Core Competencies: Market Knowledge

The NPO developed substantive knowledge of each Alliance’s environment, capacity, and performance. Given that AF4Q focused on multi-stakeholder collaboration, relevant market knowledge included the stakeholder landscape, including proportional influence and history of collaboration, as well as local policy factors that facilitated or impeded progress in a given goal area. In addition, the NPO had to understand the dynamics of the grantee organization itself—its history, leadership, reputation, strengths and weaknesses. This comprehensive market awareness obliged three distinct roles for NPO staff: coach, enforcer, and informer.

Coach: A designated team worked with the 16 AF4Q communities individually and collectively; each staff member was assigned to a subset of specific Alliances, enabling the staff member to develop deeper familiarity with the grantee and community, and thereby building a trusting relationship. Strong relationships between NPO staff members and Alliances were essential to highlight successes, help to engage stakeholders, and identify technical assistance (TA) needs. NPO staff members also specialized in a content area (e.g., ambulatory quality improvement, consumer engagement, payment reform, etc.), allowing them to compare and connect Alliances, capitalizing upon a given Alliance’s strengths in a particular area to aid or mentor other Alliances.

Enforcer: The combination of community-level and content-area expertise (a matrixed team structure) also enabled the NPO to ensure communities were advancing toward programmatic expectations. Staff continuously monitored and assessed progress toward goals and became enforcers when necessary, providing consultation time, recommendations for and facilitation of technical assistance, and sometimes impetus for RWJF intervention. Community-level knowledge informed explanations for a given Alliance’s progress or lack thereof, providing important context as to whether slow progress was within a grantee’s sphere of control or subject to external forces, and therefore whether additional resources could advance efforts.  

Informer: The NPO informed RWJF of programmatic progress and challenges on an ongoing basis. Just as consistent interaction between the NPO and Alliances forged trusting relationships, frequent dialogue between the NPO and RWJF ensured that RWJF project staff was aware of community progress and established a similar level of trust. The NPO staff carefully trod  the line between advocating on behalf of the Alliances  based upon a nuanced understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and environmental constraints, and serving as a frank “reality check” regarding how those factors might predict progress in an Alliance or goal area. This balance, coupled with continuity of staff at both the NPO and RWJF, fueled a level of candor and flexibility necessary for both the NPO and RWJF to successfully administer the AF4Q program.