PROJECTS 2017-09-05T19:23:49+00:00

Citywide
Plan
to Reduce Poverty

Forging unanimous support for low-income solutions in Norfolk, Virginia

In 2014, Norfolk, Virginia’s mayor and city leadership became alarmed. Their city had witnessed tremendous economic growth in the public and private sectors, yet 16.5 percent of families were still living in poverty.  The mayor and city manager wanted members of the community to share in the ownership, creativity, and responsibility for determining the city’s actions to reduce poverty. They enlisted Communitas Consulting to create a plan, establish parameters, and oversee the process that would engage citizens and low-income Norfolk families in building a more hopeful future for themselves and the city.

Over a nine-month period, Communitas Consulting facilitated, researched, and produced a citywide plan to reduce poverty for a 34-member municipal commission.

  • Engaged city team and volunteer commissioners in co-designing process and presenting local research
  • Facilitated nine planning sessions, designed town halls, provided templates for working groups to formulate solutions on their own
  • Collected and distributed data and best practices recommendations
  • Negotiated differences and partisan opinions to arrive at consensus through deliberation
  • Guided and coached citizen members to support five central recommendations
  • Integrated the input, data and research into comprehensive report, including recommendations, budget estimates, and anticipated outcomes
To date, the city council has approved $3.9M for implementation of the recommendations, including $1.4M for a housing trust fund.  Report recommendations provided the catalyst for a partnership with Purpose Built Communities, currently providing technical assistance in the planning of a transformational redevelopment  of a neighborhood with high concentrations of poverty.  This model will provide high quality education and housing opportunities as well as supportive services and neighborhood amenities through a public-private partnership.  The plan continues to inform poverty reduction efforts, and is now a model for a forthcoming Norfolk commission on life-long learning.

Regional Collective Action Plan

Facilitating a better blueprint for a changing community

Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond — part of a statewide network under the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation — wanted to re-energize and mobilize a coalition advocating better outcomes for young children and their families. Their older plan no longer fit the new demographics, challenges, and needs of the region’s children. The client wanted to bring together the numerous stakeholders to provide a cohesive plan.

Communitas Consulting conducted research and facilitated extensive stakeholder meetings throughout the region, including more than 260 individuals at all levels of the coalition—from grassroots organizations, to parent representatives, to agency and business executives.

  • Developed plan based on current needs and resources
  • Identified and took advantage of best practices
  • Created more accountability and expanded number and diversity of participants and investors
  • Built consensus for a plan with shared accountability and outcomes.

The plan is fundamentally shaping the investments and program direction for hundreds of public and private providers. Smart Beginnings has reorganized its work groups to align with four plan goals: a more active stance on public policy, stepping up engagement of parents in the planning and operation of work groups and participants member organizations, piloting coordinated care systems, and training a multicultural workforce in trauma-informed early care services.

See the final report, written by Communitas Consulting and designed by Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond, at http://www.communitasconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/SmartBeginningsReportlowrez.pdf

National Evaluation of Collaboration Effectiveness

A more strategic direction enables more successful community development

NeighborWorks, a national nonprofit, had allocated more than $5.8 million dollars over a two-year period to 34 housing and community development organizations. The leadership was considering changes in the program and wanted to be more strategic in their funding. They wanted to know who was being funded and how they collaborated, the success rate of the organizations they support, and if any lessons learned could guide improvements to the grants program and processes.

Communitas Consulting used a mixed-methods research design involving rigorous review of funded grant proposals and their accompanying progress reports.

  • Surveyed all project leads and multiple partner agencies
  • Conducted in-depth interviews with representatives from eight collaboratives and staff leadership in all five NeighborWorks regions
  • Identified factors that contributed most to success: trust and collaborative history, time to plan, a coordinating point person, collaborative partnership culture, and strong organizational capacity.
  • Made recommendations for a revised approach based on research and assessment

Based on Communitas Consulting’s evaluation, NeighborWorks has changed their funding approach, now investing in fewer collaboratives that have greater impact, being more precise about its goals for collaborative grants, engaging the partners as well as the lead agency in communication and accountability, and fostering shared learning among recipients and across its national network.

Private Foundation Place-Based Evaluation

Pairing data with theory to redesign an early childhood initiative

A family foundation needed to retroactively evaluate the impact of a 13-year multi-million dollar early childhood initiative to inform their future strategies and allocation of resources. Data collection and records over the years had been uneven. The new leadership wanted a consulting practice with a keen knowledge of capacity building in philanthropy and nonprofits, and content expertise in early childhood services, to design and implement a rigorous evaluation process, leading to recommendations for implementation.

The Communitas Consulting team guided the retroactive assessment, collaborating with the foundation executives and lead agency, to create a process that looked at both the history and governance of the initiative, as well as the outcomes of its programs and collaborative networks.

  • Communitas researchers tracked down documents, evaluated data, and conducted in-depth interviews based on measurement criteria
  • Helped translate theoretical business model into detailed programmatic logic model
  • Determined relevant evaluation criteria at each step
  • Identified specific breakdowns in the process
  • Focused the evaluation on problem-solving, program redesign and process improvement
  • Engaged neighborhood parents and community partners to identify assets and needs, and vet the research findings
  • Synthesized demographic and socioeconomic indicators to confirm and explore changes over the past decade in order to inform and enhance the final recommendations

The Communitas Consulting report offered a richly detailed view of program activities and outcomes, a thorough accounting of the agency’s use of resources, and analysis of the program’s ability to track their results in comparison to community wide indicators or changes in the children’s well-being. Community voices of neighborhood parents were driving forces in the final recommendations. The analysis also recommended grantmaking approaches and procedures for the foundation.

The clients will use the report to guide the launch of a significant redesign of the initiative. Pairing data with theory, the new direction will consider more engagement with parents, better coordination with local agencies, closer monitoring and evaluation, and revised agreements with partners.

“When you’re brainstorming and need to synthesize ideas, Saphira has a very strong aptitude for that–more than any other facilitator I’ve seen. ”

Pamela Kestner, Deputy Director of Housing, VA Department of Housing and Community Development

“Great facilitator! Saphira has a lot of great skills… she can synthesize disparate information, make it less complex, easy to grasp and understand and move forward on.”

Kelly Chopus, CEO, Robins Foundation

“The report continues to drive our work every day. The report and the recommendations are a catalyst for our work that we revisit often…it’s a living document.”

Susan Perry, Special Assistant to City Manager, City of Norfolk

“When you’re brainstorming and need to synthesize ideas, Saphira has a very strong aptitude for that–more than any other facilitator I’ve seen. ”

Pamela Kestner, Deputy Director of Housing, VA Department of Housing and Community Development

“Great facilitator! Saphira has a lot of great skills… she can synthesize disparate information, make it less complex, easy to grasp and understand and move forward on.”

Kelly Chopus, CEO, Robins Foundation

“The report continues to drive our work every day. The report and the recommendations are a catalyst for our work that we revisit often…it’s a living document.”

Susan Perry, Special Assistant to City Manager, City of Norfolk