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Community Partners - Resource Guide
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The Making of a Partners for Children Community

No matter what you call it collaboration, partnership, or community building no one denies the primacy of a cooperative approach. But building effective, community partnerships is neither easy nor formulaic. You won't discern a beginning, middle and end for this dynamic, evolving process. And no one can underestimate the importance of patience, effort, trust and skill.

This guide, developed by the NYS Partners For Children, presents the best of our collective knowledge on successful partnerships in New York State as well as other parts of the country. Bear in mind that this is a guide, not a prescription. Successful partners know when to ask for help, so don't hesitate to call Partners For Children at 877.522.9241 for information, assistance or a referral to a local partnership with first hand experience.

Envisioning the Collaborative Process

Like most dynamic processes, this one is far from linear. Not all partnerships will begin at the same point. A community experience and current level of partnership activity will determine where they begin and what their next steps should be.

Although distinct stages appear here medcarnet.com, in reality, they overlap and reverse. That right. Just when you think you are at the final stage, you probably ready to re-visit some of your prior actions.

Wait, There  is More.. .

Like the collaboration building process itself, these dynamic elements characterize successful community partnerships:

  • Identify the need
  • Involve a cross-section of community stakeholders
  • Engage parents and families
  • Share leadership among community champions
  • Endorse a common vision and goals
  • Engage in joint strategic planning
  • Establish clear rules and decision-making responsibilities
  • Create an atmosphere of mutual respect, understanding and trust
  • Maintain open and frequent communication
  • Continue to improve through evaluation

Assembling the Team

Every partnership benefits from alliances that represent the range of community interests and resources. Look for people who will bring clout, commitment, knowledge and diversity to the table.

Remember that consumers, the people, including parents and children, who will use services, must help establish goals and strategies.

Grassroots and volunteer organizations that may not have financial resources, are important for their racial and cultural perspectives.

As the conduit for major community resources, public sector organizations offer a direct line to federal and state agencies; key sources of dollars, technical assistance and policy support.

Highly experienced in service delivery strategies, private providers and nonprofit organizations offer well developed volunteer networks as well as useful community contacts. Be sure this group includes the local philanthropic community United Ways, foundations and other charitable organizations.

Guidelines for Hiring a Consultant

Involving the business and corporate community lends a further degree of legitimacy, and provides an added measure of management, marketing, and finance expertise to the partnership.

Professionals in the community are valuable resources who may give entree to elected officials, media, and other local leaders. Include the educational and medical communities, law enforcement agencies as well as other helping professionals.

Challenged to find new ways to promote efficient delivery of services, elected officials may endorse collaboration as a possible means to that end.

When, and how to use the media, depends upon the partnership readiness to publicize its milestones. Regardless of the decision, media involvement is necessary in the strategic planning process to determine when and in what forum it is best to "go public."

Sometimes, local resources aren't sufficient to the task and a consultant may be hired to keep the process moving forward. Once you've made the decision to bring in a consultant, how do you go about your search? Variances can be quite daunting. Some charge by the job, the day, the month, or the hour and may or may not include expenses.

Consider these basic factors when hiring a consultant:

1. Take time to focus on the desired outcomes before approaching any consultant. Ask the consultant directly how he or she would facilitate each of those outcomes. The interview will be more revealing, and the decision easier, if specifics are discussed.

2. Use your community resources to identify and screen possible consultants. Many nonprofit management centers and community and private foundations maintain a consultant directory. Some even provide consultants directly, often for a lesser fee than an independent consultant charges.

3. Get mileage out of the interview process. Interview prospects by phone first. If you like the results, ask for a proposal, then follow up with a face-to-face interview. Be sure the key players on the board are involved in the interview.

4. Be sure everyone on the team understands the purpose of the consultation, desired outcomes, estimated duration, and their involvement. Let them know how much time you will expect.

5. Rely on research, experience, references, insights, rapport and chemistry in making your decision about which consultant to hire.

6. While discussing the big picture, and the outcomes, be sure not to pass over the details (like fees). Follow-up on the details in the proposal: fees, contracts, schedules, staff resources in their offices, and timeliness, including other consulting work that may delay yours.

7. Write a Letter of Agreement or contract, no matter how short the consultation is. Include desired outcomes, client and consultant expectations, timeline, conditions for termination of the agreement by either party, fees and expenses, time to be spent by the lead consultant, and other pertinent facts including a description of the "deliverables." Use the completed letter of agreement to keep the consultation on schedule.

8. If the consultation is long-term, build benchmarks into the agreement to measure progress.

9. After you have hired the consultant, if you expect the consultant to keep up his or her side of the bargain, be sure you keep up yours.

Additional resources for hiring a consultant:

To supplement your search for the right consultant, why not take advantage of the myriad resources from the National Society of Fund Raising Executives.

For the 2002 Directory of Consultants,on the Web.

Please note that Partners for Children does not endorse any particular consultant on this list. Your screening process should include a thorough reference check.

Conducting a Needs Assessment

Often a dichotomy exists between what a community thinks it wants and what, in fact, a more careful analysis reveals it needs. Early on, participants should agree to a needs assessment process simply defined as identifying problems and developing interventions to help solve these problems. The assessment becomes the basis for the partnership strategic plan, including clearly identifiable outcomes and evaluation strategies.

Augment collecting and sharing data by interviews with community members who will be directly affected by changes in the provision of services, along with more general community forums and focus groups. It may not be necessary to engage in extensive data collection, since many partners already have data and assessment materials.

It Not Just the Data. . .

As the partnership plans for this activity, consider:

  • What questions need to be answered? What information is needed to document the problem?
  • If additional data is needed, what data collection methods will you use? What key indicators and data sets are available from educational, social services and governmental sources?
  • For each data collection method you decide on, what types of data will be obtained? How? By whom? Due date? Cost?
  • Who is the target population for each method? What are the qualitative and quantitative measures? Advantages and disadvantages?
  • What special resources will you need to do the assessment? What approaches to needs assessment are best?

Key Stakeholder Interviews

Solicit information from individuals whose description of what exists for the client population or state-of-affairs is credible, either by their position in the community or through their experience and/or expertise. These individuals include elected officials, agency directors, law enforcement officials, teachers, etc.

This may have the added benefit of engaging their interest in the resultant strategic plan.

Community Forum

Also called town meetings, these public meetings can be open to the general public or limited to a specific population.

They can take the form of an open public discussion or a more structured format where partners hear testimony from selected individuals.

Case Studies/Examples

An excellent way to help stakeholders appreciate what consumers are confronting.

Select individuals from the needs population or client group and provide an analytical, realistic description of their problem/situation, use of local services, access and other difficulties, additional needs, etc.

  • Easy to design
  • Costs very little
  • You control input by what you ask and whom
  • Excellent way to position your organization with important people (shows you are working on common problem/concern)
  • Easy to arrange
  • Costs very little
  • Increases visibility in the community
  • Promotes active involvement of the broader community
  • Easy to arrange
  • Costs very little
  • Increases sensitivity to the clients' "real world"
  • Very moving and motivating
  • It is too easy to solicit input only from those individuals sympathetic to your cause
  • You may be ignoring less visible segments of the community and those who may be contributing to the problem
  • Site of forum has profound effect on number and type of representation
  • It is possible to lose control of the group, or have a vocal minority slant results or turn meeting into a forum for complaints
  • Selection of a "typical" client may be biased and represent a minority of cases
  • Must describe one "real" person, not a composite of several put into one "example." The anonymity of the person must be insured

Statistical Analysis

A few well-chosen statistics will support the direction of the strategic plan, the outcomes to which the partnership has agreed and form the basis for ongoing evaluation.

With this approach, you use existing data (census data/records, government studies and reports and research articles) to develop a statistical picture of the community.

Survey

The most commonly used method to collect data, the survey can be used to collect information from a sample of or from the community.

Survey information is collected through telephone or in-person interviews, or by mailing questionnaires to specific groups.

  • There is an abundance of studies and data
  • Little cost to access data
  • Allows flexibility in drawing and developing conclusions
  • Analysis of data is catalytic in producing more projects and proposals as staff sees the need
  • High credibility
  • Flexibility in design of survey to get at problem areas
  • Spells out exactly what you want to document
  • Can be very time-consuming
  • Bias of staff shows up in studies quoted
  • Perception that statistics can prove anything
  • If original data has questionable validity, your extrapolation will be inaccurate.
  • Takes time to do properly

Measuring Outcomes

A hallmark of Partners For Children is its focus on outcomes measurable improvements in child and family well-being. Outcome evaluation is a natural progression from the needs assessment process, continues the data collection and analysis activities, and enables partners to make adjustments and improvements.

Definitions: An outcome is an inherently valued state of being. To measure outcomes, communities must also agree to indicators more specific than outcomes that specify the directions of desired changes in concrete areas necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. For each indicator partners should clearly state the degree of improvement or change they expect to occur and expected timeframe for those improvements. Finally, partners will establish measures, the specific, concrete source of data used to identify the indicator.

For example:

Outcome

  • Healthy births/healthy start
  • Positive youth development Indicator
  • Reduction in number of low birth weight babies
  • Fewer teen pregnancies

Measure

  • % of births with low weight (less than 2,500 grams)
  • Rate of teen pregnancy for females ages 10-19

Selecting Measures:Since outcomes are the backbone of your progress report, partners should select them carefully. In selecting measures partners should bear in mind:

  • The reasonableness of the measure. Does it reflect an understanding of the problem? Is it significant to the proposed solution?
  • The reliability of the measure. Will it remain consistent and accurate over time?
  • How sensitive is the measure to external factors that may cause ambiguous interpretation?
  • Can the data be tracked over time? Is the data readily available? Is it feasible to collect and track the data?
  • Does it relate to available data?
  • What costs and effort are involved in collecting and analyzing each measure?
  • How frequently will each measure be updated? How timely will it be once it updated?
  • At what geographic level is the measure available? County? School district? Zip code? State? Census tract?
  • Does historical/baseline data exist?
  • Will it be possible to compare local data for the measure against standards? Is it possible to compare it against state or national data? Against data from a similar community?

What to do with the information:The collected data and the resultant decisions, formulate the basis for educating and informing the community of local needs and efforts to address identified needs.

At the beginning of the project, when the needs assessment is completed, the information is useful to:

  • Understand the current status of child and family well-being in the community;
  • Establish the baseline against which future progress will be measured;
  • Identify local service needs and priorities;
  • Highlight how local children and families compare to counterparts in other communities, in key indicators of child and family well-being.

This information and the resultant decisions form the basis of an early report to the community. This report will highlight the reasons for collaborative activity, the key outcomes to be addressed, the goals for the coming year, and expected timeframe for the next community update.

After key elements of the strategic plan have been implemented, you may want to provide an update to the community. Include a summary of the partnership activities, analysis of impact or effectiveness of those collaborative activities, and update the data sets that were reported in the initial report. In addition, the next and subsequent community reports (some partnerships call them report cards, others prefer the term profile) should include goals for the coming year and any changes that will result from ongoing evaluation.

Reporting results publicly serves several purposes.

It helps to provide an objective assessment of the effectiveness of the local partnership and its impact on established outcomes achieving its goals and improving the well-being of children and families.

It provides a context for changes in local efforts and serves to educate the community about the progress as well as the work that remains.

It helps to stimulate action and enables the community to make informed decisions about investments, service delivery strategies and policies necessary to achieve the desired results.

Partners For Children and positive outcomes have become synonymous. These broad-based community outcomes are the focus of our state-level efforts:

  • Healthy births/healthy start
  • Children ready for school
  • Children succeeding in school
  • Positive youth development
  • Family support and stability
  • Community health and well-being

The NYS Partners For Children have developed a tool that is intended to assist communities with their outcome measurement/data collection efforts. This document Assessing Child and Family Well-being can be obtained by contacting Partners For Children.

Show Me the Money!

Understandably, prospective collaborations will worry about the funding, but interestingly enough, successful partnership projects stress that funding issues should NOT be what drives the initiative. NOR should it be the first question asked.

Maximizing existing local resources: When the partnership arrives at the point of discussing funding, options exist.

One stresses the "investor concept" where prospective funders become involved in the project from the beginning, participating in the application and evaluation process, as well as the negotiated outcomes.

In one instance, an "investor support group" was established over a year and a half. No money was brought into the discussions at this stage. Once the vision of the group was established, the investors went back to principals to ask for donations, with a clear picture of the collaboration objectives, scope and negotiated outcome and invariably, with a strong commitment.

Other collaboration participants point to bartering agreements, "aidable" funding mechanisms, and in-kind contributions. While lump sum cash donations help, it is the real commitment of all partners that makes it work.

A successful community school notes that "Although funding practices have been characterized by rigid categorization in the past, more and more government agencies are now looking to fund programs that successfully leverage limited resources by building bridges and coordinating services with the community."

In some cases, existing resources may be leveraged or shifted from currently available funding.

Finally, potential funding sources should be wide-ranging, and might include government reimbursements, legislative grants, community foundations, private funders, in-kind gifts and fees.

When local resources aren't  enough, be sure to make maximum use of appropriate federal entitlement programs. These might include Chapter I funding, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services oversees programs including Medicaid, Early Periodic, Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Services (EPSDT), and Title V of the Social Security Act Maternal and Child Health Block Grant. Under the same federal agency, Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the Family Support Act of 1988, Title XX Social Services Block Grant, the Child Care Development Block Grant and the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Block Grant provide funding for various health and human services-related initiatives.

All successful community collaborations agree on this point: "Don&rsquot come to the table for money! Make your project plan, and the money will follow." A financial strategy should be the means to implement service delivery design, rather than an end. "Simply finding ways to generate new money will not cause systems change unless a plan exists defining how to use additional revenue to improve service delivery."

  • Use the least complicated strategy to accomplish the partnership objectives
  • Avoid refinancing strategies that might invite audit exceptions or federal financial penalties, and
  • Weigh the benefits of a financial strategy to assure advantages outweigh the challenges of implementation and ongoing administration.   Been there, done that. A community collaboration celebrating 40 years of success advises:
  • Develop program content, outline, guidelines and scope first; allow 3-6 months before any money is discussed!
  • Invite "investors" to discuss the proposal it is far more likely that funders will buy into your efforts if they&rsquove been there from the start.
  • Establish a single fiscal intermediary and it is advisable that this not an agency, which provides services, to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest. Community partnerships can manage funds much easier through one source and distribute monies through one agency.
  • Remember collaborations take time; laying the groundwork to make them work is labor intensive.
  • Decisions must be made by consensus and they must be ones everyone can not only live with, but also support!

Research Cyber-StyleSurfing for dollars:

Explore the web for funding sources by starting with our resouce page

What about collaboration?

Use these key phrases to guide your search:

  • school-community partnerships
  • school-business partnerships
  • family-school partnerships
  • school-college partnerships
  • urban partnerships
  • educational partnerships
  • interagency partnerships
  • integrated school programs

We are grateful to the following for allowing us to adapt material:

  • The Coalition Training Institute, May, 1996, The Center for Pediatric Research, Norfolk, VA.
  • Contributions Magazine.
  • For subscription information contact Kathy Brenan @ 508-359-8084.
  • The National Technical Assistance Center of the Children Aid Society.
  • Greater Rochester/Monroe County Community Profile:

How Well Are We Doing?  Visit these websites

  • Center for Governmental Research, Inc., Rochester, NY.
  • Together We Can: A Guide For Crafting a Profamily System of Education and Human Services
  • US Departments of Education
  • Health and Human Services

Humor, in most circumstances, makes even the largest job a pleasure.
The Partners For Children wish to thank the Popcorn Group  who amassed, amused, confused, condensed, collaborated and cajoled to achieve this final product.