Building Value Networks to Work Towards a Shared Goal

Do you remember a time when you spent a few days with over 1000 people where everyone was excited to be working towards a shared goal? In those spaces, I can feel a current of hopefulness, partnership, dedication and enthusiasm that makes it hard to not build new connections.

2022 has been the first year many conferences have made the transition back to meeting in person instead of virtually. For me, there is something special about being able to spark up a conversation with someone new and learn about their work as you’re waiting for the next session to begin; or experiencing the excitement when someone learns about a resource or opportunity that they can now share with a student, family or colleague (like college opportunities for students with intellectual disability!).

Some of our Think College team attended the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) Conference in September where we had the chance to meet others who are also working to expand college access to all students. This year’s conference was focused on Advancing the Right to Postsecondary Attainment. There were groups represented who work with specific groups of students, while others work to provide K-12 schools with useful tools to support students. Some groups focus their efforts on local communities while others work nationwide. While there is a diverse range of projects and agencies dedicated to expanding college access, there is one common value guiding this work - all students have the right to access postsecondary education.

But, how? How do we work together towards a goal that is as expansive as making sure all students can access postsecondary education?

While there is no single path to achieve such a multifaceted goal, here are two strategies I observed throughout the NCAN conference that can be practiced, no matter how complex the goal a group is working toward.

Building Value Networks

A network is a group of people who share a common connection. By choice or by chance, you’re likely a part of a network of some sort. Maybe it’s a network of professionals in your career field, a social media network of people you know (and some you may not), or a network of people who enjoy the same hobby as you.

A value is an idea that is important and gives meaning to our work. Building networks based on a specific value can be helpful in connecting people who are working towards a shared goal that is grounded in that value. Working together with others in a value network reminds us why the work is important and provides support when the work is challenging. Value networks are also a way to build new partnerships and invite others to join the work we find important. Last, it is critical for there to be a diverse range of efforts to achieve such an expansive goal. Value networking is a great way to bounce ideas off others, learn about new resources and expand the reach of each individual group who makes up the network.

Focus on Collective Impact

One of my favorite parts of working with and alongside others towards a shared goal is celebrating achievements, both individually and together. It’s important to recognize how the work of groups or people contribute to achieving the shared goal. Specific projects or activities may have a more immediate or direct impact on a certain group of students, location or issue. However, these same projects and activities contribute to a collective impact – progress towards the larger shared goal. Focusing on the collective impact of a value network’s efforts is one way to build community, celebrate achievements and foster a sense of purpose when working towards a complex shared goal.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to network with others and aren’t sure where to start, I suggest taking a look at our Think College Affinity Groups to see if there’s a topic you’re interested in! If those don’t strike your fancy and you’re wondering what other opportunities there might be to network, reach out to me directly at I would be excited to connect with you (maybe even at a conference in person!).

About the post author: Sara Pound is a Knowledge Translation Associate at Think College, where she enjoys creating and disseminating engaging, accessible content in the hopes of increasing the access to inclusive post-secondary opportunities for individuals with IDD and the folx who support them. Prior to working at Think College, Sara worked as a public-school elementary classroom teacher in South Carolina, a board-certified behavior analyst providing home and community-based supports individual and family centered support, an adjunct instructor in higher education, and an assistant director for an IPSE program in South Carolina. In any position, Sara's work focuses on increasing equitable access to inclusive educational and independent living opportunities for multiply marginalized students.