s values.
  • The strategy does not advance the network at the expense of other key constituencies, partners, or social justice movements.
  • The strategy is worth the expenditure of time, resources and opportunity costs of pursuing it.
  • The strategy aligns with the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing.

Strongly preferred

  • The strategy connects to a clear pathway on our systems map.
  • The strategy plays to the strengths and capacities of current network members.
  • The strategy broadens and deepens connections with impacted communities and constituencies.
  • The strategy will build leadership within the network, with a particular emphasis on building leadership among the most directly impacted communities and constituencies.
  • The strategy is likely to bring new funding and capacity around the network’s goals.
  • The strategy will increase our learning and understanding of promising practices for systems-based collaborative networks.

Bonus points

  • The strategy is likely to attract media attention to network members and/or advance our network narrative.
  • The strategy would leave the network better positioned to move forward future initiatives.
  • The strategy will increase the network’s reputation for innovation and/or effectiveness.
  • The strategy will increase the network’s standing with key thought leaders and/or policymakers.
  • The strategy presents an opportunity to collaborate with desirable new partners.

What resonates? What would you add that you have used as criteria for determining systemic strategies for collaborative networks?


  • I really appreciate this list. I love the operationalizing of principles. Much resonates. I am most curious about how well the network can use this in practice. I am also curious about equity and racial equity in networks and how we name and support in, particularly in terms of outcomes. The first criteria may lead there (not sure what their systemic goal is). On the process end of equity, did the network discuss naming those most impacted or consider using a racial equity tool to analyze potential strategies (by disaggregating data and/or talking specifically about how a given strategy might play out in Indigenous, African American, white, Latinz, Asian communities?

  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Great questions, Miriam. Thank you. The overarching goal of the network is around creating a “just transition” to a health-promoting economy. The Jemez Principles get at some of what you are getting at regarding the process end of equity, and that is still a work in progress as they apply largely to community organizing and there is much else procedurally that needs to be accounted for. There is a committee actively working on that piece which I can share at a later point. And yes, the conversation is centering those who are most negatively impacted, which is among its core values (not named explicitly above). And there needs to be ongoing accountability around that given those who sit at the table are often those with more (current, if not historic) economic and class privilege.

    • Thanks for these replies. Very helpful. In one organization, we were reminded that we need to be explicit in all documents, at all stages. There were some people who pointed out that in one document, if you were not reading others, it was really unclear whether anti-racism and racial equity were at the core of the work as the document started with process and procedure and not what is believed.

  • I am going to be sharing this list! (With permission)

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