Getting to work: Aurora, Illinois, removes barriers to collaboration

February 18, 2020

The city of Aurora, Illinois, is taking steps to encourage collaboration with the launch of the Thrive Collaborative Center (TCC). Aurora is one of the cities that participated in focus groups about economic inclusion that the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago held throughout the Seventh Federal Reserve District.1 

The need for increased collaboration within and across sectors was a prominent theme emerging from those focus groups. Fragmented conversations, duplicative activities, and misaligned resources were all cited as results of ineffective collaboration, having a negative effect on efforts to increase inclusion in the labor force. At the same time, focus group participants repeatedly expressed the willingness to devote time and resources to developing enduring relationships and alliances across siloes, but lacked an environment that was structured and sustainable. 

Informed by research demonstrating the impact of collaboration on businesses and organizations, TCC is taking an evidence-based approach to addressing a topic that is often only talked about in the abstract: 

  • TCC will offer dedicated office space, as well as flexible co-working space, to local nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. 
  • Tenants will drive the extent and type of collaboration offered at TCC through detailed collaboration plans.  
  • Further, TCC will provide a platform to track and measure outcomes derived from active collaboration. Specific metrics that may be tracked include participation in networking events with associated follow-up activity; attendance at capacity building workshops; sessions with onsite executive coaches; evidence of project/program cooperation; and eventually evidence of joint fundraising and integrated programming. 
  • On site staff will meet with members regularly to discuss progress and measured activity with the intention of holding members accountable to stated and individual collaboration goals.  
  • Recognizing that collaboration is challenging when participants have concerns about sustainability or solvency, TCC will offer capacity building workshops, offered by the Northern Illinois University Center for Nonprofit and NGO studies, on key topics of organizational function. 

Although TCC just opened in January 2020, it will be anchored by the Aurora Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) which offers low- and moderate-income Aurora-area residents free financial counseling. Having the FEC embedded in TCC alongside organizations and small businesses provides participants with access to wrap-around social services that are often key to removing barriers to employment, and illustrates the potential of active collaboration. 

Adrienne Holloway, chief innovation officer, for the city of Aurora, says the motivation for TCC resulted from “wanting to intentionally and significantly invest in the social sector on which we rely heavily to provide a variety of services to our residents.” Her vision for Thrive was to build a stronger and more effective social sector. “Nonprofit organizations provide regular services to our community. It is our responsibility to support their efforts. The TCC will be a vehicle delivering comprehensive support,” said Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin. 

TCC is located in the former Aurora Park District headquarters. The re-purposed building offers the latest in technological upgrades, in park-like setting on near the banks of the Fox River that runs through downtown Aurora. Start-up costs were funded by repurposing gaming tax funds from the local casino, which included readying the building for the program. Operating costs will be supported by membership dues paid by tenants and other users of the facility. 

Click here for more information about the Thrive Collaborative Center. 

1 Findings from the focus groups can be found here

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