What Makes a Community Partnership Work?

When you've assembled all the players in your Reclaiming Futures initiative for the first time, can you tell if the collaborative will be successful? Are there ways to help it along? 
PROSPER, a program that builds community partnerships to prevent teenagers from beginning to use alcohol and drugs, may offer a few hints. 
Though PROSPER is a prevention program, and Reclaiming Futures focuses on intervention, there appear to be strong similarities. Like Reclaiming Futures, PROSPER is focused on addressing teen use of alcohol and drugs, and it relies on cross-system partnerships to implement evidence-based models. So two recent studies of PROSPER, summarized by Prevention Action, may contain important lessons for Reclaiming Futures communities. For example:

  1. The poverty level of each project's community was correlated with its success. Higher poverty meant greater stress, and lower team functioning 18 months after launch. An increased level of technical assistance and support appeared to offset this problem. (This is why the Reclaiming Futures coaches and online community is so important to achieving success.)
  2. Community teams that valued prevention highly at the outset and who "were less accepting of adolescent alcohol use, tended to function better. Previous experience of collaboration and the skills associated with it were not related to team functioning, however." Therefore, the degree to which the players in your community share common attitudes about teens in the justice system -- belief in their ability to change, their potential -- may be important to the long-term success of your project. Successful teams take time at the outset to explore their common values.
  3. PROSPER teams did better when they had "contact with a designated prevention coordinator." I haven't had a chance to read the original research, but I'd bet my collaboration handbook that the role of the prevention coordinator is the same as that of a Reclaiming Futures project director. "Boundary spanners" keep the wheels turning.  Also, one would think that having coaches experienced in the model available for new project sites -- as Reclaiming Futures does -- would be icing on the cake! 

Updated: November 12 2008