I believe that the power of change is centered in community. I know the change we envision within DC’s civil legal aid system lies in our ability to work together to achieve our goals. The DC Bar Foundation has been operating under our current Strategic Framework since 2019, and the first strategic goal of that Framework is to engage all stakeholders in our work. This requires us to share observations, listen, and develop solutions to meet DC’s civil legal aid needs. One of the ways that we have done that is through the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network (DC LATN).
Formally launched in June 2021, after 57 legal aid providers, funders, community activists, social services providers, and other stakeholders met to begin conversations about ensuring that civil legal aid in DC is fair and equitable, DC LATN has grown to include more than 100 organizations with the specific mission of advancing a user-centered system, grounded in wellbeing, anti-racism, and anti-poverty, starting with creating a coordinated intake and referral system in DC and evolving into a “network of networks” for connectivity, alignment, and action.
I am excited to see this network’s growth as it soon begins its third year. However, it is just as important to understand how we connect, what works, and where we might need to improve for greater success.
With that, the Foundation conducted its second DC LATN network mapping survey last fall. After several quarterly convenings, the establishment of subnetworks, and continued efforts to build a system that will make it easier for DC residents to get the legal help they need, we wanted to assess further how this new network should function and learn more about the ecosystem of organizations and stakeholders within the network. The new DC Legal Aid Transformations Network Fall 2022 Comparison Report is a comprehensive overview of what we learned through the survey.
The Foundation, in collaboration with Visible Network Labs, completed the first network map—a visual representation of the network members and the relationships among them—in June 2021, and we invited 75 organizations. We completed the second survey map in September 2022, and we invited 103 organizations to participate. The number of invited organizations increased based on their engagement with the DC LATN and their attendance at the convenings; as more people continue to engage with the network, they will also be added to future network mapping surveys. Through this second mapping, we have gathered tangible evidence of how we have evolved as a network from year one to year two.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Network Sustainability Grows. From 2021 to 2022, the most common level of interaction changed from integration to cooperation. This means that a greater share of relationships in the network is now less resource-intensive to maintain, and the network is better positioned to be sustainable over time.
Client Referrals Remain a Significant Network Activity. In both 2021 and 2022, the most common activities that relationships in the network entail are client referrals and advocacy. In 2022, client referrals comprised 41% of network activity, with advocacy (36%) and service delivery (24%) following behind.
Relationships Regarded as Highly Valued. In 2021 and 2022, members placed a very high level of trust in their network relationships. In particular, network partners were perceived as especially reliable.
Perspectives and Contacts Broaden. Forty-four percent of respondents said their organization gained new insight/perspective on the legal aid system in DC because of participation in DC LATN, and 35% made valuable contacts with other stakeholders.
Cross-Sector Collaboration Thrives. Fifty-seven percent of respondents rated the network as successful in increasing cross-sector collaboration.
I’m proud to celebrate these results. In two years, we have built a network that the legal aid community and other key stakeholders find valuable. Members have also gained knowledge and connections that previously did not exist. However, we do see some gaps and areas for improvement.
Additional Work Needed Around Improving Services. Sixty-three percent of respondents said “improved services for target populations” has been the least successful activity.
Lack of Clarity Creates Barriers. Thirty-nine percent of respondents identified that a “lack of clarity of objectives/goals of the network” is a barrier preventing DC LATN from having a bigger impact in the community.
These results help put into perspective where we are as a network, what members want and need, and where DCBF and other network members need to offer more support. We will begin to consider how to adequately leverage resources contributed by network members to achieve network goals. We will think through which activities are best suited for different methods of communication and interaction.
My hope is that the results from this report help the entire network better understand the strengths and growth opportunities. As you read through the report, I’d like for you to consider some of the questions that I’ve begun to ponder: How could this positively impact our work? How does this get us to work better together to fulfill the network’s purpose? And, finally, what role does each organization play in this work?
I look forward to exploring with you the answers to these questions and seeing what more we can accomplish. This latest mapping survey is a significant milestone, and I am proud to celebrate this with our DC LATN members. As our community connections continue to grow, so will our impact.
Our next DC LATN virtual convening is on March 8 from 1:00 – 4:00 PM. If you haven’t previously attended, I would love for you to join us as we work toward building a fair and equitable civil legal aid system in DC. And save the date for our first in-person convening on June 14.
Kirra L. Jarratt
CEO, DC Bar Foundation