Community Collaborative Life Stages

09/02/2012 | 40 min


This guide to collaborative life stages can assist community collaboratives to succeed at any stage in their life cycle—from planning and development, through roll-out and course-correcting, and on to deciding their next steps.


Collaboration has long been a part of the social sector. But many have also experienced collaboratives that do not live up to their potential in one way or another—nothing happens between meetings, the group never reaches real agreement, the group loses steam as participants transition in and out, or the collaborative falls apart as participants jockey to claim whatever successes emerge.

There is an exciting groundswell right now in a new kind of collaborative that may hold the key to addressing some of these problems. The overarching difference we have experienced in these collaboratives is seriousness about having real, concrete impact on a community-wide goal. Unsatisfied with small gains for a smaller segment of the population, the leaders of these new collaboratives have put forth ambitious goals and backed them up with long-term investments of resources and effort.

This guide to collaborative life stages can assist community collaboratives to succeed at any stage in their life cycle—from planning and development, through roll-out and course-correcting, and on to deciding their next steps. We have organized it along a five-part timeline based on our extensive research into best practices. The first two sections will help guide new collaboratives in selecting goals and starting out on the right foot. The last three sections will help existing collaboratives stay on track to create the kind of outcomes that are inherently community-changing. Indeed, a hallmark of every successful collaborative is a high aspiration to make a meaningful difference.

With that ambition in mind, this guide to collaborative life stages is for collaboratives that say "yes" to the following questions:

  • Do we aim to effect "needle-moving" change (i.e., 10 percent or more) on a community-wide metric?
  • Do we believe that a long-term investment (i.e., three to five-plus years) by stakeholders is necessary to achieve success?
  • Do we believe that cross-sector engagement is essential for community-wide change?
  • Are we committed to using measurable data to set the agenda and improve over time?
  • Are we committed to having community members as partners and producers of impact?

Many community efforts do not meet these criteria. Those focused on a single school or small neighborhood project, for instance, are eminently worthwhile. But we have designed this document for cross-sector collaboratives that are taking on social challenges on a community-wide scale.

What's in this guide to collaborative life stages?

  • Life stage roadmap: This road map lays out the key stages of a collaborative's development.
  • Life stage descriptions: Each life stage section is described and illustrated with the lessons and best-practices learned from our research. The first two stages address how to pull together a collaborative and plan for impact. The last three sections are valuable for collaboratives that are changing goals or wish to incorporate best practices gleaned from successful collaboratives.


Within each life stage section is a core set of resources:

  • Introduction: This gives an overview of what happens at each stage.
  • Key discussion questions: These are the essential questions a collaborative must grapple with and resolve to move to the next stage.
  • Checklists of tasks to complete: These are the building-block activities that collaboratives must master within each stage.
  • Potential roadblocks: These are the all-too-common setbacks that collaboratives can encounter, along with suggestions for how to address them and a list of useful resources for assistance.


Additionally, we have included a full list of valuable Web resources, which share proven solutions and highlight organizations that support collaboratives.

Life Stage Map

Collaboratives typically go through a common series of life stages. These are described below, along with a rough indication of their duration.

Life stage map

Life stage flowchart

Develop the Idea (3-6 months)

Develop the Idea (3-6 months)

Community collaboratives evolve out of pressing social needs and some initial thoughts about how to address them. The realization that collaboration is necessary to attack the problem at scale may be recent. Or, it may have come about when a prior set of partnerships has failed to yield significant results.

But whatever its origins, a collaborative needs to learn how to pull together. Therefore, when successfully completed, the "Develop the Idea" stage is characterized by an energized, cohesive core group of partners. This nucleus also develops a clear sense of the issue they want to address and a short list of additional players who should be involved. Typically, the lead convener, i.e., organization or individual(s) that will coordinate the collaborative process, is identified during this stage.

Spearheaded by this lead convener, new or refocused collaboratives often have to immediately address challenges. Not least of these is raising sufficient funds to start to build the staff necessary to support the collaborative process. When raising funds, collaboratives may find funders hesitant because their work is functionally more like overhead than program work. Its impact is indirect and the lines of accountability are less clear. Nonetheless, collaboratives need to identify local stakeholders in the short term who are interested in sustaining the collaborative throughout the "plan" phase.

When done well, this stage begins the formal process of developing a roadmap, which is a detailed action plan for the future, and begins to attract additional players to the collaborative.

Key discussion questions for this stage


  • Is my community's history with collaboration positive or negative? How can we use either situation to our advantage?
  • What pressing issue or opportunity has brought us together? Will this idea galvanize leaders across sectors in my community?
  • Is this issue capable of attracting resources both for direct-service providers and dedicated collaborative capacity?
  • What do we know about this issue? What data is out there to help us better understand the issue?
  • How does the issue identified by the collaborative fit into the broader context of our community? Are other efforts under way? Are there opportunities for partnership with existing collaboratives? In what ways is our work needed and additive to existing work?
  • What core group of people simply has to be at the table to make needle-moving change occur on this issue?
  • Is there a trusted, neutral, influential leader - usually an organization - that is coordinating and facilitating the collaborative? Note: This may be your organization.
  • How can we foster genuine community partnerships to help us understand the issue and create the necessary support for the interventions needed?


Checklist of key tasks to complete

Bring a core group of stakeholders to the table.
(i.e., those interested in and able to drive the early planning and whose engagement is fundamental to the success of the collaborative)

  • Include decision makers and funders relevant to the issue in the community: Participants should be either chief executives of organizations or trusted deputies who can take responsibility for the issue and can influence chief executives.
  • Start to discuss which key participants need to be at the table: Consider reaching out to the local United Way, mayors or senior city officials, school superintendents, child welfare agencies, relevant nonprofit service providers, area Chambers of Commerce, community foundations, advocates, researchers and the like.
  • Ensure that this early planning group includes the core decision makers within the community, without becoming unwieldy.
  • Understand that the collaborative will evolve and gain more members during later stages.


Conduct landscape research as needed to understand how to build the collaborative to be effective within the community context.

  • Use or undertake research to understand what else is happening in the community, such as the cultural and political landscape and other initiatives or collaboratives focused on similar or related topics.
  • Determine if a new collaborative is actually needed; sometimes the right path is to reinvigorate an existing collaborative.
  • Engage in conversations with relevant community leaders, residents (including youth, if applicable), business leaders and owners, and funders.
  • Aim, ultimately, to understand how the collaborative fits in the broader community context.


Frame the challenge and the problem(s) you will address.

  • Based on the results of the landscape review, complete a visioning process with the broader group to further define the core focus of your collaborative.
  • Consider creating a high-quality research report, one that can clarify the problem in local terms, gather baseline data for your community, and create a focal point for the public launch.


Identify funding sources for dedicated capacity of the collaborative

  • Identify a committed source(s) of funding to sustain the collaborative throughout the Plan phase, during which time there will be no success stories to attract resources.
  • Understand current funding condition of collaborative members to determine if some of their current resources can be repurposed to support the collaborative. Please refer to "Capacity and Structure - Funding Examples " for examples of how other collaboratives have raised funds.


Work to secure the right leadership and operational support for the collaborative.

  • Select a lead convener organization that will provide significant administrative capacity and resources for the collaborative.
  • Most importantly, select a lead convener with the trust and respect of the community; one that is both sufficiently neutral and has the ability to convene a broad group of decision-makers. Please refer to "Capacity and Structure - Examples of Collaborative Structure" for more information on selecting a lead convener.


Create the community engagement and participation plan.

  • Conduct a series of meetings, forums, and calls to engage other potential stakeholders, such as nonprofits, government agencies, advocates, and community members with an interest in the issue involved.
  • Determine how and when residents, parents, or youth can be involved to ensure that the collaborative has authentic engagement. Please refer to "The Next Generation of Community Participation" for guidance on engaging your community, examples of how other collaboratives have engaged their communities, and community engagement questions to ask yourself during each life stage.


Engage in peer learning and secure technical assistance, if possible.

  • Understand what other communities are doing to solve similar problems; read about other collaboratives, set up relevant calls, visit other collaboratives, and get involved in peer learning opportunities.
  • Use existing knowledge in this process, an effort that will likely save time and resources.
  • Seek out the support of experienced intermediaries to support this kind of work.


Potential roadblocks

While this is one of the most exciting times for a collaborative, challenges also exist. Common roadblocks are listed below, along with suggestions and resources for addressing them.


Potential roadblock Starter suggestions for addressing the roadblock Resources
Our community already has other collaboratives, so necessary stakeholders are not interested in the planning process
  • Determine what is at the root of that reaction. Are those attempts actually working? Are there effective collaboratives you could join?
We are having trouble completing the landscape review to fully understand the context of our community
  • Review a guide on how to understand community context.
Our leadership is not united around the identified challenge
  • Bring data into the conversation; share relevant statistics on the biggest challenges of your community.
While we have a broad vision for what our community should be, we cannot agree on the key goal(s)
  • Again, bring data to the table to discuss which issues are most pressing. The numbers should point the way.
We do not have funding for a dedicated capacity
  • Apply for seed funding, or try to build the capacity out of existing funding from within organizations or agencies.
  • Also pursue in-kind resources.
We do not have a clear lead convener of our collaborative
  • Look to other collaboratives or community leaders to find the right group or organization (specifically those that are already respected in your community).
The leader of the collaborative does not have the clout or neutrality to convene the right participants
  • Have one-on-one conversations to discuss who is respected and neutral and who could best play that role.
We are unsure how to engage residents and youth in our community
  • Review case studies to understand how other collaboratives have approached engagement.

Plan (1-2 years)

Plan (1-2 years)

The Plan stage is all about developing the process by which the collaborative will map its path to achieving results and then measure its progress. This takes some intensive upfront effort. For instance, this stage typically entails at least monthly—and sometimes more frequent—meetings of the core stakeholder group. It is this group's task now to put in place the collaborative's structure, finalize agreement on the community-wide goal(s), gather the appropriate benchmark data, and set the metrics for measuring success.

During this stage, it is critical to make sure the right people are at the table, across all sectors and interest groups, and working effectively towards the goal. Clear decision-making processes and a sense of mutual accountability are two critical pieces to make sure the group is aligned. Effective collaboratives can differ on the decision-making processes they use, varying from highly formal (with memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and bylaws) to largely informal, where collaborative work is difficult and lengthy, usually requiring at least three to five years of committed effort to see results. This length of investment combined with needle-moving aspirations make mutual accountability all the more important, given that collaborative's formations are based on the belief that all members are necessary to achieve success. Though accountability will look different depending on the collaborative's structure, two key things can promote mutual accountability: 1) choose metrics that correspond to the collaborative's performance rather than to partners' individual outcomes and 2) provide leadership opportunities (e.g., subcommittee chairs) in order to create a sense of ownership on behalf of partners.

This group should include a funder that is committed to supporting the collaborative in the early years. While one source of funding may have been sufficient to sustain the collaborative during this stage, going forward, members will need to develop a sustainable funding strategy to cover the cost of the staff managing the collaborative. The collaborative also needs to make sure there are funds available for their partners' work on the problem(s) they are trying to address. (Please refer to the "Capacity and Structure - Funding Examples" for examples of how collaboratives have obtained sufficient funding to implement their visions.)

During this stage, a concrete action plan should be developed, one that specifies the measurable outcomes the collaborative wants to achieve and the major interventions required to reach them. The roadmap breaks down each goal into actionable steps. It also provides guidance and timing for who will be accountable and when. This roadmap requires collaboratives to indicate how community resources, programs, and systems will be aligned and the data metrics that match up with each desired outcome. Collaboratives also should continue to partner with future beneficiaries of this work to develop the roadmap.

As an example, underlying The Strive Partnership's progress is its Student Roadmap to Success, which was developed during its Plan stage. The roadmap describes five life stages: early childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, transition from school, and postsecondary training into a career. The map has critical checkpoints at each stage - and indicators for tracking success all along the way. Using a common roadmap also allows The Strive Partnership's networks to better align their community of efforts. The genesis of the roadmap served as a forcing function for the alignment of partners. Indeed, its development was a critical part of the process for creating a shared vision, along with an agenda for moving forward. Though critical, it was not easy to gain consensus. Core partners grappled with the research and Cincinnati's data over several years before agreeing to this course of action. As in this case, data will often be necessary to bring shareholders into agreement concerning the vision and agenda of the collaborative.

When all of these elements are in place, the Plan stage comes to fruition with a campaign launch designed to rally the community around the efforts.

Key discussion questions for this stage

  • Do we have the right people at the table? Have we thought about what assets and perspectives each brings to the collaborative?
  • What exact change do we plan to see in five years? How will we measure our progress?
  • How will data be tracked and is there a data analyst or other resource available to support the collaborative in this regard?
  • What roles are needed to staff the collaborative? What resources are available to do this?
  • Do we have a funder(s) at the table willing to provide resources for the collaborative as it begins to implement its plans? What will it take to get funders on board?
  • Based on the assessment results, what are our collaborative's strengths and weaknesses? What steps do we need to take to address weaknesses?

Checklist of key tasks to complete

Bring additional people to the table, as needed, and engage the community.

  • Determine what sectors need to be involved and approach relevant leaders identified in the Develop the Idea stage (e.g., funders, business leaders, government agencies).
  • Proactively address any changes in community leadership.
  • Review "The Next Generation of Community Participation - Community Engagement Examples" and make sure the collaborative continues to invest in engaging with residents and youth (if applicable).


Analyze and discuss the data around the problem.


Finalize collaborative goals and build buy-in to the shared vision.

  • Ask the question: What are the few key goals for the community over the next five years regarding this issue? Examples include "changing dropout rates by XX% or increasing graduation rates by YY%." Such goals will often be characterized by a desired ultimate outcome (e.g., increased graduation rates) and several intermediate goals (e.g., increased slots in alternative schools) that lead to the overall result.
  • Determine the geographic boundaries of the goal or goals. Do they apply to the entire city, the metropolitan area, or a large neighborhood within the city (e.g., Manhattan in New York City)?
  • Get final agreement on the metrics that will be tracked.
  • Analyze the data to understand your goals and create a plan for data collection and analysis moving forward.
  • Create a clear leadership and governance process if not already established.
Develop a roadmap.
  • Devise a roadmap or logic model for what it will take to achieve the vision and targets.
  • Develop a clear action plan to create the various pathways required to achieve the goal and work to align the programs, interventions, resources, and advocacy efforts around what works.
  • Include milestones and metrics to help track success over the next phase; these should also measure organizational goals such as hiring X people in year two.
  • Clarify accountability for organization goals.


Understand evidence-based practices.

  • Research existing evidence-based practices and interventions that have been proven to address the issue you are trying to solve.
  • Determine if your community is currently using evidence-based practices where appropriate, and if you should shift towards those practices in any areas.


Get commitment or at least common agreement from participants on a timeline.

  • Ensure that participants are committed for the long term.


Secure funding (or at least a committed private funder) for the next few years.

  • Consider if funds can be obtained from an existing organization, the government or other efforts—if not, work to secure new funds sufficient to cover the collaborative's required capacity. (Please refer to "Capacity and Structure - Funding Examples" for examples of how other collaboratives have raised funds.)
  • Determine capacity required to manage the collaborative.


Secure the key staff required to support the work.


Start to build out the data effort for continuous improvement.

  • Determine what data needs to be collected or reviewed to understand your community's progress against your goal.
  • Gather baseline data, where possible, to track your roadmap's key metrics.
  • Alternatively, develop a plan for how to collect that data in the future.


Develop a sustainability philosophy.

  • Consider long-term options for the collaborative (e.g. achieve goals and dissolve, reach milestones, and transfer to existing provider).
  • Determine funding required to pursue the options considered.


Launch a public campaign.

  • Develop a communications plan to guide how to build public interest and enthusiasm, and to manage perceptions.
  • Organize a launch event to announce the collaborative and its partners; share the goals, the roadmap and the benchmark data.
  • Develop related press materials detailing compelling data and local stories about the problem, as well as planned solutions and commitments from key leaders (e.g. the mayor or CEOs).
  • If you have created a research report during the Develop the Idea stage, consider publishing the report to both communicate the challenge, lay out the roadmap as a solution, and attract supporters and partners as a part of the public launch.


Potential roadblocks

Common roadblocks in the Plan stage involve failure to reach agreement on goals and missing representation. Here are some suggestions and resources for addressing each.

Potential roadblock Starter suggestions for addressing the roadblock Resources
We cannot agree on a final set of community goals (usually 1 to 5 goals)
  • Brainstorm a longer list first, and then return to the data to clarify which goals relate to the most pressing issues in the community.
We are missing representatives from certain sectors at the table
  • Identify key people representing the missing sector and have one-on-one conversations to understand people's interest.
  • Start with those whom you have and target interventions where you have the right participants at the table.
We are having challenges developing the roadmap
  • Review case studies and examples of othercommunities' roadmaps.
  • Solicit the help of technical assistance providers and facilitators.
We do not have the funding and/or the capacity to build data systems
  • Access to public data may be enough; evaluate if you need to build out full systems.
  • If so, see if you can share data systems with schools or other organizations.
We are having trouble getting data to assess the starting point
  • Identify proxy data, even if it does not exactly align with your goals.
  • Develop a plan for future data collection.
Stakeholders have not committed for the long term
  • Identify a key stakeholder who is committed for the long term.
  • Use that advocate to set an example.
We find it difficult to determine how to formally organize our collaborative
  • Review case studies on how other collaboratives were structured.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of the various options as a group to determine the structure.

Align and Improve (1-3 years)

Align and Improve (1-3 years)

The Align and Improve stage is where the rubber meets the road and, ideally, the collaborative starts to yield early results against the goals laid out in the roadmap. Indeed, it is during this stage that collaboratives builds momentum.

But staying on course entails making constant adjustments and improvements as the collaborative collects data and learns more about what works and what does not work in the community. These bends and twists in the road require that the collaborative's participants meet at least monthly to make decisions based on where the tracked data is leading them.

In some instances new programs may be required. However, for most collaboratives, this stage is more about improving the alignment of existing programs and resources. This steering activity continues as the collaborative develops, receives feedback through new data, and manages its continuous-improvement processes. Done right, this iterative phase will begin to improve the effectiveness of a community's existing programs and resources.

As the work progresses, it is a good idea to highlight early "wins" to maintain community support and excitement. Likewise, publicly recognizing participating organizations and their programs helps build cohesion.

Chicago's Pathways to Success exemplified the Align and Improve stage. Data has determined Pathways to Success' strategy since the question was asked: Who is at risk of not graduating? CPS initially relied on its partnership with the Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR) and later The Parthenon Group to profile the at-risk student and determine which interventions were successful in improving graduation rates. Pathways to Success then worked to move the community towards programs that have demonstrated success in helping students graduate. For example, consulting firm Parthenon found that 16 year-old first-time freshmen who attended Achievement Academies, the two-year schools for over-age students who have not met promotion criteria for high school admission, were almost twice as likely to graduate as their peers. As a result, Pathways to Success is looking to expand the academies to a four-year program. If successful, CPS can then roll out an intervention to other district schools and partners.

Finally, it is important to build longevity into the collaborative so that it can weather changes in leadership both inside and outside the collaborative. Because the issues addressed are complex and the process Is long term, many collaboratives will outlive the tenure of any single mayor, CEO, or executive director. Successful collaboratives embed their strategies and roadmaps throughout the systems in which they work, so that a change in any given leader does not halt progress. Building strong consensus around the roadmap or logic model—both internally and with key groups external to the collaborative—creates strong momentum that can carry new leaders with it. It may also be wise to brief the key candidates for elective office to be sure each one understands the collaborative's efforts, the roadmap, and the progress to-date prior to taking office, so that the collaborative leadership can understand where the public official stands.

Key discussion questions for this stage


  • What will it take to align our community's efforts with the roadmap? What are potential barriers? How will we overcome those barriers?
  • What is the data telling us about the work of the collaborative? Are we on track? Are metrics moving in the right direction? How can we improve? Are we starting to see early changes in our community, due to the work in the above stage (this assessment may be qualitative at this point)?
  • Do we have long-term financial commitments? If not, how will we fund this in the next few years?


Checklist of key tasks to complete

Align existing programs in the community against the roadmap and create new programs if necessary.

  • Schedule regular meetings with relevant stakeholders (form sub-committees if the collaborative is focused on multiple goals).
  • Realign elements of your collaborative as needed, as you start to execute against the roadmap.


Advocate for or enact policy change in the community to change systems.

  • Develop a policy agenda/plan, in the event that you will need to influence other groups or organizations in your community to change policies.
  • Include policymakers in your community to help influence the flow of resources to what works.


Test, refine, and course-correct along the way.

  • Begin to collect and review relevant data points; determine what additional data points will be needed.
  • Meet regularly to maintain focus on what is working, while quickly modifying what is not working, based on data and findings.
  • Continue to proactively address any community leadership changes and to ensure the leadership group has all necessary stakeholders at the table.


Develop characteristics of success.

  • Ensure the vision and agenda are evolving as your collaborative learns.
  • Make sure leadership and governance structures are clear to everyone and effective.
  • Grow dedicated capacity and the structure as the collaborative's work expands.
  • Make sure your resources are adequate for the size and goal of the collaborative (and continuing to grow, if necessary).


Highlight early successes; give credit strategically to bolster the collaborative.

  • Determine how to share credit with specific organizations and when it should be given to the collaborative as a whole.
  • Develop an accompanying communications plan and build in regular opportunities to celebrate the success of your work with the public.


Ensure your collaborative's culture is in place and being cultivated.


Potential roadblocks

Common roadblocks on the way to proper alignment and execution typically relate to difficulty aligning your community's work or challenges tracking the data. Here are some suggestions and resources for addressing these roadblocks.

Potential roadblock Starter suggestions for addressing the roadblock Resources
We are having trouble aligning programs, systems, or resources to our collaborative's vision
  • Make sure you have the right people at the table (people with detailed knowledge and people who have decision-making authority).
We still do not have data to measure and track our progress
  • Ensure that your data collection plan is feasible and simple enough to execute.
  • Solicit the help of technical assistance providers.
We are concerned by data privacy constraints
  • Review the guide to data privacy; solicit help from university researchers in your community.
  • Determine if you need individual student data or if you can use publically available aggregated data sources.
  • Leverage stakeholders' data sources (for example, have the school district or city representatives provide data or report trends).
Some stakeholders still do not agree with the shared vision
  • Reevaluate whether you have the right stakeholders in place.
  • Go back to visioning if necessary.

Reflect and Adapt (ongoing, starting after Align and Improve)

Reflect and Adapt (ongoing, starting after Align and Improve)

Reflect and Adapt is the stage after the launch when collaboratives maintain a rigorous focus on improving their evolving work. By this point, a collaborative typically has gathered and analyzed significant amounts of data. Successes have taken place, along with the discovery of significant challenges. Given their track records, collaboratives often make one of two choices at this point: They either expand their goals, or they sharpen their approaches to the goals that have already been established.

During this stage, collaboratives also must confront the issue of long-term sustainability. What will happen to the collaborative in five to 10 years? What will be its legacy? Collaboratives must therefore begin to consider whether elements of their work can be spun off or institutionalized within other parts of the community. For example, with working models now in place, should collaboratives move their operations or aspects of their operations to government, schools, or to nonprofits? These are questions of not only scope and scale but of mission. And they must be answered amid continually changing political and funding landscapes.

Yet some things remain constant. The need to celebrate successes continues to be crucial as does the necessity of regularly reporting data results to the community. And as collaboratives successfully morph in response to changing needs, they usually find that community residents, parents, and youth become ever more active in shaping their daily decisions and future direction.

Project U-Turn , which is now more than six years into its work, is now at the Reflect and Adapt stage. Several key participants from the early steering committee have transitioned to new roles and been replaced on the committee. At the same time, the group has chalked up impressive policy wins, nearly doubling the number of slots available in alternative high schools. In the current era of fiscal austerity, much of the collaborative's work has shifted to protecting these gains and defining the next steps to further improve graduation rates. Many of the most senior participants, who had stepped back from the collaborative to let deputies push things forward, are now re-engaging to set the agenda for the next few years.

Key discussion questions for this stage


  • Are we starting to move the needle, i.e., see more significant changes in our data?
  • What is our five- to 10-year vision for this collaborative, particularly in our community context?
  • How do we manage our collaborative to maintain influence through turnover in participants, changes in political administrations and changing cultural trends?
  • Are we using data effectively to understand our progress, determine the appropriate adjustments, and improve our collaborative?


Checklist of key tasks to complete

Continue to coordinate efforts and track data.

  • Maintain the active tracking of data and report back to collaborative planners and the community.
  • Continue to hold stakeholder meetings to execute against the roadmap.
  • Make system adjustments to ensure that the collaborative's impact is permanent.


Complete the continuous improvement loop between data and programming.

  • Use data actively to inform programming and to make major decisions about the collaborative's path forward.
  • Maintain accountability for reaching goals by continuously monitoring the data.
  • Make modifications and changes as needed, depending on the results of the data.


Continue to proceed with the roadmap and adjust the roadmap as collaborative members have a better sense of what works.

  • Be ready, for example, to expand or narrow the collaborative's focus to ensure that it is effectively addressing its goals.


Develop a long-term plan, specifically around sustainability.

  • Determine the required long-term programmatic elements of the collaborative, as well as its organization, infrastructure, and financial-support needs.
  • Decide whether the collaborative should "put itself out of business" by having its efforts appropriately institutionalized.


Ensure the community is still actively engaged in formal and informal ways.


Potential roadblocks

Roadblocks typical to the Reflect and Adapt stage revolve around maintaining progress and addressing long-term sustainability. Here are some suggestions and resources for addressing them.

Potential roadblock Starter suggestions for addressing the roadblock Resources
People have become uninterested
  • Make sure you continue to celebrate successes to show the progress you are making towards your goal.
The needle is not moving as fast as expected
  • Begin your diagnosis of what is holding you back by determining if you have the right interventions, systems, and resources in place in the community.
We are having trouble completing the feedback loop and using data to improve the collaborative
  • Build a feedback-loop mentality into your meeting agenda and think of ways to hold individual groups accountable.
  • Be sure your collaborative is ready to actually act on the data.
Our fundraising plan is for the very short-term, but long-term sustainability is an issue
  • Work on building the right team of funders for your collaborative.
  • Start with one long-term funder and build from that catalyst.

Decide Next Steps: (after 4-6+ years)

Decide Next Steps (after 4-6+ years)

It has been a long haul, but this is the stage at which the fruits of collaborative work are starting to show: You are making measurable strides toward your goals and congratulations are in order. Yet after a collaborative has been in operation for a significant period (of from four to six or more years), this is also the time to assess the ultimate success of the collaborative and determine a path forward.

Times change and the community may have too. Indeed, over the years, new external political conditions, new opportunities or even new challenges may have emerged. Now is the time for a collaborative to evaluate its role within today's context. As they take stock, many collaboratives face three options: whether to seek new ways to become more effective, whether to address other challenges or opportunities, or whether to end on a high note.

The variations on such future roles are numerous. For example, a collaborative might decide to:

  • Maintain its current structure and role, as long as it can continue to have significant impact.
  • Utilize its structure but change its mission to address new goals.
  • Institutionalize the gains made by embedding them within a public agency—such as a school or a health department—and transition out of existence.

Celebrations become most poignant in the last instance, but it remains critical to regularly mark successes and thank those involved no matter what the future holds.

Milwaukee's Teen Pregnancy Reduction Initiative is now working to decide its next steps, having reduced births to teen girls by roughly 30 percent over the last five years. The oversight committee of the initiative believes the data will continue to improve as positive messages are reinforced both in schools and in out-of-school programs for kids before they become teens. United Way of Greater Milwaukee will maintain its support of the collaborative, but having shown its unique ability to convene and staff effective collaboratives, it is now launching a related initiative to reduce infant mortality.

Key discussion questions for this stage


  • Have we achieved our goal? Is there more progress that could be made?
  • Will the gains be maintained if the collaborative were to disappear tomorrow?
  • If we decide to end operations, what is the best way to communicate this and thank the community and stakeholders who were involved?


Checklist of key tasks to complete

Assess your progress to-date.

  • Determine if the interventions are working and if you have achieved your goals.
  • If unsure, discuss if you are on track and how you should proceed.


If you have achieved your goals, decide on a path forward (options include continuing, adapting to a new form or focus, or ending well).

  • Determine how to proceed over the next three to five years.
  • List the pros and cons of each option, including how and who it will impact in your community.
  • Formally create a roadmap forward based on your discussion of the options.


Ensure that institutionalized efforts are being supported.

  • Ensure that your efforts will live on in existing institutions (such as school districts, government agencies and nonprofits), in terms of funding, public support, and continuing impact.
  • Work to transfer the knowledge and processes that made the collaborative successful to the new host organization.


If ending, make sure to acknowledge successes.

  • Recognize the successes of the collaborative publically.
  • Honor the community and stakeholders who led the effort.


Potential roadblocks

Taking stock can result in the following list of roadblocks. Here are some suggestions and resources for addressing them.


Potential roadblock Starter suggestions for addressing the roadblock Resources
We do not know if we are in this stage yet
  • This stage should only be considered if you have achieved major data milestones against your goals, or if you believe that your collaborative has been ineffective.
  • Ask yourself: "Is there more work we can be doing to really complete the collaborative process on our issue?"
Our collaborative cannot agree on the path forward
  • Determine if multiple, viable paths forward really exist.
  • If so, decide if your stakeholders can take any of these different paths.
  • If not, have members of the collaborative make the case for different paths.
Our efforts have not been institutionalized
  • Make sure you still have the right institutional players and decision makers at the table.


Organization Topics sWebsite
AccountAbility Stakeholder engagement
AmericaSpeaks Community engagement
America's Promise Alliance Knowledge center, general resources for education-focused efforts
Charting Impact Setting goals
Coalition for Community Schools Range of resources for launching and sustaining community schools
Collaboration Handbook General guidance Collaboration-Handbook Collaboration Center Case studies, general guidance
Grad Nation Resources Parent engagement, research reports (i.e., dropout crisis)
Harwood Institute Community engagement
IDEO Human-Centered Design Toolkit Support for collaboratives focused on educational goals human-centered-design-toolkit
Institute for Educational Leadership Support for collaboratives on community engagement
Keystone Community engagement
Mobile Area Education Foundation Sample documents about the foundation's efforts
National League of Cities: Institute for Youth and Families Range of resources for youth and education initiatives (case studies, tools, strategy guides, research)
Philadelphia Youth Network Research reports, policy briefs on youth-related topics
The Forum for Youth Investment Case studies, general guidance
The Strive Partnership Range of resources for continuous improvement, general guidance

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The Bridgespan Group 05/26/2015 | 9 min
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