- As part of this assessment, Sagamore researchers surveyed community partners on their perceptions of parts of the process they recommended revising. From their responses, the top three identified were their city/town’s selection of target areas (42%), access to funds (21%), and quality of partnerships with outside organizations (non-state) (16%).
Yet, when asked to explain, many respondents tended to focus their comments on funding.
“Much of our success is in part attributable to the availability of funds. I understand that the same level of funding is not available to communities in the current program.”
“I think there is too big of a grey area when it comes to funding.”
“Would like a letter from Stellar partners to use to try to attract private investment.”
“From application and award process there is a delay that provides a bit of doubt for those involved. Having immediate projects and constant implementation can provide confidence in the community.”
- In addition, when asked whether they employ metrics to track their own success of the ISCP program, most (75%) of the designated community partners did not.
- Four of the ten stated they track their projects using metrics. These include Crawfordsville (2015), Greencastle (2011), North Liberty (2015), and Richmond (2013).
Tiered Program Approach
- Most community and state agency partners believed the tiered approach enhanced the number and quality of applicants.
- The tiered approach allowed for more equitable competition among communities of similar sizes and capacities.
“I thought the quality this year was a lot better than last year particularly the smaller communities; and I think some of that had to do with the getting the communities to step back for a second and not look at this as purely how much money can we invest. It’s more about how do we engage the community and I think that message is starting to be received by the communities who are starting to understand this.”
“This year we had more applicants than we did last year and the year before and the quality is much greater this year. …Yes, in a short time that we have been doing it, we’ve seen marked improvement.”
- Some state agency partners believed that despite the tiered approach, capacity remains an issue of concern for community partners.
“I do think that we have had more towns have more interest since then, so I am not for sure in terms of quality. It’s still a capacity issue because Stellar is a very intensive and overwhelming project and really a lot to take on and I think smaller towns have a difficult time with capacity to be able to implement the stellar program in its entirety.”
Addition of State Agency Actors
- Most partners believe the additional partners enhance the program.
“We have a total of eleven partners now and so far, it’s been really good. The tourism, has participated a significant amount and virtually all the other agencies have had one or several participants throughout the entire process. “
- New program partners are not fully informed about ISCP. Additionally, new program partners are not fully engaged in the ISCP process. Currently, state agency partners participate on two different levels. Some are involved in all aspects of the process, while other with minimal involvement. Consequently, this leads to partner’s lack of knowledge about some parts of the program processes and community partner involvement and projects.
- New state partners believed key partners work well together, as well as, with the new partners.
- The new partnerships have fostered an environment of collaboration among new state agency partners with each other.
“I think we work well, we have already forged a relationship with Serve Indiana which is a volunteer coordination state agency that we didn’t even know existed; they have come and done some training for us. So we work well together and we’ve been able to forge some partnerships to do some other things together.”
“We have a new kind of partnership with housing which kind of came as a result of being involved in the Stellar Communities program….. The folks that are around that table are the folks that we’ve identified for various things as our likely partners.”
- Newly designated or more recent community partners are seeking the technical assistance and other resources from the new state agency partners.
“We’ve gotten good feedback about when there is projects that they are doing outside of OCRA’s or IHCDA’s scope, they [recent community partners] either ask us to connect them to the partners, so this year we put all the partners contact information in the SIP requirements documents; so they have been reaching out and talking to people individually about their projects.”
- Previous designees are not capitalizing on the community’s resources of the new state agency partners.
“I don’t think any of them [past designees] have reached out to any of the partners.”
- The number of new partners can be overwhelming for community partners. A few respondents noted community partners feeling overwhelmed with the number of new partners and not knowing where to start or how they best fit with their community’s strategic investment plans.
Find methods to fully inform all community partners about resources available with the state agencies. This could be implemented through the development of an on-line resource guide which provides a matrix of resources and aid available to community partners by region and population size. The guide should simply outline programs, additional funding, deadlines, and requirements to apply, and key contacts of each agency. This may include designating a Stellar Contact for each agency. In addition, consider providing monthly online webinars, allowing each state partner to present (in greater detail) resources they offer, examples of projects, programs implemented in other communities, as well as, allow for a Q and A session between community and state agency partners prior to Stellar applications.
Adequately educate community partners on program goals and processes. About one-third of the partners did not appear to clearly understand the program. This may be a hindrance or barrier when trying to connect community partners to their resources. Provide additional training sessions or lunch and learns with staff from the other agencies to allow for better education about the program.
Better incorporate new partners into the process. Currently, state agency partners participate on two different levels, which may result in the lack of knowledge about program processes and community partner involvement and projects. Consider revising participation criteria or making certain parts of the process mandatory. For example, consider requesting for each state agency partner to attend one or two site visits as a mandatory requirement.
Next Steps and Future Research
The shared approach for comprehensive neighborhood revitalization in rural Indiana communities is fostering broad-based, cross-sector partnerships and is coordinating public and private funding and resources.
The ISCP approach has been fueled by a significant investment and alignment of resources by OCRA, IHCDA, INDOT, other state agency partners, and community partners. The momentum gained by these initial investments is priming the field for sustained investment and collaborative programming, which will produce stronger, healthier, and more vibrant people and rural communities.
This annual summary report represents the culmination of the four years of Sagamore Institute’s contracted research and evaluation of the Indiana Stellar Communities Program. The goal has been to gather information about the Indiana Stellar Communities Program from state agencies, community partners, and stakeholders, so that the evaluation process and implementation within ISCP can be strengthened.
In the third part of this evaluation, to be in winter of 2017, Sagamore Institute will continue the analysis of the twelve Stellar communities.