MN Story Collective

June 20, 2024 / 5 mins read

MN Story Collective Link

Hello again!

For this quarterly edition of the MNSC newsletter, we’re sharing the story of a recent engagement, held in collaboration with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) Implementation Office at the Minnesota Head Start Association’s (MHSA) annual convening. We’ve also invited both teams to help us tell the story of this engagement and share some reflections.

Read on to learn about:

What is a Sensemaking Session?
MN Head Start Association GatheringContext and Goals
The session
Reflections on the session
ICYMI: Tikki Brown to serve as first DCYF Commissioner, many more positions being filled!
Now Available: MNSC's Annual Report
Thank you for your interest!

What is a Sensemaking Session?
Since October, we’ve brought hundreds of people from across Minnesota together to discuss themes and patterns in the stories that we’ve collected. MNSC hosts these discussions by creating sets of activities to facilitate conversations in small groups or with the full room. While each engagement is a bit different, participants are always invited to listen with an open mind, offer their own perspectives, and help us make sense of the rich information we gather.

These “Sensemaking Sessions” play a leading role in how we deepen our understanding of what’s been shared and often provide community-driven ideas for how the State can be responsive to the successes and challenges shared by people in Minnesota. These sessions are also opportunities for State staff, community partners, and people across Minnesota to build connections in a creative and supportive space.

Context: Partners and Goals
During March and April of 2024, MNSC worked with The MN Head Start Association and DCYF to design a Sensemaking Session about the experiences of children, youth, and families in Minnesota. Minnesota Head Start Association was one of our 2023 story collection community partners, and we were excited for the opportunity to loop back with Head Start families and staff at the annual conference in mid-April.

Kraig Gratke, Executive Director of the MN Head Start Association, shares some context for Head Start, the session, and why we were invited:

Part of MNHSA’s mission is one of advocacy for families living in poverty. Many of the families coming to Early Head Start (‘EHS’) and Head Start (‘HS’) are below Federal Poverty Guidelines. Beyond those income limitations, 73% of the children served in 2023 identified as children of color or Latino, roughly 35% were English language learners, and 88% of the families received additional support through EHS/HS, like supporting families finding housing, food support (food shelves/SNAP/WIC), health care and insurance, mental health services, and other emergency services.

The families served in EHS/HS have a hard time getting heard for a lot of reasons. It was MNHSA’s intent to make space for a group of parents to use their voice, have an opportunity to share their lived experience in MN, and to have perspectives from every corner of the state. That is really why we asked [MNSC] and [The DCYF Implementation Office] to come, it was important to hear where things are at with DCYF and how the stories being collected were being used but, what we got was so much more.

– Kraig Gratke, Executive Director, MN Head Start Association

When MNSC and the DCYF Implementation Office realized we were hosting back-to-back community engagement sessions, we thought… why not team up? Here’s what Elizabeth Ebot, Assistant Transition Director in the DCYF Implementation Office, said their team was hoping to learn in our Sensemaking Session:

With the launch of the soon-to-be Department of Children, Youth, and Families approaching (July 1, 2024), it’s an exciting time as the Implementation Office, our agency partners, and network of community providers and advocates continue building towards a new vision that better centers the needs of children, youth, and families statewide.

To help realize this vision, recruitment for executive leaders in the new agency has been underway this spring and throughout the process, we’ve both revisited feedback collected throughout the transition and created new opportunities for local partners, organizations, and families to tell us through their lived experience the values, identities, priorities, and vision they need reflected in DCYF’s future leadership and culture.

– Elizabeth Ebot, Asst. Transition Director, DCYF Implementation Office

At MNSC, we were excited to support these efforts by bringing people together to read and reflect on experiences shared by people in Minnesota.

Read on to learn more about the session itself, plus some key take-aways and reflections from our collaborators, Kraig and Elizabeth.

The session
On the day of the conference, Elizabeth began the session by giving an update on the transition to DCYF (If you’d like to stay in the loop, you can sign up for its newsletter here). We then set the stage by prompting folks to think about the opportunities present in uniting services in a single agency, especially as the transition team was preparing to hire several leadership positions.

With this in mind, we spent close to two hours reflecting on a lengthy story with more than 100 Head Start families and staff. This was a rich, wide-ranging conversation which—at the request of Head Start leadership and families—went more than half an hour longer than scheduled!

The story focused on difficulties in getting questions answered and the need to submit information in multiple places. The participant said, We want so badly to provide adequate emotional and financial stability for our children, and the systems we find ourselves in have made it challenging to provide either. […]

This story was an incredible starting point for many questions on organizational culture, what’s working, and how the new agency can improve the delivery of services and programs.

Next up, we’ll hear some take-aways and reflections from both Kraig and Elizabeth.

Reflections on the session
Let’s start with reflections and key take-aways from our friends at Head Start:

The parents felt safe and opened up on a wide range of issues that are affecting them all and they also came up with some fixes. The story prompts were perfect and the discussion the groups had was awesome. Most of the families do not get the opportunity to give input into local systems let alone State systems and a new department, to be there while the foundations are being laid, and to say: "if our kids and families can do OK, then the rest of the kids and families will also be OK." one of the moms put it, "it provided a glimpse of what it is like to walk in our shoes.”

Hopefully we can do more. It was really a great experience.

– Kraig Gratke, Executive Director, MN Head Start Association

Elizabeth and the DCYF team also shared some key takeaways and reflections:

Undercutting all the needs shared by both families and educators – simplifying families’ experiences when filling out forms; improving coordination between state and local systems; expanding eligibility to support families when they are achieving, not just struggling – was a united desire to see families as unique, full of value, and worthy of empathy, compassion, and tailored solutions when they need them most.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have heard so clearly from the Head Start community about the many ways in which this program is exemplary in providing wrap-around services to families. In many ways, Head Start is emblematic of DCYF’s goal to realize greater equity in outcomes for children, youth, and families statewide by centering their needs in how we structure, prioritize, and innovate around program and service delivery.

– Elizabeth Ebot, Asst. Transition Director, DCYF Implementation Office

On behalf of the MNSC Team, we thank the Head Start families, staff, and leadership for their willingness to raise their voices and share their expertise. We are also grateful to our colleagues in the DCYF Implementation Office for their collaborative spirit, flexibility, and commitment to centering the lived experience of families in Minnesota while laying the foundations of this new agency.

Congratulations, Commissioner-Designee Tikki Brown!
Shortly after the engagement, a big announcement was made in the DCYF Implementation Office’s Newsletter:

Last week, Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan announced the appointment of Tikki Brown as the first commissioner of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

This appointment will be effective July 1, 2024, when the agency is originated by state law. The press release from the Governor’s Office has more information about this appointment.

Following Governor Walz’s announcement, Commissioner-designee Brown was interviewed by MPR on her appointment.

“I have a deep commitment to working with communities working with folks with lived experience, working across different agencies and divisions,” Brown told MPR News. “I have a firm belief we can’t do this work alone. We have to work in partnership. And I think that will carry me well into this new role.”

Several additional leadership positions within the new agency have recently closed as well – but there are many more opportunities to come. Check back on the implementation office’s website and sign up for their newsletter to hear about opportunities as they arise!

Now Available: MNSC's First Annual Report
We're excited to share our first-ever annual report!

In the report, you'll get a comprehensive look at MN StoryCollective that includes information about how MN StoryCollective works, our vision, information about our first year of collecting stories and making sense of data in community, and a sampling of demographic data as well as a first-time look at a longer submission from someone who overcame a challenging set of circumstances.

You can find the report on the 'About' page of our website, or here: Minnesota Story Collective 2023 Annual Report (

Thank you for reading this edition of MNSC's newsletter, and for your interest in stories

from people across Minnesota!

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