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. Each community coalition is formed for different reasons and seeks to accomplish a unique set of goals. Therefore, it is critical to ask the question, what should be sustained?
Findings from this literature review demonstrate that funders of community coalitions and those who lead the coalitions 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. If the goal is to formalize relationships among diverse organizations to build capacity within the community, then sustaining the coalition may be of paramount importance. On the other hand, if a community coalition is formed to conduct specific programmatic activities and institutionalize those activities within a member organization or elsewhere, then sustaining the coalition may not be necessary.
While the literature demonstrates that it is appropriate to emphasize different aspects of sustainability in different situations, the lack of a standard definition makes evaluation of community coalitions difficult. As a result, researchers have crafted detailed conceptual models that define sustainability in the context of the coalitions that are being evaluated.
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 is a logic model that depicts the potential actions and outcomes of community coalitions post initial federal funding. The model also incorporates the enabling characteristics of coalitions that facilitate sustainability and may lead to long-term outcomes. The conceptual model developed in this review 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 initial federal funding ended. While the conceptual model will be used to guide the current study, it also has implications for community coalitions, evaluators, and funders, in general.