Types of Assistance and Average Investment (2011 – 2016)
STATE AGENCY PARTNERS
Average Investment per designee: $6M
Indiana Housing Community
Average Investment per designee: $3.25M
Office of Community Rural Affairs
Average Investment per designee: $1.5M
Success Factors across Partners (2011 – 2014)
STATE AGENCY PARTNERS
Many factors contributing to the success of state agency partners were context-specific to a state agency’s role and functions. The following successes emerged in the analysis of the application, planning, and implementation of the program across state agencies. According to state agency participants, major successes of the ISCP process are that it:
Creates an opportunity for change: State agency respondents noted that participating in the process allows agencies to invest in change in small rural communities.
Establishes community trust: State agency respondents noted an increase in trust between local officials and their agencies, due to having good communication with city officials and stakeholders and following up.
Provides greater flexibility than traditional funding programs: The ISCP process allows state agencies to develop a broader scope of community development by utilizing traditional funding in a different manner, thereby taking the agencies outside of their comfort zones.
Builds and maintains strong relationships and brings resources together: ISCP participants indicated that the process strengthened the relationship between the state agencies and with community partners. Participants also noted that the process allowed agencies and community partners to bring resources together to move projects forward.
Creates a new replicable model for comprehensive development: Being an experiential type of program, the ISCP creates a base model from which current and future community development programs can adopt.
Improves education and program expectations: State agency partners noted that they have learned from their previous mistakes with communication with community partners and have since done a better job of educating and managing expectations of communities that they are working with.
This analysis included data provided by finalists and ISCP-designated community partners. Many factors contributing to the success of these case studies were context-specific and unique to particular communities, projects, and partnerships. At the same time, several factors emerged in our cross-site analysis. These include:
Presence of strong community partner organizations: Respondents identified the presence of strong community partner organizations prior to the application process that assisted in the development of strong community investment plans.
High level of mutual respect and trust: Respondents noted a high level of mutual respect and trust among the community partners and stakeholders, and an appreciation of the complementary skills and resources that each partner brought.
Commitment to building strong collaborations and alliances: Respondents demonstrated the commitment to building strong collaborations and alliances with diverse stakeholders beyond the formal city and county governments as a vital component of success.
All respondents identified the ISCP strategic investment planning (SIP) process as a mechanism by which partnerships were strengthened to leverage opportunities, obtain other investments, and increase community capacity to complete projects.
Appreciation and need for community engagement and comprehensive planning: Respondents identified an appreciation by all partners of the need for community engagement and strategic, comprehensive planning for putting the program into action.
Commitment to “doing your homework”: Respondents indicated a crucial component of the application process is conducting research on the process and program requirements beforehand, such as finding out what other communities have done, who holds decision-making authority within the state agencies, and key leverage points
Challenges Faced by Partners (2011 – 2014)
STATE AGENCY PARTNERS
Each partner faced challenges grounded in the organization’s mission, policies, funding priorities, the historical relationships, and functional realities surrounding the implementation of a new program. These challenges ranged from miscommunication of program expectations (e.g., the program being a grant award) to problems posed by high staff turnover and funding limitations (e.g., Federal guidelines slowing down the process). The partners encountered several common challenges:
Limitations of funding sources: Over time, the amount of funding available diminished in size. Additionally, types of funding sources available for program implementation changed. The funding resources also had constraints on how the funding could be used.
Lack of full transparency and clear message: Respondents identified a lack of transparency in the process regarding the selection of communities designated. The perceptions of poor transparency resulted in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity among community participants.
Upfront expectations and advertising of program: Throughout the program administration there appeared a lack of clear communication of state expectations of the local community partners. Respondents indicated that there were miscommunications to potential community participants about how the program works. There were also misconceptions of the availability of programmatic funding for projects and funding requirements. Some applicants’ perceptions of the program, particularly early on, were that they had unlimited access to a large amount for funding. In some instances, participants were not aware that designation did not guarantee funding.
Inconsistencies in process and message: Respondents noted that, in some cases, community administration changed in the middle of the program. In addition, state-level or local-level administration personnel were also replaced and responsibilities were altered. These turnovers resulted in changes of expectations or goals of the program. As illustrated in program implementation, challenges were faced by both community partners and state agency staff. For instance, there was a lack of standardization in record keeping by program officers. So as new program officers took over, the knowledge was not captured.
Each community faced challenges grounded in the historical, socio-demographic, economic, and political context surrounding the application and implementation processes for the ISCP program. These challenges ranged from the perceptions of lack of clear understanding of programmatic needs and requirements to problems posed by funding constraints or prohibitions altering or scrapping proposed projects. Based on the case studies discussed in this report, the community partners encountered several common challenges in both the application process and program implementation:
Vagueness during application process and lack of feedback. Respondents identified a need for clarity and consistency in program expectations during the application process and in the feedback process afterwards. In addition, there was an overall perception among community partners that they lacked sufficient understanding of the program processes, expectations, and avenues for implementation and funding sources.
Need for standardized metrics. Respondents specified the lack of standardized metrics for which communities are to be graded as challenging.
“There was an inability to articulate why communities weren’t selected.”
Absence of resources. Respondents acknowledged the lack of resources as a potential barrier in the application and implementation process. For example, respondents in smaller jurisdictions identified the lack of staff capacity (i.e., human capital) and/or private partnerships (i.e., social and financial capital) as a hindrance in moving their application forward.
“It seems to be, the more they do this the more it’s geared towards larger cities.”
Conflict between consultant-driven versus community-driven application. Respondents noted a perception that hiring a consultant was a necessity for applicants to be successful.
“There is a perceived politics and sort of black cloud. Everyone thinks you need to hire a consultant or hire the right consultant. As a community that has the resources, it would be nice to hear that you can do it yourself and if they want to see it come from you and not outside vision because this can cause internal strife. We have two different camps we had to fight and keep it in house vs. hire a consultant.”
Funding constraints or termination. Respondents identified funding constraints and/or termination of funding or changes in sources of project support, which in turn delayed or changed the scope of projects or project timelines.
Difficulty measuring the short-term and longer-term impacts of program. Respondents identified a need for standardization in measuring impacts. Each community uses its own mechanism to document and measure investments related to the ISCP.
What works (2011 – 2014)
The following section highlights important lessons for Indiana Stellar Communities Program. State agencies and community partners identified several common lessons learned of the shared approach:
STATE AGENCY PARTNERS
BOTH STATE AGENCY PARTNERS AND COMMUNITY PARTNERS
Master the Art of Adaptation: Throughout the funding rounds, the ISCP process has evolved and expectations have shifted or been modified to increase program success. In addition, along the way, there have been staff turnovers as well as changes in project scope and availability of funding pools based on Federal and state criteria. Both state agency and community partners have responded to changing circumstances and have mastered the ability to listen, learn, and modify their approach on the basis of external cues. Adaptability has allowed them to sustain their impact by evaluating, executing, and adapting ideas throughout the process.
Share Leadership: The formal and informal leaders within the communities and between state agency partners know that they must share power in order to be stronger forces for good. They distribute leadership within their organizations and throughout their external community networks, empowering others to lead. This is especially evident in the project leadership of community groups as part of the ISCP process. The Delphi Preservation Society, and the Gibson County Theatre Company are great examples of collective leadership in action.
Sustain Impact through Partnerships: The six community partners that we studied have all developed enduring, somewhat diversified sources of financial support, including large individual donor bases, government contracts, corporate donations, and foundation grants. Typically, they have aligned their fundraising strategy with their impact strategy. These community partners are not afraid to invest in their own capacity, thereby developing and nurturing solid local and regional partnerships as an essential foundation to change and to sustaining impact over time. The communities understand that when they utilize all their community capital forces simultaneously, it creates momentum that fuels further success.