Each of the partners included in this study was selected in part because of its perceived role in contributing to or implementation of the ISCP process. Based on their experiences and shared concerns, the following recommendations are offered to state agency partners and ISCP participants that would enhance both effectiveness and transparency. The 2014 mid-year report identified the three most critical of these recommended changes (see points below).
Develop a clear, transparent, and consistent message and program. Change the application and administration processes to be as simple and as concise as possible – avoid bureaucratic overload while maintaining sufficient rigor in the process (develop application and reporting frameworks that can be monitored and tracked). In addition, provide expectations and transparency in reporting, evaluation, and monitoring by creating a set of objective metrics by which the communities will be graded. This will permit communities the ability to understand how they stack up against program goals during the application phase. This may also assist state agency staff during the exit interview and follow-up afterwards in the organizational rationale(s) behind the selections for finalist and designations.
Create a standardized method to track program outcomes. In order to better track performance and outcomes, develop means for full reporting of investments quarterly or annually for public and private investment (citywide and in Stellar-designated areas), either electronically or online, which:
a. Clearly articulates how program impacts are measured and validated. This should include how program impacts on public and private investments are measured as clear and quantifiable outcomes based on citywide versus target-area investments as well as private versus public investments. Program managers should also report on the time period needed to realize an outcome and to what extent metrics are standardized to allow for year-over-year and/or quarterly comparisons.
b. Allows community partners to illustrate the extent:
i. Of their collaboration with other state, Federal, private, and nonprofit organizations.
ii. Of how closely implementation matched the plan. What types of changes were made to the originally proposed plan? What led to the changes in the original plan?
iii. Of who provided (program staff/lead organization) what services (type, intensity, duration), to whom (target population served), in what context (community/need), and at what cost (facilities, personnel, indirect/direct).
State agency partners have addressed the recommendations above in its most current round (2015) of ISCP. The following are additional recommendations based on further analysis of the data.
§ Continue to emphasize the magnitude and potential opportunities of the ISCP: State agency partners need to do a better job of making sure communities know and understand that the designation is a large undertaking. In addition, state agency partners should articulate to potential applicants other funding opportunities available to them should they not be awarded designation. A respondent expounds on this need in greater detail,
“… It’s a ton of work and you’ve got to be committed. So what it says about the communities that apply is that they’re ready for greatness. You are committed even if you go through this process, so you’re already a step ahead of the next guy. It is a huge effort, but it’s worth it. This makes sure that they are prepared for that.”
§ Explain tracking mechanism upfront: State agency partners should describe tracking mechanisms during the application process as well as during designation so that applicants and designees may accurately track investments and impact and align them with programmatic goals. One respondent explains,
“…We are tracking metrics on our side and at the last quarterly meeting they said they would send us a template with the data on what they wanted us to track, and what that would look like. .. it would be nice to know that upfront so we can know if there is something that were tracking that we need to track it a little differently or we need to document it a little differently to know that part so that we’re not back tracking and changing any of that data collection process.”
§ Continue open communication: Direct and clear communication is vital to program success. State agency partners should continue this practice of transparency. A respondent explains the value of this openness,
“By being open and available they have been great about responding when we ask a question. My hope is that in future when we ask a question it will be easier to reply with a concrete response. I would hope that they would be able to continue that act of responsiveness as they add more communities to the process.”
§ Create a streamlined process between ISCP and grant applications: In an effort to reduce redundancy and utilize city administrators' time effectively, find a method that may streamline and/or reduce the duplication within both the ISCP application and funding applications if possible. One respondent elaborates on this in detail,
“Part of me wants to say that after all the work that’s done to the application process that it would be nice if the communities wouldn’t have to then go through the grant application process for each program. The project information has already been submitted. I think as long as the scope has not changed that the communities should get a break from that additional workload. I don’t want to say make the process easier, but perhaps it could be streamlined in the future. The application guidelines from what I recall were very vague and it took a lot of time away from city administration’s other projects in order to prepare the applications… it's very constraining on the small city government.”
Have communities develop a contingency plan as part of their ISCP process. The contingency plan should focus on sustainability planning by introducing key elements of a sustainability strategy early in the planning phase. The objective is to leave a legacy of functional programs and projects that will not only be self-sustaining once the ISCP program ends, but will also lead to additional future investments. Part of contingency planning includes: 1) strengthening on-going relationships between community partners and 2) promoting ownership of project activities. Project ownership could be individuals, community-based groups, private-sector organizations or governmental institutions. Developing this plan should not be a stretch given respondents reported that the process allowed for community leaders to take ownership of projects and programs. Respondents also noted that the ISCP model creates community accountability.
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.