While there is no standard approach for defining and conceptualizing sustainability, the range of definitions and conceptual models reveal that the emphasis can either be placed on the continuation of the community coalition or on the coalition’s activities and impacts. Findings from this literature review demonstrate that funders of community coalitions and those who lead them must determine if the ultimate goal is to maintain a formal alliance of organizations that increases the community’s capacity to address problems, or, to develop and institutionalize programs and activities within the existing system. This literature review adapted components of existing conceptual frameworks to develop a conceptual model that provides a framework for assessing the sustainability of community coalitions in terms of their structure and their intended impacts. The conceptual model will be used to explore and document the extent to which the CAP/HCAP community coalitions have been able to sustain themselves and continue to impact their communities after their federal CAP/HCAP funding ended.
The conceptual model developed in this literature review has a number of useful elements for community coalitions, evaluators, and funders. It will be useful to community coalitions that are interested in planning for sustainability. Coalitions may adapt and repurpose the model to reflect their program goals and activities, as well as their vision for sustainability. Evaluators may use the model to test hypotheses about the effects of coalition characteristics and capacities on intermediate and long-term outcomes (e.g., coalitions with a diverse membership are more likely to achieve health and social outcomes than other coalitions). The conceptual model also provides a method for evaluators to assess why some community coalitions have not been sustained over time. Finally, the conceptual model can help funders of community coalitions and programs think about the efficient use of their resources in achieving their objectives, and about how they measure success (e.g., the sustainability of the coalition, or its activities and impacts).
The literature review and conceptual model have broader implications for policy. Policymakers may use the findings from this study to develop standards for sustainability planning across programs and projects, to set realistic and measurable expectations of sustainability post-funding, and to consider whether there is a role for the federal government in sustaining community coalitions.
Additional research on community coalitions is necessary to identify best practices in funding that would encourage sustainability. Research should also explore the combinations of coalition factors across models to better understand the characteristics, capacities, and conditions that foster community coalition sustainability.