Performance Improvement 1998. Self-Sufficiency Project Implementation Manual: Lessons Learned from Eight Years of Office of Community Services Demonstration Partnership Programs



This manual summarizes lessons learned during eight years of the Demonstration Partnership Program (DPP) projects. DPP has been developing innovative approaches toward increasing the self-sufficiency of the poor, testing and evaluating these approaches, and encouraging their replication through dissemination of project results and findings. The DPP projects were designed to strengthen the ability of grantees to integrate, coordinate, and redirect activities through community partnerships that promote maximum self-sufficiency among low-income individuals and families who rely on or who are at risk of relying on public assistance. These projects were divided into five program areas and project types: (1) case management, (2) micro-enterprise development, (3) minority males, (4) homelessness, and (5) youth at risk . Generic models for establishing effective community-based programs are presented, and materials for program evaluation are elaborated. For each of the five areas, general and specific lessons learned are presented. A project implementation manual was designed as a step-by-step guide to the successful design and implementation of Self-Sufficiency Projects by Community Action Agencies (CAAs), community-based organizations, and local community program planners.


The DPP was designed to permit CAAs to implement and assess innovative approaches toward increasing the self-sufficiency of the poor, including individuals and families who rely on, or are at risk of relying on, public assistance. The purpose of the Self-Sufficiency Project Implementation Manual was to disseminate evaluation findings and information about best practices in the DPP in order to guide and facilitate the future development of each of the five types of self-sufficiency projects supported by the program.


CAAs have been the principal field organizations in the war on poverty for three decades. Since 1981, they have been the primary recipients of Community Services Block Grant funds, dealing with the problems of poverty and attempting to bring poor people up to decent standards of living in economically healthy communities. With the advent of funding for DPP in 1986, CAAs were encouraged by the Congress to add a new dimension to their activities by forming partnerships with public and private entities in their communities and seeking innovative approaches to community revitalization and the problems of poverty. Avoidance of dependency, development of new ways to improve the capabilities of the poor, and overcoming the barriers to workforce entry were central values of the DPP projects. The CAAs have typically served for many years as successful advocates for the poor, forging special bonds with poor people in their communities. As a result of these bonds, CAAs serve as important generators of innovative ideas. The linkage of CAAs with the DPP is intended to build on these special bonds and innovative ideas, and to join them with community partners to develop and experiment with new ways of increasing the self-sufficiency of the poor.


Development of the implementation manual involved three steps. First, "best practices" were identified by Project Directors and Project Evaluators at a 1994 DPP Reporting Out Conference. These individuals, who were involved in projects funded in 1991 and concluded in 1993, were asked to reflect on their experiences. The evaluators then conducted a more in-depth assessment of what had been learned by the Office of Community Services (OCS) from these projects. In the second step, five team leaders reviewed DPP monographs for each of the five program areas and project types (case management, micro-enterprise development, minority males, homelessness, and youth at risk). The team leaders used quantitative and qualitative information to identify lessons learned and to articulate logic models based on project results and evaluation findings for each program area. In the third step, intensive inputs were obtained from small panels made up of Project Directors and Project Evaluators. These individuals were then convened in focus groups to review and discuss concepts. Team leaders then modified the lessons learned and the logic model based on the discussion. A draft implementation manual was reviewed by experts, project staff, and OCS/DPP personnel.

The results of the study are presented as "lessons learned" in each of the five program and project areas, as well as general lessons that cut across different projects. The Implementation Manual is intended as a brief, step-by-step guide to successful design and implementation of DPP projects. The manual is one of a series of publications developed by OCS to provide technical assistance to CAAs and other grantees. References are provided to other documents in the series for more detailed discussion of evaluation methods, as well as specific project descriptions and evaluation monographs from successful programs.


The findings indicate that each project is unique because of different environmental factors that affect implementation. Some lessons, however, are generalizable. The findings demonstrate that it is prudent for project directors and managers to learn from prior DPP projects, from literature on promoting self-sufficiency, and from the CAAs' project experiences.

In each of the five project types, the complexities and difficulties of project management are elaborated. This includes basic recommendations, such as the importance of focusing on clients, partner relationships, and staff support. Client focus is essential to ensure that project elements are appropriate for their needs, status, and stage of development toward self-sufficiency. Relationships with partners require particular attention to establish and maintain operational communications and coordinated actions within a noncompetitive environment of cooperation. Staff members are also crucial to success--the selection and professional development of staff should be a well-planned aspect of project management, and communication among staff at all levels cannot be neglected.

Findings also show that each stage of a project requires special attention to ensure success. At startup, emphasis needs to be placed on the physical environment for the safety and convenience of clients and staff. The political environment and issues of competition will require attention, as does the exploration of relationships with other agencies and programs serving the same client group. Although many project managers are tempted to think of evaluation in a post hoc manner, successful evaluation is based, in large part, on careful planning and preparation during the startup phase of a project. Key outcomes need to be framed from the outset in measurable terms.

During the initial operations stage of the project, the design assumptions should be tested and may require adjustment of the model. Client and program operator expectations should be reviewed and tested early in implementation. Organizational management may require special attention as the program structure and staff management issues are being worked out. Findings also point to the importance of beginning to collect evaluation data at this stage.

During the ongoing operations stage, program operators are reminded to be flexible, as past experiences do not necessarily dictate present needs. Staff nurturing becomes increasingly important as the excitement of startup wears off, staff burnout becomes a problem, and additional time is needed to recruit, train, and support volunteers. Evaluation begins to play a greater role as data become available for monitoring and feedback.

At all stages, readers of the Implementation Manual are cautioned not to overlook the complexity of self-sufficiency programs. Logic models are presented for each of the five project types, providing a graphic illustration of the linkages among project assumptions, implementation strategies, and project outcomes, and demonstrating the importance of considering these linkages when managing projects.

Use of Results

Experience-based and empirically supported lessons learned from demonstration projects can be valuable tools for helping to ensure the success of future programs seeking to help low-income families move toward self-sufficiency. The DPP projects offer well grounded insights about the challenges of effective partnerships, about the importance of understanding the logic of the causal relationships between program interventions and expected outcomes and program goals, and about the many complex interactions among program components and program staff. The implementation manual explores the administrative requirements and challenges of successive stages of a project and the critical nature of staff and volunteer training and support, and the profiles of successful self-sufficiency projects attest to the powerful role of evaluation in establishing proper monitoring and feedback loops and quantifiable outcome measures. The manual has already proved to be a valuable tool for staff training in a variety of social agencies, and is being used as a text in at least one university graduate school. It can provide a critical reality check for legislators and policymakers as they strive to design laws and programs that will use scarce resources more effectively to foster self-sufficiency and build sustaining capacity within low-income families and communities.

PUBLICATION: The full report is available from the U.S. Superintendent of Documents, Stock Number 017-090-000-84-4

AGENCY SPONSOR: Administration for Children and Families, Office of Community Services


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