Strengthening Comprehensive Community Initiatives Helps Families
The Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families, established in 1992, is an on-going forum of private funders, public officials, program directors, and evaluators. As of 2007, it is called the Roundtable on Community Change.
It has met periodically and conducted or commissioned research on the design and evaluation of community initiatives (CCIs) designed to integrate and reform the systems social services, health care, schools, and economic redevelopment that organize, finance, and deliver those services.
It grew out of a November 1990 workshop on effective services for children and families, sponsored by the National Forum on the Future of Children and Families, a joint project of the National Research Council's Commission and Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education and the Institute of Medicine.
- The Roundtable created both a body of knowledge and an ongoing forum for exploring and strengthening comprehensive community initiatives. The Aspen Institute hosts its Web site.
- During the grant period, the Roundtable produced two collections of research on CCIs:
- New Approaches to Evaluating Community Initiatives (1995) about measuring complex initiatives can be ordered online.
- Voices from the Field Learning from the Early Work of Comprehensive Community Initiatives (1997) about programmatic issues and lessons learned available online.
- Staff also published three articles in community development journals and made 12 presentations. See the Bibliography.
- The steering committee on evaluation focused attention on the mismatch between traditional evaluation methods, which focus on programs, and the systemic reforms attempted by comprehensive community initiatives.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the establishment and early work of the roundtable with two grants to its host organizations totaling $208,557.
The first grant, to the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, was for $138,557 and covered the period from September 1992 to December 1993. The second, to the Aspen Institute, Inc., was for $70,000 and covered the period from June 1994 to December 1996.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Foundation for Child Development also supported the establishment of the roundtable.
In order to improve educational, social, and health outcomes for children and families, national funders have supported a variety of initiatives designed to integrate and reform the systems social services, health care, schools, and economic redevelopment that organize, finance, and deliver those services.
In the early 1990s, these comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) included RWJF's Homeless Families Program, Improving Child Health Services: Removing Categorical Barriers to Care, and Mental Health Services Program for Youth (MHSPY) Replication, as well as The Pew Charitable Trusts' Children's Initiative and the Annie Casey Foundation's New Futures and Urban Mental Health initiatives.
This project grew out of a November 1990 workshop on effective services for children and families sponsored by the National Forum on the Future of Children and Families, a joint project of the National Research Council's Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, and the Institute of Medicine.
The Forum provides for a continuing dialogue among experts on child and family issues. Participants in the workshop generally agreed that the major challenge to improving outcomes lay in reforming systems rather than creating or improving individual programs. However, no means then existed through which policymakers, service providers, and others could share current knowledge and results; learn from these cross-system reform efforts; and explore joint activities.
In 1992, the Forum established the Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families (originally called the Roundtable on Effective Services for Children) with grants from RWJF, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Foundation for Child Development.
The Roundtable, which includes 25 to 30 representatives of foundations and nonprofit entities, academic experts, and local and national public officials, provides a forum for an ongoing dialogue on efforts to reform the systems that deliver services to children and families. It also aims to identify major opportunities for systematic learning about initiatives and develop strategies to take advantage of those opportunities.
In its first 16 months (the time period of the first grant, ID# 020243), the Roundtable met three times and identified four areas where further learning was needed:
- Governance mechanisms for cross-system, neighborhood-based initiatives.
- The development and application of improved outcome measures for community-wide initiatives.
- Options for improving financing mechanisms for services.
- The possible mismatch between evaluation theories and practices, and comprehensive community-based initiatives.
To foster greater dissemination of the group's findings to policymakers, administrators, and academics, the Roundtable moved from the National Academy of Sciences to the Aspen Institute for its second phase (grant ID# 023674). It also hired a full-time director and other staff and consultants to enhance both the quantity and the quality of its efforts.
The staff conducts research on issues raised by the Roundtable, prepares or commissions papers and reports, makes presentations to national meetings, and provides technical assistance and information to other organizations with an interest in CCIs.
During the second phase, the Roundtable scaled back its full meetings from biennially to every 10 months in order to allow more time for research between sessions. It also established a steering committee on evaluation to improve the quality of evaluation efforts directed at CCIs.
- The Roundtable has created both a body of knowledge and an ongoing forum for exploring and strengthening CCIs.
- It distilled the experiences of the current generation of CCIs to inform both new initiatives and research in the field. Voices from the Field: Learning from the Early Work of Comprehensive Community Initiatives, a report based on a series of peer-group discussions among experts in the field, looked at CCIs' goals, principles, and operational strategies (i.e., governance, funding, staffing, technical assistance, and evaluation). The report discussed the tensions (between process and product, between insiders and outsiders) that arise from the interplay of goals, principles, and operations; and described operations lessons about the early phases of a CCI.
- The steering committee on evaluation focused attention on the mismatch between traditional evaluation methods, originally designed to measure outcomes of individual programs, and the systemic reforms attempted by CCIs. A series of papers, published as New Approaches to Evaluating Community Initiatives: Concepts, Methods, and Contexts, brought together on-the-ground experience with CCIs; theories and methods from the field of evaluation; and social science research on pathways leading to individual, family, and community success.
- The evaluation work highlighted the importance of the "theories of change" that underlie CCIs. In a paper in New Approaches, evaluation committee co-chair Carol Weiss argued that evaluations can be more meaningful if designers of CCIs are clear about how a project will bring about improvements in individual, family, and neighborhood circumstances. Without well-articulated theories of change, she argued, evaluators have difficulty defining outcomes or markers of progress that would indicate whether an initiative is heading down the right path. The evaluation committee identified the need to both clarify and improve theories of change.
- An evaluation subcommittee developed a prototype database of existing evaluation measures. The database includes profile data and quality ratings to help an evaluator assess the pros and cons of a particular measure. It is intended to help evaluators identify appropriate measures for the numerous types of changes that CCIs aim to bring about. While it includes measures of individual, family, and institutional progress, its most significant contribution is to identify measures of community-level change in eight domains, including housing, economic development, education, and human services.
The Roundtable has published two books based on its work during the grant period. New Approaches to Evaluating Community Initiatives (1995), about measuring complex initiatives, was distributed to nearly 10,000 people as a result of a direct mailing of 1,500 copies, distribution at related national meetings, and requests.
The more recent Voices from the Field (1997), about programmatic issues and lessons learned, was also mailed directly to 1,500 people, and is available on request. Between 1994 and 1996, the Roundtable published three articles in community development journals.
Roundtable staff made 12 presentations about comprehensive community initiatives at national meetings of public or private funders, program operators, or academics interested in urban change. See the Bibliography for a complete listing of dissemination efforts.
AFTER THE GRANT
In late 1998, the Roundtable plans to test a Web site for anyone interested in CCIs or related anti-poverty issues. Two more books are in progress. New Approaches to Evaluating Community Initiatives, Volume 2, about theories of change, will be available in late 1998. A book about measuring change in different domains will be published in 1999. The Roundtable continues to refine a prototype database for evaluators of comprehensive community initiatives. The group is beginning a study of race and community revitalization to determine how structural racism affects the success of comprehensive community initiatives. The Roundtable continues to receive support from its initial funders, including RWJF (grant ID# 029079).
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Roundable for Exploring and Strengthening Comprehensive Community Initiatives
National Academy of Sciences National Research Council (Washington, DC)
- National Roundtable on Effective Services for Children
Amount: $ 70,000
Dates: September 1992 to December 1993
Suzanne H. Woolsey, M.D.
The Aspen Institute, Inc. (Queenstown, MD)
- Roundtable on Initiatives for Children, Families, and Communities
Amount: $ 138,557
Dates: June 1994 to December 1996
Anne C. Kubisch
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Books and Reports
Connell JP, Kubisch AC, Schorr LB, and Weiss CH (eds.). New Approaches to Evaluating Community Initiatives: Concepts, Methods, and Contexts. Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, 1995.
Fullbright-Anderson K., Kubisch AC, and Connell JP (eds.). New Approaches to Evaluating Community Initiatives, Volume 2: Theory, Measurement and Analysis. Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute. In progress.
Gardner S. Reform Options for the Intergovernmental Funding System: Decategorization Policy Issues. Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute and the Finance Project, co-publishers, 1994.
Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families. Voices from the Field: Learning from the Early Work of Comprehensive Community Initiatives. Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, 1997.
Stagner M. "Elements and Contexts of Community-Based Cross-System Reform: An Update." October 1993. Unpublished.
Kubisch AC. "Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Lessons in Neighborhood Transformation." Shelterforce: The Journal of Affordable Housing Strategies, January/February 1996.
Kubisch AC. "CDRC Report Offers Lessons on Community Building." In the newsletter of the Community Development Research Center, New School for Social Research, Winter 1996.
Kubisch AC and Connell JP. "Evaluating Complex Comprehensive Community Initiatives Using a 'Theories of Change' Approach." National Institute for Dispute Resolution FORUM, January 1997.
Presentations and Testimony
Kubisch A. "The Role of Community Foundations in Promoting Comprehensive Community Change Initiatives," at the Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth, June 25, 1994.
Kubisch A. "What Can Social Science Theory and Research Offer to the Design and Implementation of Comprehensive Community Initiatives?" at the Columbia University Seminar on Children and their Families in Big Cities, September 19, 1994.
Kubisch A. "What Do We Mean By 'Community'?" to the Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth, October 13, 1994.
Kubisch A. "The Link Between the Design and Evaluation of Comprehensive Community Initiatives," at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management, October 27, 1994.
Kubisch A. "Four Different Definitions of Community and the Implications of Each for Policy and Program Design," at the Columbia University Seminar on Children and their Families in Big Cities, May 22, 1995.
Kubisch A. "Evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives: The Potential of a Theory-Based Approach," at the Annual Conference of the Association of State and Territorial Directors of Health Promotion and Public Health Education, May 23, 1995.
Kubisch A. "The State of the Field of Comprehensive Community Initiatives," at the National Dialogue on Radical Transformation of a Failing System for Distressed Neighborhoods, Washington, D.C., May 24, 1995.
Connell JP and Kubisch AC. "Applying a Theories of Change Approach to Evaluation of Comprehensive Community Initiatives," at the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, November 15, 1995.
Kubisch A. "Evaluating Complex Initiatives," at a meeting sponsored by the State of Minnesota, May 22, 1996.
Kubisch A. "Comprehensive Services and Comprehensive Community Initiatives: What's the Difference?" to the California Consortium for School-Linked Services, June 20, 1996.
Kubisch A. "Learning from Comprehensive Community Initiatives," at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, November, 1, 1995.
Fullbright-Anderson K. "A Theories of Change Approach to Evaluation," at the Annual Meeting of Grantmakers for Children, Youth, and Families, October 1, 1996.
Report prepared by: Carol Schreter
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Rush L. Russell