Strategic Relationships and Systems Building
Developing relationships is a key aspect of systems building. State leaders have a critical responsibility to determine, develop, and sustain necessary strategic relationships as part of achieving intended systems reform, including explicit consideration of racial equity in decisions for policies, practices, programs, and budgets. Strategic relationships fuel the design, implementation, and improvement of an early childhood and school-age system.
There can be no system without the human actors who inhabit it and take the actions that bring it to life. Put differently, how the system works arises from how we work; how people think and act together shapes how the system works as a whole. Diversifying your network of relationships is essential to being strategic in what system you are building and for whom. It is a skill that benefits your collective efforts. Groups that are inclusive of individuals who reflect the community at large or the population served by a particular program are high-value assets because they can leverage diverse experiences and expertise to better identify who will benefit from or be burdened by your systems-building decisions.
Underlying all systems building efforts is the most pivotal systems building concept—building and sustaining strong, trusting relationships.
The term “strategic relationship” is defined as an “agreement between two or more entities to conduct specified activities or processes to achieve specified objectives." More than that, strategic relationships are an important part of our development and how we learn about others as much as they are about getting something done together. Strategic relationships are about being resourceful for others while also asking for things that you need. This allows you to create connections with people at multiple levels. For example, this can mean having a strategic thought partner with whom you think out loud—confidentially—about early childhood policy, implementation, or equity and focus on strategic guidance and tactical advice. Once you build a relationship, it becomes an “existing relationship.” Like all relationships, it needs specific sustenance to be strategic.
 Nelson, J., & Brooks, L. (2017). Racial equity tool kit: An opportunity to operationalize equity. Government Alliance on Race and Equity. https://www.racialequityalliance.org/resources/racial-equity-toolkit-opportunity-operationalize-equity/
 Senge, P., Scharmer, C.O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B.S. (2004). Presence: An exploration of profound change in people, organizations, and society. Doubleday.
 Senge, P., Smith, B., Kruschwitz, N., Laur, J., & Schley, S. (2010). The necessary revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world, p. 169. Crown Publishing Group.
 Lead Generation World. (2019, September 4). Building strategic relationships for success, para. 3. https://leadgenerationworld.com/building-strategic-relationships-for-success/
 Dayton, A. (May 11, 2011).3 powerful ways to nourish relationships to help business boom. https://adriandayton.com/2011/05/3-powerful-ways-to-nourish-relationships-to-help-business-boom/