Literature Review: Developing a Conceptual Framework to Assess the Sustainability of Community Coalitions Post-Federal Funding. D. Areas for Future Research

01/07/2011

Researchers question whether community coalitions should be continued in the long-term and whether long-term sustainability is the appropriate goal of any grant-funded program. The literature review and conceptual model have emphasized that the continuation of any community coalition or program should depend on its intended goals. Little research has addressed the more subjective question of whether community coalitions should be sustained.

Additional research is necessary to explore whether community coalitions should exist in perpetuity. There is debate in the philanthropic literature about whether foundations are more effective when they operate with a limited life span and have to spend down their resources at a predetermined point in time. Limited life span foundations have been said to set clearer objectives and focus on discrete outcomes, have a greater sense of urgency, and have the ability to mobilize more talent because they require a limited time commitment. Thus, operating under this arrangement may be more effective than existing in perpetuity. The same issue can apply to community coalitions and programs. Additional research should explore the concept of limited life span community coalitions, and whether operating under this arrangement influences their outcomes.

The literature review and conceptual model also raise broader research questions that should be investigated in future sustainability studies. First, is there a best practice for funding community coalitions to encourage sustainability? Some funders provide decreasing annual resources (e.g., 100 percent year one, 50 percent year two, 10 percent years three to five). Others institute requirements for programs to find matching funds at the onset. Further research will be necessary to understand how different funding arrangements impact the sustainability of community coalitions.

Second, the different definitions in the literature concur that sustainability is a process that occurs over time. However, research has not suggested an appropriate length of time to fund a coalition or program. Funding a community coalition for four years versus two years may yield different results, and have implications for sustainability. In the same vein, researchers should also explore whether there is an acceptable timeframe for assessing the sustainability of community coalitions (i.e., how soon after the initial funding is withdrawn, and how long should this assessment continue?). 

Finally, no single conceptual model can possibly incorporate every coalition factor or characteristic that may affect sustainability. Thus, research should begin comparing the combinations of factors across models to better understand the characteristics, capacities, and conditions that foster community coalition sustainability. 

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