NCA Reflections: Putting Knowledge into Practice

Last month, Natalie Kulick, CADCA’s Communications Associate, had the opportunity to virtually attend the second week of training at CADCA’s National Coalition Academy (NCA). She reflects on her experience here:

Week Two of the National Coalition Academy (NCA) reunited the Tennessee Cohort at the end of September for another week chock-full of learning, sage advice from trainers and opportunities to connect with other prevention advocates. I was eager to return to this group after leaving Week One feeling inspired and with an expanded understanding of what coalition work entails.

As the Communications Associate, I spend time each week interviewing coalition leaders and writing the weekly Coalitions in Action story, featured in Coalitions Online. Attending the NCA has provided me a greater background on the tools and strategies applied by coalitions, and therefore, allows me to feel as though I can serve better justice to telling these stories.

The second week of the NCA is best characterized as “crunch-time,” or when knowledge learned in Week One is built off of in Week Two and put into practice in the form of coalition community assessments, logic models, strategic and action plans, evaluation plans and sustainability plans. Since there was an abundance of ground to cover, we quickly dove into learning.

One of the great techniques trainers Stephanie Strutner and Kristina Clark employed to make concepts easier to grasp, was tasking breakout groups with an activity that practiced skills which could later be applied to coalition work. For example, one activity that groups were assigned entailed working together to decide how to spend $20,000 on a dream vacation using the VMOSA (Vision, Mission, Objectives, Strategies, Action plans) strategy. This exercise crystalized the importance of writing SMART objectives and planning ahead. It also reinforced the important distinction between vision and mission; vision being what the coalition seeks to accomplish, and mission describing the organization’s role in making the vision a reality. Stephanie and Kristina stressed the value of creating strong statements, as well as committing them to memory, so that when coalition members are approached in their community and asked what their coalition does, they have a prepared and succinct answer in every-day language.

Another focus of the week was on the varying types of coalition strategies, namely environmental, evidence-based and comprehensive. Kristina made a point to encourage participants to think critically when selecting strategies for their community and shared a personal anecdote about her own journey of understanding the concepts we were reviewing, “All of this really clicked for me when my coalition applied to Got Outcomes!”

Just as prevention efforts in communities require collaboration across many sectors, training at the NCA encourages teamwork and the building of a support system. The Tennessee Cohort continued to bond throughout the second week and were presented with frequent opportunities for the exchange of new ideas and better practices. Since both Stephanie and Kristina have been in the same shoes as those attending before, their insight continues to be a treasure trove of tips and lessons learned. As the popular aphorism goes, “Many hands make for light work.” Participants of Week Two returned to their communities eager to share and implement what they learned to become even more effective change agents, and by sharing and spending the week growing as prevention professionals, they can look forward to a lighter and brighter future.