In 2019, the Continuum of Care adopted the Implementation Structure (IS), formerly known as the Action Agenda, to enact the strategic vision of the CoC. Review the full 2021 CoC Implementation Structure Guide.
The IS fosters collaboration and communication while allowing the community to engage in targeted decision-making. It spurs action, innovation, and implementation, making the continuum more responsive than a long-term strategic plan. The IS supports regular review of data to track progress toward preventing and ending homelessness and responding to the community’s immediate needs. Affinity Groups are one of the key components of the 2021 CoC Implementation Structure, along with People with Lived Experience, Lead Agencies, and Lines of Action.
Affinity Groups typically form around shared concern for a specific population, around organizations doing similar work, or around connections with other systems. Affinity Groups work together to address shared needs and concerns within the CoC and help identify burgeoning needs in the community. Their work may include:
- Addressing priority areas or engaging stakeholders;
- Piloting system refinements; and/or
- Identifying shared questions or concerns to raise within the CoC, highlighting the need for population specific housing models or supportive services.
Affinity Groups work in partnership with the CoC to accomplish the system goals of preventing and ending homelessness in Chicago. They are staffed by community members or stakeholders. Each Affinity Group has a designated All Chicago staff liaison to answer questions and ensuring the groups visibility within and across the CoC IS. Affinity Groups may also have regular meetings with the IS lead project managers. While the All Chicago liaison consistently participates in Affinity Group meetings, they do not coordinate or run the groups.
Affinity Groups establish the structures and norms for decision-making processes and membership responsibilities to support the group’s work. The CoC IS Lead Project Managers will hold strategy sessions twice a year that invite Affinity Group leaders, Lead Agency Project Managers, and LOA Project Managers to discuss progress toward system goals and upcoming opportunities. These biennial meetings will assess current Lines of Actions, workplans, and transitions for LOAs and Affinity Groups.
Affinity Groups are not staffed by All Chicago, allowing community members to coordinate all aspects of the group. All Chicago can list affinity group meetings on the CoC Events Calendar and distribute communications through the CoC Newsletter. Affinity Group leads are encouraged to use the CoC Slack channels to share information.
Why form an Affinity Group?
- Affinity Groups allow you to voice concerns about specific issues you are passionate about, and can help shape the work of the entire system.
- Affinity Groups can give groups purpose and connect back to a larger, collective strategy.
- Affinity Groups are invited to send members to CoC IS Strategy Sessions that allow the entire community to reflect on accomplishments and set goals and strategies for the future.
- Other tenets of the CoC IS (LOAs, workgroups, and leadership teams) will pull from Affinity Groups for representation.
Affinity Group Accountability
Affinity Groups are broadly accountable to the CoC and the CoC Implementation Structure and should focus on actions that contribute to the system-level work of the entire CoC, not just the interests of the group. No single entity is designed to hold Affinity Groups accountable, but CoC IS Lead Project Managers and anyone in the CoC IS can raise the issue of accountability to the CoC Executive Committee if needed.
Affinity Group Criteria
To be considered part of the CoC Implementation Structure, Affinity Groups must register with the CoC Lead Agency (All Chicago). Affinity Groups should appoint one person to register the group. To be invited to the biennial strategy sessions, CoC Affinity Groups must be registered and held at least one meeting in the month prior to the session. Affinity Groups must:
- Have designated lead(s) of the group that serves as the primary Point of Contact for other CoC members looking to join;
- Accept CoC members (Affinity Groups may stipulate guidelines for membership);
- Have an establish purpose or goals with activities that are clearly tied to the CoC System Goals;
- And convene at east every other month.
Affinity Group Registration
Affinity Groups Registration and approval is reviewed and approved as part of the CoC IS by the CoC Implementation Structure Lead Project Managers and CoC Board Chair. If additional guidance is needed about the Affinity Group joining the CoC IS, the request will be brought to the Executive Committee of the Board. If needed, Affinity Group candidates can request to meet directly with the Executive Committee. Interested parties should apply through the online survey.
Distinguishing between Affinity Groups and Lines of Action
A specific topic is not definitionally an Affinity Group or LOA. Topics can influence all aspects of the CoC to correspond to the urgency and priority of the issue. LOAs help the community enact large-scale system change and require substantial community input and collaboration to succeed. LOAs may develop out of the work of an Affinity Group or may transition to become the work of an Affinity Group for subsequent maintenance.