Fostering Collaborative Decision-making

Fostering Collaboration - Image 1Families, communities and districts are united in their interest in improving student outcomes. An essential element of this work is collaborative decision-making, an ongoing process built by and for families, students, communities and districts.  

Collaborative decision-making goes beyond traditional one-way feedback loops, in which districts do the thinking and planning and share with parent leaders for surface level feedback. Instead, true collaboration requires districts to ensure that family and community voices are not only heard, but also reflected in decisions that impact their children. At the same time, families and communities must also have opportunities to confirm that districts’ decisions reflect and honor their perspectives. 

Barriers to fostering collaborative decision-making

Creating the opportunities and processes to support collaborative decision-making is challenging for many districts. District leaders may not be accustomed to sharing power with families and community groups, and families and communities may lack key information and opportunities to actively engage. Here are some common barriers to collaborative decision-making:  

  • District leaders do not have experience or training in best practices for engaging with families and communities.  
  • Districts are unwilling or hesitant to share power with families.  
  • Families and communities do not believe that districts value their input and do not trust districts to include them in decisions.  
  • There are no accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that decisions reflect family and community needs and desires.  

What strategies can districts use to foster collaborative decision-making?

  • Co-create goals: When creating FCC goals, include multiple voices and perspectives to ensure all goals embrace the value that all people bring. 
  • Require active family/community participation in all decision-making: Districts must include families and communities in all processes, including writing district strategic plans, making policy choices (e.g., establishing youth advisory councils), planning events and establishing funding priorities. 
  • Appoint family/community representatives with voting power: Include representatives from various groups (e.g., caregivers, community organizations) to serve on existing governing bodies and committees. 
  • Communicate openly: Use two-way, accessible and on-going communication with families to establish agreements and plans. Choose user-friendly communication methods and technology. 
  • Collaboratively define and measure outcomes: Work with families and communities to co-design the definitions of success and strategies for measuring progress along the way. Invite families and CBOs to not only interpret data, but also design data collection instruments and plans. 

Together, these strategies create the conditions necessary to support FCC and improve student outcomes. Districts must commit the necessary time and resources to create opportunities for collaboration and honor the collective decisions made by coalitions of families, communities and education leaders.  

Supporting evidence for fostering collaborative decision-making

The resources below offer a helpful starting place to districts in search of evidence-based examples and tools to support best practices. For more research and resources, check out the Resource Library. 

Strategies Aligned Resources

Bergman E. Unlocking the “how”: Designing family engagement strategies that lead to school success. Learning Heroes. 2022.  

Check out examples of districts using home visits and a community liaison team to build trust with families in Pillar One (page 8) of Unlocking the “How”, Designing Family Engagement Strategies that Lead to School Success. These strategies build upon Learning Heroes national survey of parents, teachers and principals and existing best practices to uncover strong family engagement strategies rooted in a community’s own context. 

Collaboration Profiles. 2022. Youth.Gov. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from’s Collaboration Profiles provides examples of organizations working with districts on issues such as housing and youth leadership. Each profile provides guides for using best practices and other resources to structure collaborative partnerships. Depending on your district’s progress, use the tags at the the top of the page to sort profiles of organizations initiating, implementing or sustaining collaborations.  

Ishimaru AM, Bang M, Valladares MR, Nolan CM, Tavares H, Rajendran A, et al. Recasting Families and Communities as Co-Designers of Education in Tumultuous Times. National Education Policy Center. 2019. Retrieved from 

This policy memo provides guidance on creating, implementing and sustaining a co-design plan. Check out the executive summary (pg. 4) that provides strategies for each part of the planning process, such as redesigning hiring processes so that multiple stakeholders have input. From the National Education Policy Center and Family Design Collaborative, this report provides policies for a justice-based approach that enables families, particularly families of color, to lead the transformation of schools and improve student outcomes.