In the interest of transparency and keeping you apprised of changes in our day-to-day operations, I wanted to be sure you knew about several pending and upcoming staff transitions, several of which further goals in our strategic plan, including the following:

1. Jasmine Harrison, our Member Community Coordinator, has transitioned to a new job. Her last day with us was Friday, February 17. We appreciate the professionalism and dedication that Jasmine has brought to her role. 

2. A search for a part-time Office Manager is underway. I hope to have someone on board to fill that position by March 6. That person will help me to ensure that Jasmine’s tasks, like managing the Annual Meeting, remain on track. This new hire will also manage our Salesforce database, which is currently being upgraded by a consultant to better handle member data (e.g., Dues, Learning Circle Details, Annual Meeting) and fundraising efforts.

3. A search for a new Program Manager has closed. This position will replace the Member Community Coordinator and be responsible for Member recruitment and retention, and with our recent move to bring the Grant Program in-house, for management of that program. I’m pleased to inform you that Tashalee Cruz has accepted the position and will start on March 6. I look forward to spotlighting Tashalee in next month’s newsletter.

4. A search for a new Education Manager is also underway. This position is new, funded largely by repurposing funds previously spent on consultants, and the successful incumbent will take over facilitation of the Learning Circles beginning in June. This person will also possess formal training in instructional design and will be charged with repurposing content in the many excellent guides that members have created through the Grant Program (e.g., the Equity Guide) as online training curricula. If you know of a good candidate, please share this job announcement. As we approach this transition, I want to recognize and thank Kate O’Brien and Kasey Armstrong for their professionalism, excellent contributions, and long dedication to the work of the Exchange.

 Kasey wanted me to share this message with you:

Dear members of the Exchange: 
It has been a privilege to learn alongside you these past four years. While my career path is pulling me in new directions, it was not an easy choice to end my time with the Exchange. Seeing the way you all model leadership, vulnerability, and a commitment to learning from and with one another has been deeply inspiring, and I look forward to seeing how the Exchange continues to grow as you collaborate to advance the field of GSI together. You have my deepest respect and appreciation, and I hope our paths will continue to cross moving forward. 
With gratitude,

Thank you for your continued support and cooperation. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to me at or at (410)657-2657 (phone & SMS).

With kind regards, I am

Sincerely yours,
Barbara L. Hopkins, Esq., ASLA
Executive Director

In my continuing quest to understand what makes our special breed of nonprofit tick, I read a new book, Connect>Innovate>Scale Up: How Networks Create Systems Change, over the holidays. In it, Peter Plastrik and colleagues share key insights gleaned from studying the work of dozens of impact networks, including at least one that we all know: the U.S. Water Alliance. Here, I want to share some of those insights and what I think they mean for our work going forward.

1. The Insights

A. Networks are the Way That Social Innovation Happens

Plastrik states boldly at the outset that “[n]etworks are the way that social innovation happens” and, further, that “[t]his is not widely recognized.” (Plastrik, 14). By “network,” Plastrik means “groups of individuals  … seeking to solve a difficult problem in society by working together, adapting over time, and generating a sustained flow of activities and impacts. (Ibid., 12). Here, I think about our members participating in our Peer Learning Circles and our Collaborative Grant Program, finding innovative ways to utilize green stormwater infrastructure to manage stormwater and realize other co-benefits for disadvantaged communities. This is the unique work of the Exchange and the path forward to advancing the GSI field, according to Plastrik.

 B. Systems are Complex and Systems Change is a Long Game

Social systems define the ways that society has arranged how people live and work together, e.g., the policies and practices that determine how stormwater is managed in urban environments. Because they are complex, they can be difficult to understand through reductionist thinking alone. Rather, what is needed is “systems thinking,” understanding and improving dynamic interconnections between the parts of a system and looking for ways to catalyze or leverage them to create change. (Ibid., 56).

Effecting change in this way requires “observation, careful probing, and reflection,” something our Peer Learning Circle members know only too well.  (Ibid., 70). Plastrik notes, “[t]here are no cheap tickets to mastery …. You have to work hard at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of Not Knowing.” (Ibid., 79).

And system change is a long game. “Patience is a necessity …. You may have noticed that most of the networks we’ve described so far have been at it for one or two decades, and even more.” (Ibid., 80).

   C. There are Three Types of Social Innovations, Each with a Unique Pathway to Scale

Plastrik defines three distinct types of social innovations:

  1. Practices: Knowledge about promising or proven new practices and tools and how to apply them;
  2. Policies: New or revised public policies (laws, regulations, investments, programs, services, administrative rules) and government power relationships; and
  3. Products: New goods or services or business models.

“Migration into other scales is not unusual for social innovations, because many of the systems targeted for change are formed from a combination of markets, fields, and governments.” (Ibid., 125)

The takeaway for me, here, is that, right now the Exchange is, and, arguably, should be, focused on using peer learning and the collaborative grant program to develop innovative practices for the GSI field. Migration into policy and product development will likely be necessary and important for the future of our work.

 D. Getting to Scale Requires Understanding a Field and Developing a Roadmap for Influencing the Field Over the Long Term

Plastrik notes that “[i]nnovators should precisely define the field they have targeted for change or emergence, starting with its basic conceptual frameworks and existing practices.” (Ibid., 139). This includes:

  • Defining the boundaries of the field and where it intersects with other fields;
  • Identifying the field’s main players and the ideas they champion;
  • Understanding the extent of diversity and inclusion within the field; and
  • Gaining awareness of innovations that are under development in the field. (Ibid., 140).

With such a framework in place, innovators are then able to develop roadmaps for how they will influence the field over the long term.

Here, I think about the work of the Exchange to define equity and the state of equity practice in GSI. I also think about development of our Playbook and its potential to help guide the work of the Peer Learning Circles and the Collaborative Grant Program going forward. As Plastrik notes:

[i]nnovations tend to spread through a field through frameworks, and learning communities. The frameworks establish new concepts and make visible the examples of new practices. They provide ideas and language that practitioners can use and share. This enables learning communities of practitioners to develop or apply innovations for their various contexts. (Ibid.).

E. Effective Scaling Requires a Diversity of Resources and Relationships

While philanthropy can play a role in helping networks bring innovations to scale, it should not be the sole supporter. Rather it is important to diversify the resource base to include earned income and support from government. (Ibid., 153).

In a similar vein, one sector cannot bring an innovation to scale by itself. Rather cross-sector engagement is required. Plastrik notes that “[s]ocial innovators … should build relationships in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors and support leaders and staff in developing ‘cross-sector fluency’ so they can serve as ‘bridgers’ who knit together systems and collaborations.” (Ibid.).

 F. Networks May Perform Eight Other Functions to Support Their Primary Work of Innovation Development

Plastrik outlines eight functions beyond innovation that networks undertake to support their growth and development, including (1) capital investment; (2) celebrations (think the “One Water Prize”); (3) consulting / technical assistance; (4) leadership development; (5) measurement development; (6) movement building; (7) narrative shifting; (8) research. (Ibid., 160-164).  In its theory of change (shown below), the Exchange has focused on two of these: leadership development (e.g., the ongoing Adaptive Leadership Program) and research, aka “evidence building” (e.g., the ongoing “State of Public Sector GSI Report”).

G. The Mix of Functions is Driven by a Governance Structure That is Reflective of the Cross-Sector Relationships Necessary for Scaling

Plastrik notes:

An innovation network’s leaders establish its mix of functions. This leadership is usually comprised of a blend of some staff and members, advisors, outside experts, investors, and partner organizations. The leaders serve as a strategic hub for the system-changing effort. They consult with network members and resonate to their views, interests, and feedback. (Ibid., 167).

  1. What This Means for the Work of the Exchange

My thoughts about what Plastrik’s insights mean for the work of the Exchange going forward are summarized in the diagram below and the bullets that follow. In short, we must double-down on Peer Learning, the Collaborative Grant Program, and the Playbook:

  • Supporting and Connecting Peer Learning and the Collaborative Grant Program: While the Leadership and Research pillars of our Theory of Change, shown above, are important to our work, they are secondary to the implementation pillar, wherein the work of innovation resides in our Peer Learning and Collaborative Grant Programs. We must ensure that those programs are well-supported and -connected. Another important activity is ensuring that learning from the Peer Learning Circles is shared more systematically and with a wider audience.
  • Developing the Playbook: Because of its importance in providing better understanding of a complex system that will ultimately lead to an approach-informing framework for both Peer Learning and the Grant Program, development of the Playbook is one of the most important things the Exchange can do to advance its work right now. Members may recall that Greenprint Partners has been hired to develop a scope of work for this project, which will involve interviews with members this spring and a session at the Annual Meeting.
  • Diversifying the Resource Base: The Exchange must diversify its resource base so that we are less reliant on philanthropy for financial support of our work. Members may recall that this is a priority in our current strategic plan and a primary reason for developing a new sponsorship program for which solicitation of member-nominated prospects is currently underway. A new source of earned revenue may come from repurposing content in publications like the Equity Guide for use in online training modules that can be offered to nonmembers for a fee.
  • Engaging Cross-Sector Partners: The Exchange must also broaden the circle when it comes to cross-sector partners who are actively involved in our work. Developing the Playbook and implementing a Sponsorship Program will help to identify these partners.

I welcome your thoughts about these ideas, so please leave a comment or reach out to me at or at 410-657-2657 (voice and text).

Author Alan Lakein once described planning as “bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” With the support of The Kresge Foundation and our members, the Exchange did just that in 2022, completing a new strategic assessment and theory of change and, most recently, developing strategic priorities that will guide its work for the next two years.

The plan’s basic framework is shown below:

The framework contemplates that for communities to have thriving water systems that support the triple bottom line (vision), the agencies behind that work must implement green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) equitably (mission). The Exchange’s role in helping agencies achieve that impact (theory of change) is threefold: (1) to help build the leadership skills of agency leaders; (2) to support the implementation of GSI; and (3) to build evidence for supportive policies and funding. The work that furthers this role is borne out in strategic priorities like (1) refinement of the adaptive leadership training, peer learning, and collaborative grant programs, (2) completion of a State of the Field Survey that will provide the first, national baseline of GSI implementation in the United States, (3) development of a 101-level training for GSI-beginner local governments; and (4) development of an approach-informing framework (aka “the Playbook”) to guide programming and creation of a policy strategy.

Other strategic priorities target key challenges to being able to deliver on the mission. Among them are: (1) enhancements to internal technology, marketing & communications, and membership management that will improve efficiency, effectiveness, and diversity; and (2) the pursuit of new revenue streams to diversify the resource base.  The plan is summarized in this one-pager. Highlights of major strategies are as follows:

  • Adaptive Leadership Program Refinement (Leadership Pillar): With the support of Spring Point Partners, 48 members are currently participating in an eight-month adaptive leadership program to develop the competencies and practices necessary to work effectively with colleagues and community partners to lead transformative change. This program is aligned with the USWA One Water Change Leadership Capacities, and places a strong emphasis on building stakeholder engagement capacity, developing a co-benefits approach to collaboration, and implementing GSI more equitably and affordably. The plan contemplates a rigorous evaluation and refinement of the program so that it can be offered to new cohorts, including GSI-beginner communities.
  • Completion of the State of the Field Report (Evidence Pillar): With the support of the Pisces and JPB Foundations, the Exchange is developing a report that illuminates trends about how much GSI is being built, how and where it’s being developed, what’s working, and what recommendations will yield the most successful paths to scale in coming years. A first step in this effort is a survey of local public sector stormwater management organizations in the U.S. about their GSI work. Fifty-two organizations completed the survey in fall 2022 and analysis of the results is underway. Those results will be released in a report highlighting best practices, recommendations, and proposed next steps targeting the “ecosystem of influence,” i.e., local public sector implementers, national and regional catalysts, and local community leaders.
  • Development of a GSI “Playbook” and Community Engagement Curriculum (Implementation Pillar): The State of the Field Report is a great first start at scaling, given its focus on what is being produced, at what cost, where, and to what end. But that is not the end of the story. To be effective at scaling, we also need to understand “HOW” to implement GSI well, i.e., what is the “Playbook” that successful agencies follow in implementing GSI equitably and affordably. With support from Spring Point Partners, the Exchange will develop a scope of work for this project by May of 2023, then seek funding to engage a consultant to work with Peer Learning Circle members to develop this approach-informing framework.  The Exchange will also seek funding to repurpose material in the recently released Equity Guide to develop a community engagement curriculum that can be delivered in multiple formats to both Exchange members and nonmembers. Among the seven equity goals discussed in the Guide, effective community engagement was deemed central to achieving equity outccomes.

The Exchange is grateful to its Strategic Planning and Policy Committee (SPPC), including Dean Alonistiotis (Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago), Stephanie Chiorean (City of Philadelphia), Katherine England (City of Boston), Heidi Horlacher (City of Vancouver), Torrey Lindbo (Co-chair, City of Gresham, OR), Beatrice Ohene-Okae (Washington, D.C. Dept. of Energy & Environment), Carrie Rivette (Co-chair, City of Grand Rapids, MI), Lisa Sasso (Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District), Andy Szatko (City of Omaha), and Miki Urisaka (City of New York), for their incredible commitment to serving as the Exchange’s member leaders and for their role in developing the plan. The Exchange also wishes to acknowledge Kasey Armstrong (Loam Consulting), Jasmine Harrison (GI Exchange), Rose Jordan (Greenprint Partners), Kate O’Brien (Catalyst Collaboratives), and Susanna Sutherland (Sutherland and Associates), who volunteered their time to comment on elements of the plan.  You can review the plan in its entirety here.

Two international teams, and a third representing various agencies, a parks board, and a university in Vancouver, BC, were awarded $160,000 in grant funding collectively recently through the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange’s Collaborative Grant Program. The funds will be used to pursue various projects that will help to plan, design, implement, and/or maintain green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) projects in the U.S. and Canada. Such projects involve using plants and soil to slow and/or retain runoff generated from rainfall. They can produce other important benefits, like improving air and water quality and enhancing local ecosystems and human health.

The grant program, now in its sixth round, benefits from the generosity of the Kresge Foundation, Spring Point Partners, and the Summit Foundation. And, as we shall see, the proposals each hold promise to achieve goals important to the work of the Exchange above and beyond the specific products that each team is charged with developing.

  1. Collaboration Across Vast Distances and International Borders

Two of the three projects represent collaborations that span vast distances and international borders. Collaboration is important to the Exchange because of the desire to produce and implement solutions that are scalable. A recent study of re-granting programs underscores the importance of this outcome, noting that a common theme is that “once one community adopts a process, it provides proof of concept, making it easier for other communities to follow suit.” (S. Sutherland. & E. Holliday. Funding Local Climate Action Through Collaboratives: Lessons from Grantmaking to Communities. (2/23/2022) (Available at: As we shall see, our recent awardees’ projects hold promise for creating scale across the U.S. and Canada.

     A. Green Infrastructure Municipal Benchmarking Initiative

Led by the City of Vancouver, with partners from Portland, New York City, Toronto and Seattle, this project seeks to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) for assessing and reporting on the performance, maintenance, and renewal of Green Rainwater Infrastructure (GRI) assets. These indicators are important to the participating agencies because they “measure their progress in meeting their service goals that their customers expect in a reliable, sustainable, affordable and equitable manner,” according to project lead Shekar Sharma, a Vancouver green infrastructure engineer. They will also help agencies prioritize tasks that matter most and improve their performance because, according to Sharma, “what gets measured gets done.” Highlighting the importance of the project to improving equity, Emily Morrissy, a professional engineer from Portland, noted that “we’re dedicated to making our organization’s approach to asset management more equitable and focused on generating equitable outcomes for the communities we serve.” Each of the partners has been active in the Exchange’s Asset Management Peer Learning Circle, a major factor in their coming together on this project, according to Sharma.

     B. Climate Resilience Resources Guide Part 2: Decision Process Framework for GSI-Resilience Integration

Led by Reid Bogert, Senior Stormwater Program Specialist at the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo, this project includes partners from Portland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Toronto. It builds on a guide developed with funding in the 2021 round, now available on the Exchange website, which proposes new resources and considerations for the design, implementation, and maintenance of GSI in light of threats posed by climate change to the continued viability of these projects.

Part 2 will take this work a step further by providing practical tools that will help agencies accommodate climate change impacts as they plan, design, maintain, and implement GSI.  Specific deliverables include, but are not limited to, guidance on setting climate resilience goals that incorporate considerations around community benefits and equity and an evaluation framework for prioritizing GSI projects. Each of the partners has been active in the Exchange’s Planning and Resilience Peer Learning Circle, which drove their desire to collaborate.

  1. Breaking Down Agency Silos

It is well-known that agency silos can be a formidable barrier to the implementation of effective GSI programs and that partnering across governance levels, sectors and disciplines can accelerate impact. As we shall see, breaking down silos and taking advantage of cross-departmental collaboration was an important consideration for the Green Infrastructure Maintenance and Stewardship Micro-grants Project, the third proposal funded this year.

Led by Julie McManus, a planner with the City of Vancouver, the project also involves that city’s Parks Board, Green Streets Program, Sewer and Drainage Design Branch, and Solid Waste Program, along with representatives from the University of British Columbia. This project seeks to develop a framework for distributing micro-grants to nonprofits and community groups in order to address the City’s GSI maintenance and stewardship gaps. The framework will leverage the expertise and ideas of groups who are already working with the agencies and integrated into and understanding of the needs of local communities. The thought is that a micro-grant program can be developed to employ these groups to help with tasks such as invasive pulls, litter clean-ups, landscape maintenance, plantings, and citizen science city-wide. By collaborating across agencies, the partners believe they can do more with their current budgets, maximizing benefits, while minimizing duplication.

The Collaborative Grant Program is just one of the many benefits available to Exchange Members. For more information on becoming a member, please visit our website or contact Jasmine Harrison at


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