STEMx is pleased to introduce its Sustainability Compass. Co-developed with Education First and Battelle, this online tool is designed to help state STEM networks understand if they are on a path to sustainability. A compass is an essential tool in wilderness survival. And anyone who has been in the wilderness of designing, building and launching a state-level STEM network – at any level – knows firsthand the necessity of constant planning, problem solving and strategy development. Moreover, short- and long-term successes of state-level STEM networks are not simple equations. Both require the convergence of a complex set of variables and a clear direction toward true north.

The goal of the Sustainability Compass is simple: to help state STEM networks – including their leaders, staff, partners and stakeholders –  take stock of their current network position and build strength and viability to the point of long-term success based on the following definition of sustainability:

The interaction and integration of partners, resources, funding and overall initiative strength that enables a network to accomplish goals, build momentum and establish a long-term position in the field or marketplace. 

The Sustainability Compass is anchored in some of the best research available for organizing, planning and sustaining networks. It begins by discussing the foundation piece of organizing through collective action (Section A). It then examines planning (Section B) and sustainability (Section C). After using the Compass, state STEM network leaders, staff, partners and stakeholders should be well positioned to pinpoint strengths and challenges of their networks and consider and prioritize next-steps for building impact over time.

Finally, STEMx wants the Compass to be as helpful as possible to state STEM networks. We invite users to provide feedback on the Compass’s utility, identify critical concepts that might be missing and suggest additional research that might strengthen the overall experience.

Using the Compass

STEP 1: SECTIONS A, B AND C: Gather your bearings

The first step to using the Compass is learning about its features. The Compass begins each section by helping users “Gather Your Bearings.” These segments provide a brief overview of the concepts relevant to that section. Here Compass users can access supplemental materials and information on featured concepts in two ways: by clicking hyperlinks within the overview text and embedded within “Confirm Current Position” questions or by reading “Gather Your Bearings” segments contained on three Web pages:

STEP 2: Identify Current Position

After Compass users gather their bearings, they should work through each of the questions in the Compass to identify where their state STEM network is currently positioned along a continuum from “Pre-Emerging” to “Exemplary.” State-specific examples are offered as a guide to assist users in determining levels. Network staff, partners and stakeholders should complete these questions.

STEP 3: Confirm Current Position

Upon completion of the questions for each section, Compass users should complete five reflection questions. These questions are designed to confirm the current position of your state STEM network. Networks should consider if network staff responses align with network stakeholder and partner responses. This can help ensure that all stakeholders agree on the network’s current position and are moving collectively toward the destination. Users will have a chance to view a summary of their responses and assess network progress as a whole.

STEP 4: Determine Destination

Once each section is complete, Compass users should prioritize actions within their state network’s unique context and circumstances. State network partners may find it useful to return to the Compass in six to twelve months to gauge forward momentum – or backtracking – in their efforts to move toward sustainable outcomes and a strong, ongoing network organization. A destination is reached by focusing on points in the distance.

STEP 5: SHARE Destination

Once a state network has mapped its destination of sustainability, focusing on points in the distance – leaders and staff should share findings with STEMx or other state STEM network colleagues to seek specific support and assistance with collective action, planning and sustainability.