Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sustaining and Taking Your Promise Neighborhood to Scale

Central to CSSP’s community change work has been working with communities to strategize from the onset about how to sustain and take to scale efforts that are achieving results. The Promise Neighborhoods program places a premium on both the sustainability and scale of projects, asking applicants to address these issues in describing the “significance” of its project proposal. This required “Significance” section of the project narrative for the planning grant counts up to 10 points in the selection criteria for Absolute Priority 1. As explained, under Significance, the Department of Education will examine the extent to which the proposed project will:
  • Result in long-term systems change or improvement; 
  •  Build local capacity to provide, improve, or expand services that address the needs of the target population;
  •  Involve the development or demonstration of promising new strategies that build on, or are alternatives to, existing strategies;
  • Have the potential for being sustained long-term and applied as a model in other settings
In thinking about how to sustain and bring its proposal to scale, communities should think strategically about how to financially support their work, how to advocate for and drive supportive policies, and how to create key partnerships whose interests will be aligned with the goals of the work. CSSP explores these three essential areas more in depth in the Significance section of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute website. Here, we focus on the importance of leveraging resources through results-based financing.

For programs to succeed over time, communities will have to focus on new, creative, and strategic ways of ensuring financial support. This requires communities to first:
  • Examine their use of existing resources and focus them towards effective, streamlined, and results-driven programs and services;
  • Estimate fiscal needs for achieving results at greater scale over time, including programmatic activities, administrative costs, capacity-building strategies, and ramp up costs.
  • Map the resources available to support these costs and understand their flexibility, reliability and diversity; and
  • Assess gaps between resources needed and those in hand.
Communities can then begin to strategize about how to best maximize public (local, state, and federal) resources and use them to leverage both private resources as well as new public funding opportunities. Leveraging resources, particularly in times of national economic hardship, is critical to sustaining community change efforts. Leveraging can take on many forms; its most basic definition is using existing funds to attract additional funds. This could be in the form of using the results achieved from existing funds to make the case for additional funds from new sources or capitalizing on the match requirements of state and federal funds to draw down private resources. In the latter case, the idea is that a shared funding commitment from public and private partners ensures long-term commitment to programming.

Effectively leveraging resources requires communities to build their capacity to track and analyze relevant private and public funding opportunities. This goes hand in hand with developing the ability to track and analyze existing and future policy opportunities at the local, state, and federal level that are relevant to their community change efforts. Ensuring that public policies are in place to support the results communities are seeking to achieve is an important dimension of leveraging and generating new resources. Policymakers can help to ensure continued access to funding streams by helping to streamline and align policies and procedures for grant applications, reporting, and program evaluation; providing funding to intermediary organizations that can than provide support and guidance to local programs; and ensuring that public funding is spent on cost-effective, results-driven programming.

Communities should develop strategic partnerships to help them advocate for policy and funding streams that are best aligned with their work. For more examples of how this has been done in practice, please see the following resources:

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