The conceptual model has a number of pragmatic implications for community coalitions, evaluators, and funders. The conceptual model can 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. Additionally, community coalitions may strategically invest time and resources into developing the characteristics and capacities that facilitate sustainability, including strong leadership, diverse membership, and commitment to the coalition’s goals, among others. The model may also be used by community coalitions that are interested in engaging in actions that will facilitate sustainability post initial funding (e.g., institutionalizing program services in the community, identifying new funding sources, developing a sustainability plan).
In addition to community coalitions, the model has implications for researchers and practitioners who evaluate the sustainability of coalitions. First, the model provides a concrete definition of sustainability that can be used in subsequent evaluations of community coalitions. To be considered sustained, coalitions must have an alliance of three or more organizations that are addressing one or more of the original goals of the coalition. Second, the model incorporates different levels of sustainability, enabling evaluators to study coalitions that have been partially sustained or expanded. Third, the model emphasizes the importance of defining appropriate evaluation questions. Is the evaluator interested in the sustainability of the coalition or in the sustainability of its activities and impacts? The conceptual model presented in this literature review can be used to assess the former and the latter. Fourth, the model enables evaluators 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).
Finally, the conceptual model provides a method for evaluators to assess why some community coalitions have not been sustained over time. Specifically, evaluators can use the model to distinguish between coalitions that tried, but were unable to sustain themselves due to organizational and funding barriers, and those that have not been sustained because they have fulfilled their mission, moved on to other pressing priorities, or were no longer needed in the community. This is a particularly important implication because some community coalitions have succeeded in their communities, even though they have not been sustained.
The conceptual model also has implications for funders of community coalitions. The federal government and foundations continue to invest in community coalitions to improve outcomes at the local level. When providing initial program funding for community coalitions or programs, funders must consider whether they expect them to continue post-grant. The conceptual model can help project officers think about the efficient use of their resources in achieving program objectives. Is success defined in terms of the sustainability of the coalition or its activities and impacts? Funders that are focused on the sustainability of the community coalition may choose to fund coalitions that have a solid plan for securing future resources for operational costs (e.g., meetings). In contrast, funders that are interested in the sustainability of the coalition’s activities and impacts may want to fund coalitions that have plans for institutionalizing their activities in other organizations at the end of the project.
Finally, the conceptual model may also help funders to provide specific requirements for sustainability in requests for proposals, highlighting sustainability as an important concern. Furthermore, the conceptual model can be used by funders to provide direction to coalitions, and possibly to offer technical assistance when needed.