The Nexus is founded on collaboration.
The Nexus is a collaborative project made up of many different stakeholders in the workforce development, education, and business communities within Cook County. Some key Nexus members include the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development, Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance (CWFA), and Origami Works Foundation. The Nexus is hosted by Forefront.
The origins of the Nexus are rooted in two unique initiatives.
Chicagoland CareerPathways: Developed in partnership between Origami Works Foundation and CWFA, particularly CWFA’s Pro Path Fund, as a free and open online directory of career training opportunities outside of or in addition to the four-year degree experience. This directory is specific to Cook County and intended for use by young adults, adult career-seekers, and their guides.
Talent Solutions Connector: Developed in partnership between the Network for Employer-Led Workforce Solutions, CWFA, and Origami Works Foundation. Talent Solutions Connector is a free and open online directory of low- and no-cost workforce services which can help employers recruit, retain, and upskill employees; connect with like-minded employers; and improve their DEI practices. This directory is specific to Cook County and intended for use by employers.
Both of these platforms are collectively owned with strong, multifaceted, engaged Advisory Committees directing the conception, design, language, goals, partnerships, and future of each project. When it came time for these platforms to find a long-term home, their overlapping partnerships and shared collaborative ethos formed the foundation for what would become The Innovation Nexus.
The Nexus has evolved not only to continue the impact of CareerPathways and Talent Solutions Connector, but to create space for future collaborations to be envisioned, created, and sustained with the goal of collectively moving Cook County towards an equitable economic future.
OUR GUIDING PRINCIPLES
Our work is guided by our values.
I. Collective ownership
All Nexus projects are led and owned by its members, which include any interested stakeholders in our shared ecosystem committed to economic equity and collaboration towards an equitable future.
While Nexus staff build and maintain these projects on a day-to-day basis, the products of this continuous work flow directly from Nexus members’ expressed needs, challenges, and expertise. As a result, Nexus members are the primary and collective owners of these products, rather than any particular organization.
II. Multi-faceted expertise
We consider all workforce-, education-, and business-related expertise vital to the success of our projects, and know that this expertise can come from academic, career, or personal experiences.
Nexus members can include workforce program providers, students, educational institutions, employers, philanthropic funders, training program participants, technology experts, governments, researchers, and many others.
III. Agile, flexible development
Our small staff, tech experience, and agile-inspired development approach empowers us to respond quickly and flexibly to the evolving needs and concerns of our members. This also enables our projects to more rapidly scale to serve our members’ needs, and creates space for user-centered design processes.
Nexus projects are created not as one-time tools, but as long-term investments in the future of Cook County’s economy that can grow and evolve alongside the ecosystem.
Our project planning keeps the long-term health of Nexus projects and the Cook County economy at its core. Project sustainability is bolstered by Nexus staff filling capacity gaps in shared system development and avoiding strain on the existing ecosystem. Additionally, members can leverage the collective expertise and projects of the Nexus to support their individual organizations’ and shared Nexus goals.
Nexus projects move through six phases of thoughtful, member-driven development.
Discovering the idea
Nexus concepts can come from many different sources. Often, organizations that we work closely with will share with us frustrations, challenges, or gaps that they’re seeing in their work. They might also offer up a possible solution for us to pursue, or we might approach other close advisors to brainstorm a solution if we see that the challenge is widespread and addressable.
Assembling the advisors
Our projects are as effective and well-informed as the experts that surround them. Before we create anything, we approach organizations and individuals who have expertise in the central challenge to advise our work at every step, from research to launch.
Gathering the data
There are many different data points that go into our foundational research. We might conduct surveys of target demographics, invest in a landscape scan, or dig into existing literature on the issue, just to name a few methods. This helps us get a fuller picture of the space we’re entering, including what’s worked before (and what hasn’t).
Defining the goal
Informed by the data, Nexus advisors brainstorm what a potential solution can look like, what the difficulties in creating this solution might be, and how we can create something that works for all connected stakeholders. This brainstorming establishes the goal for the initial round of development.
Creating the product
With this goal in mind, Nexus staff leverage their tech and project management experience alongside expert contractors to create a clear roadmap for product development. Nexus staff loop between facilitating feedback and brainstorming with advisors, and implementing that feedback in the creation of the product, until it reaches its established goal and is ready for launch.
Continuing the work
Once the product is launched, the Nexus treats it as a living project. This means that the Nexus team meets quarterly with the relevant Project Advisory Committee to evaluate the product’s current success, identify potential spaces for improvement, and ensure that the platform continues to align with the current needs and challenges of its stakeholders.
Example: NEWS knows that there are plenty of great workforce services in Cook County, but finds it difficult to share these resources without a central database.
Example: An advisory group is assembled of employers, workforce service providers, and foundations who are invested in sharing workforce services with the business community.
Example: Employers with varying histories with workforce services are approached for a sampling of feedback on their experiences. Platforms that have attempted similar goals from different angles are evaluated for effectiveness.
Example: We should have a living directory of workforce services, which is routinely updated and expanded, for employers to access easily and without cost.
Example: Talent Solutions Connector is created over many months and officially launched for public use in November 2021.
Example: Talent Solutions Connector is regularly evaluated for accuracy, usability, and marketability and adjusted to remain accessible and helpful to employers.