Based on the findings from the literature, a conceptual framework of sustainability in community coalitions was developed to guide the ASPE assessment of sustainability using the experiences of the community coalitions funded by CAP/HCAP. Given the two perspectives in the literature emphasizing the sustainability of the coalition or the sustainability of its activities and impacts, the conceptual model defines a sustained community coalition as an alliance of three or more organizations that is addressing one or more of the original goals of the coalition. The original goals of the community coalitions are those that were being addressed when the coalition was initially federally funded. In order to address their original goals, coalitions may conduct a variety of activities that change over time. Through this conceptual framework, it will be possible to assess the sustainability of the coalition itself independently from the sustainability of the coalition’s activities.
Of the coalitions that have been sustained, some are fully sustained while others are partially sustained. Some coalitions may have been expanded. Post initial federal funding, some community coalitions will not be sustained—either because they have dissolved due to a lack of resources, conflicts, or other reasons; actively disbanded because they have achieved their original goal(s); and/or they were no longer needed in the community. The conceptual model incorporates these tenets into a framework for assessing sustainability.
In the framework, there are a number of enabling characteristics that affect whether a coalition will be sustained over time: effective leadership, diversity of membership, structure, vision-focus balance, resource stability and diversity, and evaluation. These characteristics were selected because they were identified in the literature as facilitators of coalition effectiveness and/or sustainability. The enabling characteristics impact the extent to which the coalition continues to address its original goals, which range from delivering programs or services to conducting systems change and policy advocacy activities, among others.
In addition to enabling characteristics, the framework also includes the coalition’s sustainability actions. Given that the coalition’s initial funding has ended, it may engage in a number of actions in order to sustain itself—from creating a sustainability plan to identifying homes for programs and services. The intermediate outcomes in this model are the sustainability of the coalition, the sustainability of the coalition’s activities, and in some cases, the expansion of the coalition.
The coalition may have long-term outcomes regardless whether the coalition itself has been sustained. The impacts are the cumulative effects of these outcomes in the community. For the purposes of this assessment, there are impacts at the individual level (i.e., changes in health or behavior), systems level (i.e., changes in infrastructure or capacity in the community), or policy level (i.e., changes in local, state, and federal policies). Contextual factors such as the political environment can also affect the sustainability of the community coalition and its ability to create these outcomes.