Program sustainability is most often thought of in terms of individual programs maintaining and/or diversifying program funding. An often overlooked aspect of sustainability includes ensuring that the program is implemented with fidelity within a stable or growing organizational structure. This is an area where funders can play an important role in supporting grantee efforts to build long-term sustainable projects.
Sustainability means . . .
Supporting grantees in implementing and evaluating effective programs.
Grant-making agencies are uniquely situated to support effective, sustainable projects. Grantors can encourage grantees to implement evidence based practices and programs in a number of ways, including offering incentives such as higher scores for evidence-based proposals. They can require programs to establish performance measures to assess whether the program is implemented as intended, and capture the quality and quantity of services required to have the desired impact.
Grantees can also benefit from technical assistance in areas such as best practices, staff training, data collection, reporting, program management, media communications, fund raising, and administrative support. Funders may be able to assist grantees to meet their evaluation needs through partnerships with the state Statistical Analysis Centers, colleges and universities, or other local evaluation professionals. However, grantors may inadvertently hinder successful program efforts in a variety of ways, including imposing reporting and administrative requirements which are disproportionate to the amount of funding provided, failing to clearly communicate expectations of grantees, and neglecting the opportunity to improve programs with less-than-desired evaluation results. An understanding of the ways in which a grantor can both help and hinder a grantee can be crucial to successfully supporting programs.
Providing opportunities for grantees to develop organizational capacity for performance measurement.
There are important differences between program and organizational capacity. Program capacity relates to providing intended services to the maximum number of clients in the target population. Organizational capacity describes the strength of the organization in which a program operates, which can impact the efficacy of the delivered program. Organizational factors such as hiring staff, technology infrastructure, and the involvement of board members in fundraising activities can influence daily program management and the provision of services. In thinking about organizational issues with respect to evaluation capacity, funders can assist by promoting a shared learning environment where grantors and grantees can collectively learn to maximize data and evaluation results to meet program goals.
Recognizing that as a program develops, the type of evaluation and support required to improve, deliver, and replicate a program will change.
At the beginning of a project, program developers should use a needs assessment and literature review to demonstrate the problem being addressed and articulate the underlying "theory" of how the program will address the identified problem. Once the program is launched, an emphasis on implementation evaluation and assessment of short-term outcomes can be used to determine if the intervention will have the desired impact. Implementation evaluation helps program managers ensure that the program is operating as intended, and informs programmatic and procedural improvements.
Once a program has an established process that incorporates data collection, the next stage is to evaluate the impact of the program. Evaluation rigor spans a continuum from pre- and post-program surveys, to quasi-experimental studies (e.g., employing a matched comparison group), to the gold standard where participants are randomly assigned to participate or not participate in the program. Each level of rigor increases costs and need for specialized skills in research and statistics. Once efficacy is established, ongoing performance measurement and process evaluation encourage consistent service delivery and improvement.
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