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Institute specializes in bringing best, brightest together

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Jack Hess, executive director of the 15-month-old Institute for Coalition Building, is learning a lot about getting organized and coaxing other groups to do the same on a shoestring budget.

Hess, former president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, has been working diligently since late 2012 to teach business and government leaders in numerous communities — as well as nonprofit activists — how to play ball together to get things done.

“Our natural clients are foundations, associations and local communities,” said Hess, whose fledgling but influential organization operates on less than a $400,000 annual budget.

The institute is an offshoot of the Community Education Coalition, whose president and CEO, John Burnett, works closely with Hess in the new endeavor.

“We work with the public, private and social sectors,” Burnett said. “We see ourselves as stewards of what’s special about the Columbus community.”

For Burnett and Hess, that includes the legacy of J. Irwin Miller, the late Cummins chairman and chief executive who was a master at promoting Columbus and improving its business and cultural offerings.

The institute is a small team dedicated to the process of getting things done, although most of its projects fall into one of three basic categories: improving education, building the economy or aiding workforce development, Hess said.

“The institute helps communities build coalitions to solve grand challenges that sit at the intersection of the public, private and social sectors,” Hess said.

The institute and its parent organization, the Community Education Coalition, get some funding via the Lumina Foundation as well as through other grants. It also generates money through fees when the institute conducts certain workshops with clients.

Groups that have had some interaction with the institute so far include the Columbus Area Economic Growth Council, Advance Columbus, the Columbus Arts District Coalition and Leadership Bartholomew County.

From concept to action

Burnett praises Hess as someone who can put big-picture concepts into such a context that community leaders are able to visualize important team-building strategies and put them into action.

In addition, the institute recently partnered with Leadership Bartholomew County and Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County to co-create the Collaboration Through Coalition Leadership program.

The idea is to recruit and teach “next-generation” leaders proven methods of problem-solving that can last from one generation to the next.

To explain how the institute does its work, Hess likes to pass around an oval-shaped graphic speckled with directional arrows that illustrate eight crucial steps used to solve problems and create coalitions that last.

To begin, it says “START HERE,” in all-capital letters. “Identify a key community issue.”

Steps 2 through 8 are: Identify the right people who want to address the issue. Establish and build trusting relationships. Gather information, understand the data. Create a picture of the current state of things. Imagine a better future. Identify possible projects and rank them in priority. Measure results. Keep improving.

Hess said the institute “studies and documents the ingredients and the structure of community collaboration and then creates the framework ... to make the process tangible and concrete.”

Burnett said nonprofits and community leaders are hungry for guidance.

“We go where the energy is,” Hess added.

IU among new clients

In December, Indiana University Research and Technology Corporation inked a memorandum of understanding that names the institute an affiliate for coalition building services to 10 economic development centers and regional campus communities.

The overall goals are familiar ones: foster economic growth, workforce development, education, community collaboration and commercialization of technology.

Another example is a project the institute handled in conjunction with the Indiana Hospital Association last year. Hess said workshops helped the health care community conduct a project that boosted patient safety among a network of 11 regional coalitions that needed to work as a unified whole.

Burnett and Hess describe the institute’s job as creating detailed blueprints that document how things get done for the betterment of a group or community.

“When we do work for other communities, we learn things too,” Hess said. By working alongside other communities, “we’ve learned new approaches for engaging diverse groups of stakeholders and reducing the time for collaborative initiatives to produce results.”

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