Toujours Ensemble and strategic clarity

April 18, 2017

After close to a year of intensive work, the Toujours Ensemble team has just completed the Impact and Strategic Clarity module, and all the work was more than worth it. The program has helped the organization achieve cohesion between their three key programs, set clear accountability benchmarks, and validate essential elements of their work with parents and partners. This is how they have gone about the process.

The organization and its challenges

Toujours Ensemble was founded in 1979 with the mission to “help young people who are facing academic, family, economic, or social challenges. We open our doors so that they can participate in educational and recreational activities that help them maximize their full potential.” Toujours Ensemble offers academic perseverance programs for youth aged 9–17 (Parcours Program) and for high schoolers (Passeport pour ma réussite Program).

In 2014, when Toujours Ensemble was ready to implement the Sac à dos Program for primary school students, they connected with Innoweave to ensure that the new program would successfully meet its ultimate goal: improve students’ academic performance. This evaluative process not only led Toujours Ensemble to amend the Sac à dos Program’s goals to make them more realistic, but also gave the whole organization the opportunity to pause and develop a different approach to questions they had been entertaining for some time:

  • How can we adapt our services to meet changing times?
  • How do we root two––now three––key programs so that we can offer a continuum of services to provide in-depth support to children and their families?

A process as demanding as it is enriching

Toujours Ensemble began working with coaches Judith Gaudet and Stephanie Garrow in September 2016. The draft version of the theory of change (a strategic, logic model focused on how to achieve impact) seems chaotic and dense at first glance, and doesn’t overtly assist organizations in strategic decision making. It is, however, a step in the right direction in that it prompts organizations to consider crucial questions and articulate them more clearly.

The exercise led the executive director, the communications officer, and four program coordinators to dedicate two hours each Friday to reflecting on these questions.

Friday sessions were enriched with research and validation processes, as the work the group undertook couldn’t be limited to the perceptions or the knowledge of the six participants alone. Among the tools used were the journey maps of several youth assisted by the organization, which illustrated how interactions between them and the organization unfolded. This exercise revealed that the same young person could have two distinct conversations in their interactions with two different branches of the organization, instead of having the same common conversation. Was it possible to develop common roots for different programs?

The viewpoints of parents and partners involved with Toujours Ensemble were also helpful in determining whether the organization was meeting their service goals. Discussion groups and interviews were held to gather external perspectives and help Toujours Ensemble re-calibrate its accountability benchmarks. Toujours Ensemble is one of many players supporting youth academic success––but can it drive meaningful change alone? This multitude of perspectives and opinions made it possible for Toujours Ensemble to identify the limits of their accountability and to outline what partners and parents could do to maximize Toujours Ensemble’s impact.

What about results?

Toujours Ensemble knows where it’s headed! Not only did it establish inter-relatedness between its three key programs, it also clarified the way in which community interactions support the youth success development model Toujours Ensemble espouses, namely a mix of school, social, and personal support, and assistance in cultivating a healthy lifestyle. But that’s not all! The organization used the theory of change approach for each of its programs. Next stop: strategic clarity!

What’s next?

Toujours Ensemble is entering the implementation phase for this new orientation, which focuses on a continuum of services and fosters improved rooting with parents and external partners. In order to do this, Toujours Ensemble must continue to reflect on crucial questions that will put into sharp relief their assumptions and reality, as well as what works (or doesn’t work) and why.

Innoweave wishes the entire Toujours Ensemble team continued success in the adoption of these new orientations, and congratulates them for having taken on the challenge of including Impact and Strategic Clarity in their decision-making and strategic planning processes. May these changes be the force that drives the accomplishments of the children and youth served by Toujours Ensemble!