Academic journal article Family Relations

Sustaining Community-Based Programs for Families: Conceptualization and Measurement*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Sustaining Community-Based Programs for Families: Conceptualization and Measurement*

Article excerpt

A conceptual model for evaluating community-based program sustainability is presented, along with a 53-item Program Sustainability Index (PSI). Structural equation modeling (SEM) and principal axis factor analysis indicate strong support for each of the seven elements of the PSI. When considered as an overall model, six of the seven framework elements were retained. Internal consistency for each subscale was acceptable, and acceptable performance validity was demonstrated when the subscales were contrasted with middle-range program results. These findings are discussed with regard to next steps in the conceptualization and measurement of program sustainability, as well as implications for planning and implementing community-based programs for families.

Key Words: community, measurement, programs, program sustainability, theory.

(Family Relations, 2004, 53, 339-347)

Community-based programs are important in the service delivery system in many communities; yet there is a lack of knowledge about how programs are sustained (Lerner, 1995), including inadequate systematic conceptualization and associated measurement of sustainability. Funding providers and the professionals who receive their funds are obligated to work toward sustaining programs. The poignancy of this obligation was expressed by a service provider who said,

We have a responsibility to our program recipients; they've had so many losses in their lives and for us to come in for a year or two or three and give them hope, only to have the program go away, we've just caused another loss and a further loss of hope in their lives. (Akerlund, 2000, p. 353)

Our purpose in this article is to present a community-based program sustainability conceptual model and a multifactor measure that corresponds to the model.

Toward a Theory of Program Sustainability

There are three dimensions in our conceptual framework logic model: elements associated with sustainability, middle-range program results, and an ultimate result of the program being sustained (see Figure 1). We assume that sustainability elements lead to desired middle-range program results and that these desired results increase the chances of a program being sustained (ultimate result). Sustainability elements also may be related directly to the ultimate result of a program being sustained. We examine linkages between Sustainability elements and selected middle-range program results in the course of discussing the Program Sustainability Index (PSI), a measure of the Sustainability elements.


Sustainability is the capacity of programs to continuously respond to community issues. A sustained program maintains a focus consonant with its original goals and objectives, including the individuals, families, and communities it was originally intended to serve. Programs ebb and flow and wax and wane regarding the breadth and depth of their programming. Some contract and others expand, whereas others maintain original program activities. Some become aligned with other organizations and established institutions, whereas others maintain their independence (LaFond, 1995; Shediac-Rizkallah & Bone, 1998). Certain programs offer the same prevention activities for years, and others introduce different activities that remain focused on their general goals and objectives. The key element of Sustainability is providing continued benefits, regardless of particular activities delivered or the format (institutionalization versus independence) in which they are delivered. Thus, it is more important to sustain benefits to families and communities than to sustain program activities per se.

Elements of Sustainability

Our framework contains seven major elements of sustainability: leadership competence, effective collaboration, understanding the community, demonstrating program results, strategic funding, staff involvement and integration, and program responsivity. …

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