Unit 7 Section 7.2 :Planning for Sustainability

It is important that your partnership think about and plan for sustainability from its inception and not just something that you wait to think about when a project is nearing completion or funding is almost gone.

At least a year before your partnership’s work plan or current funding ends, you may want to create a plan for a more deliberate and formal process. It can also be useful to form a group or committee to work specifically on this issue. This group can make recommendations to the larger partnership and/or board.

Many people think about sustainability of a partnership as continuing the entire effort with a similar level of funding. However, this is not the only scenario that should be considered. It is important for partners to consider what is really necessary to support the continuation of the partnership, to see whether seeking a similar level of funding is warranted. This should be done before additional funding is sought. For more information on developing a plan for sustainable long-term funding plan, see Unit 5, Section 5.5.

The Center for Civic Partnerships, in its Sustainability Toolkit, has outlined 10 steps to sustainability:

  • Create a shared understanding of sustainability

  • Position your effort to increase your sustainability odds

  • Create a plan to work through the process

  • Look at the current picture and pending items

  • Develop criteria to help determine what to continue

  • Decide what to continue and prioritize

  • Create options for maintaining your priority efforts (including funding issues)

  • Develop a sustainability plan

  • Implement your sustainability plan

Copyright Public Health Institute 2001. Sustainability Toolkit materials reprinted with the permission of the Public Health Institute


Exercise 7.2.1: What Does Sustainability Mean to Your Partnership?

It is important for a partnership to come to a common understanding of what sustainability means for the partnership and what criteria will be used to decide what and if the partnership or its components should be sustained.

In small groups, discuss these questions about the meaning of sustainability (20 minutes):

  • Does it mean a continuing relationship and discussion among CBPR partners and organizations?

  • Does it mean continuing a program or intervention from a CBPR partnership or project?

  • Does it mean changes in a policy or system that addresses a root cause of the issue examined by a CBPR partnership or project?

  • Does it mean an increase in community capacity to conduct their own research?

  • Does it mean the sustaining of outcomes achieved by a CBPR project or intervention?

  • Does it mean sustained funding over a specified period?

Ask each small group to briefly report back on highlights of the discussion.

Factors influencing sustainability

There are a number of factors that influence the likelihood that you will be able to sustain your CBPR partnership, projects and/or outcomes. The exercises below are intended to prompt your thinking around these factors and determine which are most relevant to your partnership.

Exercise 7.2.2: How Sustainable Is Your Partnership?

This exercise is designed to be completed individually, then in groups of 2 people and then in a large group.

Below is a list of factors that can contribute to the sustainability of a CBPR partnership.  Reflect on how your partnership is doing in each of these areas.  Mark areas in which the partnership has done well with a star and mark areas you need to work on with an “X”. Have another person in the partnership (preferably with another organization/institution) complete this exercise, and compare results. Discuss how and where your viewpoints converged, and where they differed.   Ask each pair to report back on their similarities and differences.  Ask the partners to reflect on what they heard and identify the top priority areas they feel need to be addressed for the partnership to be sustainable.

Design and Implementation Factors
Effort’s resources (e.g., staff, money, time)

  • Create a project that comes from the community vs. one that was imposed by a funder.

  • Make sure your efforts are effective and/or are viewed as effective.

  • Engage in public relations to keep your activities/issues highly visible.

  • Try to secure more long-term funding for new projects to give you more time to evaluate them and secure continued funding.

  • Build upon established activities.

  • Choose an effort that is based on a demonstrated need in the community.

  • Initiate a project that is aligned with your priorities and also helps other organizations fulfill their mission.

  • Plan for financial sustainability.

  • Obtain enough resources to generate an initial success.

  • Include a training component so that you can train others – you create a constituency of supporters and groom new leaders to take over later.

  • Build the capacity of the community – this helps create volunteers, trainers and advocates and can help leverage new funds.

  • Maintain continuity in staff, community members, and political leaders.

  • Include policy change to get more cost-effective, long-term outcomes.

  • Have alternative approaches for sustainability – be flexible.

  • Have a separate group/committee focused on sustainability so that others can focus on the collaborative’s desired outcomes.

  • Make evaluation a priority.

Organizational Setting Factors
Structures and processes related to organization of effort

  • Work to create a strong institution (stable organization, projects are aligned with goals, strong leadership).

  • Integrate the work effort within existing systems.

  • Make sure the activity fits within the organization’s mission and activities.

  • Develop and nurture a well-positioned advocate/program champion.

  • Gain endorsement, support and/or commitment from the top of the organization.

  • Build alliances with other groups that have a similar mission.

  • Make your issue part of someone else’s agenda, plan or operations (e.g., business community, government, agencies).

  • Give awards/recognition to key individuals and organizations to make their commitment to the partnership more public.

Environmental Factors
Broader contextual factors in political, economic, and social environment

  • Look out for competing problems that might be a barrier to sustainability (e.g., downturn in the economy).

  • Focus on our community’s assets (vs. needs).

  • Involve residents in decision-making so the activities are relevant and they have a long-term commitment to the effort.

  • Be flexible; look for windows of opportunity (e.g., new federal/state initiatives, new elected officials).

  • Try to obtain core funding from within the community (ask, “who are the people with financial resources in our community who have an interest in seeing the community improve?”)

  • Build relationships with funders (philanthropies, corporations, individual donors, etc.).

  • Encourage funders to increase the proportion of funds dedicated to prevention (vs. treatment, incarceration, etc.).

Center for Civic Partnerships. Sustainability Toolkit: 10 Steps for Maintaining your Community Improvements. Copyright Public Health Institute 2001. Sustainability Toolkit materials reprinted with the permission of the Public Health Institute

Exercise 7.2.3: Facilitating Factors for Sustaining CBPR Partnerships

Below is a list of facilitating factors for sustaining CBPR partnerships.  Post this list on a blackboard or flip chart paper hanging on easels or a wall.  Give each participant 10 stickers and ask them to distribute stickers next to those facilitating factors they feel are most important to the partnership.  Instruct them to distribute the 10 stickers in any way they wish (i.e., all 10 stickers on one item, one sticker on each of 10 items, etc.).  Debrief with the full group to review the 3-5 factors rated by participants as being the most important.

List of facilitating factors for partnership sustainability:

  • Funding and Other Resources for Partnership Infrastructure

  • Funding and Other Resources for the Community

  • Excellent Project Manager

  • Tangible Benefits to Members of the Partnership

  • Having the Right People and Organizations Involved

  • Organizational Representation

  • Strong Staff Team

  • Shared Experiences and History

  • Good Communication

  • Strong Long-term Commitment

  • Individual Relationships Between/Among Partners

  • Mutual Respect and Support

  • Shared Understanding or Shared Purpose

  • Established Core Principles

  • Continuous Planning Process

  • Ability to Evolve

  • Having a Specific Focus

  • Having a National Reputation

  • Being About an Approach (CBPR), Not Just a Project

  • Excellent New Partners

  • Trust

  • Performing Internal Evaluations

  • Learning from Past Mistakes and Successes

  • Flexibility

  • Humor

  • Concrete Projects and Interventions

  • Achievement of Targeted Goals