Developing a Sustainable Network

Q&A with Launch Manistee’s Mary Ann Behm 


In March, Michigan College Access Network hosted its second annual College Access Impact Awards. One of the organizations honored was Launch Manistee Local College Access Network. Launch Manistee received the Flagship Award for developing a sustainable network that provides leadership in the creation of effective alliances focused on postsecondary attainment. For this Spotlight, MCAN interviewed Launch Manistee Program Coordinator Mary Ann Behm, to learn more about how the network evolved from an interested group of people, to a driving force for continued education in Manistee County.

Q: How was Launch Manistee established?

A: “At its beginning, Launch Manistee started thanks to the efforts of a diverse group of interested and involved community members who wanted to build and sustain a culture of education in Manistee County. They were convened by the Manistee County Community Foundation, and their efforts were supported by a 2012 planning grant provided by MCAN. The following year, MCAN awarded Launch Manistee an implementation grant. The network expanded its focus to incorporate a ‘cradle-to-career’ philosophy in order to promote life-long learning. I was hired as the network’s full-time program coordinator in June 2014.”   

Q: Can you summarize the general steps that have been taken to develop a sustainable Network?

A:“Launch Manistee adopted a collective impact frameworkat its inception and has worked diligently to incorporate the essential elements. We took the time to make sure that all of our pieces were aligned so we truly had a common vision and goals. A common agenda sets our values and mission, goals, and metrics or shared measurement. We have two goals related to our vision, and all of our objectives and metrics lead to the attainment of those goals. This keeps us focused on using data to inform decision making.  Learn more about the collective impact framework by downloading MCAN’s latest edition of Charting the Course.

The backbone support infrastructure is one of the strengths of Launch Manistee – we have an active and engaged cross-sector leadership team, a core staff dedicated to the work, and a supportive and active anchor entity that is critical to the success of the network. The combination of these elements has been essential for our long-term sustainability.”

Q: What efforts are ongoing to maintain the Network’s sustainability?

A: “Launch Manistee is fortunate to have a leadership team that provides strategic oversight and direction, and sets priorities. We have three action teams that work collaboratively on mutually reinforcing activities; they align our organizations and coordinate our action plans. The action plans always involve commitment and action by several of the action team members.

 We continue to build on our network through use of tools and strategies such as network mapping and network evaluation; and adding to our leadership team and action teams. Launch Manistee is constantly evolving, evaluating, and growing - which boosts our success.”

Q: It seems that Launch Manistee has embraced “continuous communication,” a key term throughout Charting the Course. Can you elaborate on how continuous communication is embedded within the LCAN?  

A: “I do feel that the concept of continuous communication has contributed to Launch Manistee’s success and is an ever-evolving process. Moving through the process of building and sustaining Launch Manistee has helped communication through building trust and a solid shared understanding of the vision and purpose of the Network. I believe that our continuous communication success refers to the strong relationships that have been built and maintained between the various organizations that comprise our leadership team and action teams. This communication takes place among the members but more importantly, reaches out into the community at large. In turn, this brings more participation to the network.”

Q: Tell me a bit about Launch Manistee and how it achieves community buy-in.

A: “We have been extremely fortunate to have great community buy-in and support for Launch Manistee. This is largely due to the three things:

  1. Strong partners that we have on the leadership teams and action teams who consistently share information with others about Launch’s vision and activities;
  2. Action plans and initiatives that have been achieved and have impacted the community; and
  3. Marketing and strong communication strategies around Launch Manistee. Opportunities to speak at community events, present to school boards of education, or participate with business activities are always welcomed and seized upon as another means to ‘spread the word.’

Launch Manistee also has a fantastic relationship with its local newspaper, the Manistee News Advocate. The relationship is one of mutual respect and support. The Manistee News Advocate works really hard to stay current and report out in a timely manner after events. The newspaper is one of Launch Manistee’s biggest cheerleaders.”

Q: What advice can you give to other LCANs that might be starting out and/or seeking to increase their impact and sustainability?

A: "Build Relationships - never underestimate the power of taking the time to build relationships in your network and in your community. Network - find the game changing people in your community. Get them involved and use their expertise! Build a strong foundation - follow the framework that is set through MCAN’s Charting the Course; use the process and get your systems and network together to build a strong foundation. Celebrate – make sure that you stop and take the time to review your outcomes and the positive impact that has been made on students and the community at large.” 

To learn more about Launch Manistee, we encourage you to check out their website at or to view their most recent Annual Report.


Author: Ryan Fewins-Bliss, deputy director for community investment
Posted: May 11, 2016

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