First 5 LA was created in 1998 to allocate County funds generated through California’s Proposition 10 tobacco tax to benefit children 0-5 and their families. Since then, First 5 LA has invested more than $1.2 billion in efforts aimed at providing the best start for LA County’s youngest children and their families.
The Need and Impetus for the Project
In March 2014, First 5 LA engaged LFA to design and lead development of its 2015-2020 strategic plan. In the wake of a significant leadership transition, a steady decline in its major revenue source (the surtax on tobacco products), and a portfolio of investments that had expanded in scope over time, First 5 LA needed to bring clarity and focus to its grantmaking and other investment activities.
With clarity on the high-level questions and issues that the strategic planning process needed to address, LFA began the project with First 5 LA by synthesizing and interpreting the many sources of available information on the needs of the County’s youngest children and their families, as well as the gaps in the systems and policies that serve them. The planning process required the LFA consulting team to incorporate and balance the needs and perspectives of a complex mix of public and private stakeholders in a highly politicized environment with multiple layers of decision-making and influences on decision-makers. Despite the diversity of perspectives and interests, LFA successfully designed and supported a process for the board to reach consensus on a new, integrated Theory of Change that identified specific goals, outcomes, and strategies that First 5 LA would employ to ensure it was contributing to the most significant impact possible given its resources, field position, and organizational capacities. The process culminated in the approval of the plan by First 5 LA’s Board in November 2014. In the seven months following approval of the strategic plan, LFA engaged teams of First 5 LA staff to develop an implementation roadmap for the plan as well as a Measurement, Evaluation, and Learning (ME&L) system.
The Results: Learning for Action
The 2015-2020 strategic plan, called “Focusing for the Future,” provides First 5 LA with much-needed direction and organizational consensus about how to most effectively go about achieving its newly defined mission: First 5 LA, in partnership with others, strengthens families, communities, and systems of services and supports so all children in L.A. County enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life. Furthermore, First 5 LA determined its role in creating change as:
- Focusing on prevention;
- Focusing on systems and policy change;
- Seeking to have a broad impact, affecting large numbers of people;
- Prioritizing investments that strengthen families and, whenever possible, improve community capacity;
- Prioritizing the identification and scaling up of evidence-based practices; and
- Engaging partners at the earliest possible stage of activity and/or investment.
With this degree of focus and clarity, First 5 LA is well positioned to make progress on its vision: Throughout Los Angeles’ diverse communities, all children are born healthy and raised in a safe, loving and nurturing environment so that they grow up healthy in mind, body, and spirit, are eager to learn, with opportunities to reach their full potential.