Literature Review: Developing a Conceptual Framework to Assess the Sustainability of Community Coalitions Post-Federal Funding. 1. Enabling Characteristics of the Community Coalitions


The enabling characteristics of the community coalitions are those defining features that affect whether they will be sustained over time. While there are a number of characteristics that may affect sustainability, this conceptual model includes strength of leadership, diversity of membership, structure, vision-focus balance, strategic planning, resource stability and diversity, and evaluation.  These characteristics were selected because they were identified in the literature as important facilitators of coalition effectiveness and/or sustainability. Additionally, the framework includes an “other” category in order to represent the array of additional characteristics that may affect sustainability.

  1. Strength of Leadership. Leadership in the community coalition refers to the lead or convening organization, the member organizations, or the individual leaders from the member organizations. The strength of leadership reflects the leadership’s success in the following areas:

    • Connection to the community prior to working on the coalition’s activities
    • Expertise in the health and social issues that the coalition is addressing
    • Ability to foster active involvement of other key stakeholders (e.g., board members, leaders of membership organizations, community organizers)
    • Ability to negotiate, facilitate groups, network, and foster relationships with community stakeholders
    • Ability to communicate a clear mission and vision for the coalition 

    Research suggests that the strength of leadership within the coalition is an important facilitator of sustainability. The literature demonstrates that successful coalition leaders are able to foster the involvement of coalition members, build relationships between the coalition and other organizations, and develop an important network of constituents that can facilitate the work of the coalition. A charismatic leader or highly motivated project manager may also be critical to moving the coalition through difficult times.

  2. Diversity of Membership. Diversity of membership refers to the different types of sectors and organizations represented in the coalition. Sectors include health, public health, substance abuse and mental health, education, social services, and faith organizations, among others. Health organizations may include academic medical centers, oral health providers, pharmacies, and school-based health centers. Public health organizations may include state public health departments, primary care associations, and area health education centers. Substance abuse and mental health organizations may include providers and programs. Education organizations may include universities and colleges, policy centers, and student organizations. Social services organizations may include child care providers, food aid programs, and juvenile justice programs. Faith organizations may include churches, synagogues, and mosques. Other organizations may include consumer advocacy groups, philanthropic organizations, businesses, and elected officials.  Membership diversity can affect whether the community coalition is sustained in the long-term.

  3. Structure. Structure refers to the administrative rules in place that facilitate the management of the coalition. Specifically, structure includes the governance of the coalition (e.g., the presence of a lead or convening agency, the presence of a governing body such as a board or committee) as well as the operations and processes that facilitate collaboration (e.g., memoranda of understanding, inter-agency agreements, regular meetings, committees). Structure also refers to the membership’s documented policies for decision-making and conflict resolution processes. Given that one of the defining features of community coalitions is collaboration among member organizations, the presence or absence of these structures affects sustainability.

  4. Vision-Focus Balance. The vision-focus balance is the extent to which the membership agrees on the long-term goals of the coalition (vision) and is committed to pursuing activities (focus) that will move the coalition toward this vision. The vision-focus balance affects sustainability in the long-term because it reflects the commitment of the membership to achieve the goals of the coalition.

  5. Strategic Planning. Strategic planning is the continuous assessment of the coalition’s goals, activities, priorities, and plans for the future. Research suggests that planning for the future of the coalition is a facilitator of sustainability; therefore, the extent to which the coalition is engaged in strategic planning will be an important factor.

  6. Resource Stability and Diversity. Resource stability refers to the extent to which the coalition’s funding stream changes from year to year (i.e., increases, decreases, or stays the same). Resource diversity reflects the different types of resources that support a community coalition. Resources can include financial and in-kind contributions (e.g., facilities, equipment and supplies, volunteer time). Community coalitions may receive resources from government agencies, foundations, businesses, academic institutions, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and other organizations such as the United Way. Resource stability and diversity are important facilitators of sustainability because programs that have stable funding streams from a variety of different sources are more likely to survive.

  7. Evaluation. Evaluations can be used to demonstrate the importance of the coalition to the community and future funders, improve the coalition’s activities, and identify the coalition’s challenges.  The extent to which coalitions have engaged in evaluation activities (e.g., empowerment evaluation, program monitoring, quantitative and qualitative methods) may affect their sustainability.

  8. Other. There are a number of other characteristics that may affect sustainability in community coalitions. For example, coalitions that include organizations with a history of collaboration are more likely to survive post-funding because the organizations often have proven methods for collaboration. Additionally, coalitions that have community buy-in are more likely to continue because community residents are willing to contribute time and resources to supporting the activities.

Exhibit 5.3:     A Conceptual Framework for the Assessment of Community Coalition Sustainability

Exhibit 5.3: A Conceptual Framework for the Assessment of Community Coalition Sustainability.

Exhibit 5.3 This exhibit shows the framework for assessing the sustainability of community coalitions. It depicts the relationships between sustainability enabling characteristics, actions, intermediate outcomes, and long-term outcomes. Each of these elements is discussed in detail in the following text.

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