Contents of Spring 2004 Collaborative Solutions Newsletter:

In this issue:

Tom Wolff & Associates
What's new?

Four Approaches to Sustainability
Broaden your success at sustaining your efforts by using our four approaches.

Community Tool Box Finalist in International Stockholm Challenge

The Community as an Empowered Partner Art and Science of Community
Problem Solving Evaluating Community Collaborations


Observations from Tom Wolff & Associates:

Times are tough. Dollars are short. People who work to build healthy communities find themselves under funded, under appreciated and under attack. Interestingly, rather than retreating many of these folks are reaching out to sustain or even build new collaboratives. They understand that in hard times sticking together may indeed be the best strategy. Over the last few months as I have trained and consulted with groups across the country seeking collaborative solutions, I have made the following observations:

  • Enormous creativity is being used to find ways to sustain coalitions in spite of the decline in support (see article below on sustainability).
  • A deep determination to help people in need continues to exist in collaborative work .
  • A new found willingness is emerging to understand our work in a social justice framework.

Let me illustrate this last point with observations from a recent National Immersion Training with the Institute for Community Peace where I had the privilege of being part of their training team. At this Institute almost two hundred diverse participants from across the country gathered to learn about sustainability. They welcomed the message from the Institute for Community Peace that the developmental stages for addressing community peace move from Creating Safety to Understanding Violence, to Building Community, to Promoting Peace and finally to Building Democracy and Social Justice.
Front line workers in domestic violence and gang violence easily understood that unless we move from our service framework to a social justice framework we will never prevent violence and create peace. This is a very hopeful shift in these difficult times.

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When money for so many worthy causes dries up we need to think about sustaining our most successful collaborative solutions in new ways. In particular, we need to go beyond the single focus on funding. In our last Community Solutions Newsletter, (link to archive) we wrote about what you want to sustain. Once you are clear on what you want to sustain, the next question is "How will you go about reaching sustainability?" We have found that by increasing the number of approaches used to achieve sustainability, the greater the chances of not only reaching our goals but doing it in a richer and fuller manner. With multiple approaches, we can begin to think of sustainability as being more than just maintaining funding and staff. We can create an understanding of sustainability that goes beyond just funding by also including: 1) institutionalization and adoption of programs, 2) policy change and 3) community ownership and community norm change. By using all of these approaches, you can expand both the impact and longevity of your program.



Definition:  Institutionalization involves creating programs so that they can be adopted and owned by other institutions in the community. For example, a violence prevention program may develop a Second Step violence prevention curriculum with the intent of shifting over time its management to the school's health educators or the staff at the local YMCA. Using this approach, your coalition plans and supports programs so that each could be incorporated into existing community institutions.

Coalition's role - When the major strategy for sustainability is institutionalization or adoption, then the role of the coalition is that of a catalyst. That is, rather than creating a program with the intent of keeping the program as a part of your coalition forever, programs are created with the INTENT of spinning them off. This requires the coalition to be skilled in the fine art of being a catalyst rather than a program developer. It also means being willing to give up control of programs after you start them. The coalition creates innovations and changes that can be adopted and institutionalized in other community organizations. Clearly, involving other institutions as early as possible increases your possibility for success.

Questions that you might ask yourself about your program when considering Institutionalization or Adoption include:

What programs could be institutionalized?

Which organizations in the community could adopt them?

How will you engage these institutions?

What are the long term implications for the coalition in spinning off its programs?




Definition:  One effective way to sustain your collaborative solutions is through changes in rules, regulations and laws of the community. By employing advocacy and social change mechanisms that permanently alter polices, practices and procedures within a community your program can continue to fulfill its mission over time. County wide ordinances that ban smoking in restaurants are an example of sustaining your efforts through policy change. Coalitions can target large policies that emerge from government at various levels (e.g. national, state, county, municipal) or more local polices (e.g. school policies on how drug incidents are handled, or written memos of understanding between police departments and human service providers).

Coalition’s role:  When policy change is the sustainability strategy, the collaborative’s role involves being an advocate for policy change and training the community and its constituents to become more effective at advocating for policy change.

Questions that you might ask when considering Policy Change include:

What policies will get you to your goals?

Broad policies? (Legislation, funding policies, regulations, ordinances at the national, state, county or municipal level)

Local policies (i.e. Protocols, Memos of Understanding, rules, and practices at the local or institutional level)

What must be done to achieve these policy changes?

What will you do to build the capacity of your community to advocate for policy change?




Definition:  In this approach the community claims ownership for your coalition’s activities. When your work is seen as part of a community development and empowerment strategy, then the goal is to mobilize community residents who will sustain the community efforts. For example, a local citizen group can take responsibility for organizing the annual Valentine’s Day Vigil Against Domestic Violence.
Another variation of this strategy is to change community norms. For example by providing a comprehensive training program to all junior high school students on partner abuse, a program can modify the gender roles, attitudes and behaviors within that junior high school. Critical to this approach is engaging the community early in the process so that they will own and lead the collaborative’s activities.

Coalition Role – When the coalition uses community ownership and changing community norms as their key sustainability strategies, then their role becomes that of community capacity building. Projects that focus on the strengths and capacities of the community and that develop and enhance resident leaders are often central to these efforts.

Questions that you might ask when considering Community Ownership and Changing Community Norms include:

How have you assessed the assets of the community?

What community norms do you wish to change?

Who in the community can influence these norms?

How do you engage them?

What parts of the coalition’s activities would you like to have owned by the community?

How have you mobilized residents who are committed to sustaining activities to improve the community?

How can you engage and change the media?




Definition:  Here sustaining the coalition means finding additional sources of revenue to support your ongoing activities. This is the definition of sustainability that is most commonly used. The rationale is simple – finding new funding sources allows the successful coalition to continue its success. The advantage of this approach is that the program can continue to fund staff and programs it has created. The peril is that finding new dollars is often seen as the only approach and doesn’t allow for other strategies that might involve more community ownership of both the issue and the long term solution. Obviously the severe shortage of resources for many excellent programs also suggests not putting all your hopes on finding new resources.

Questions that you might ask when seeking Resources include:

What resources are needed to sustain your collaborative activities?

Which activities can be continued with hard dollar resources?

Where will you find these dollars?

Which of the following sources might you tap?

      Grants-  Seek government funding, Local, State, Federal Foundations
      Fees-  Fees for service

What part of your program can be sustained by in-kind resources?

      Space, staff, other

Who can you turn to for in-kind resources?

For more details on Finding Resources see The Community Tool Box

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The Community Tool Box Finalist in International Stockholm Challenge

The Community Tool Box has been named a finalist in the prestigious Stockholm Challenge. The Stockholm Challenge is a unique awards program for pioneering internet projects world wide. It is a way of building networks between entrepreneurs who will benefit from contacts across borders, cultures and economies. Stockholm Challenge gives projects very important international recognition. To be a finalist in the Stockholm Challenge is a victory in itself. The Stockholm Challenge, now in its sixth year, has had an astonishing number of applications this year - 900 projects from 107 countries. The international jury has selected 103 finalists in the six categories: e-government, culture, health, education, e-business and environment. The winning projects receive award trophies, at an awards ceremony in May in Stockholm. The Community Tool Box is a finalist in the health category. Those of us who have worked on the Community Tool Box for the last ten years are honored by this recognition.

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New Resources:

1) Len Syme Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at University of California, Berkeley, has written a fascinating paper entitled, “Social Determinants of Health: The Community as an Empowered Partner ” that was published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new journal , Preventing Chronic Disease. In the article he reviews his long and prominent career in public health and concludes with the following:

“ Our only hope is to develop better proactive strategies for preventing disease and promoting health, rather than waiting to fix problems after they occur. And to carry out those strategies successfully, we will have to work with the community as an empowered partner, which ultimately means changing our public-health model at a fundamental level. We will have to change the way we classify disease, train a new generation of experts, change the way we organize and finance public health education and research, and deal with our arrogance. These are very difficult and humbling challenges, but I know we can meet them. We really have no choice.”

Read and enjoy the whole article at:
Sign up for a free subscription at

2) The Art and Science of Community Problem Solving Project at Harvard University which is led by Xavier de Souza Briggs has developed one of the most helpful new web sites for civic leaders ( The web site is packed with useful strategy tools on the core tasks we all face in our community work: organizing, planning, implementing, learning and negotiating. Check it out.

Briggs who has been a community planner in the South Bronx and Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, in addition to his academic appointments, has made a great contribution to community work.

Referenced from my colleague Bill Potapchuk’s wonderful newsletter
Building Collaborative Communities Fall 2003 (

3) Evaluating Community Collaborations

Thomas E. Backer, PhD, Editor 2003 184pp 0-8261-2185-3 )
This is the first comprehensive overview of theoretical, research, and practice issues concerning the evaluation of collaborations. This valuable resource includes an extensive set of forms that can be adapted for your use in coalition evaluations. The authors are leaders in both evaluation and community collaboration work.

Chapter topics include:

Multicultural Issues in Collaboration by Alex Norman

The Human Side of Evaluating Collaboration by Tom Backer and Cynthia Kunz

A Practical Approach to Evaluation of Collaborations by Tom Wolff

Making Sense of Results from Collaborative Evaluations by Vince Francisco, Jerry Schultz and Steve Fawcett

Evaluating Collaborations in Youth Violence Prevention by Nancy Guerra


" ...a valuable contribution to the literature on collaboration, with a synthesis of current thinking on collaboration and practical evaluation tools. It should prove to be a helpful guide for collaboration leaders, evaluators, consultants, and funders working to get better results in our communities."

Carol A. Lukas
Amherst H. Wilder Foundation

Link to Springer Press

The next issue of the Collaborative Solutions Newsletter will focus on the seven key elements in achieving Collaborative Solutions. Don’t miss it.


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