Bridgespan Group Revisits 11 Community Collaboratives to Assess Persistence, Progress and Patterns

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The research shows two-thirds of test group making headway and surfaces four common barriers to success faced by cross-sector community collaborative initiatives

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The progress that has been made did not come easily. The collaboratives have had to evolve in different ways while facing some common challenges.

The Bridgespan Group announced its release of a report aimed at understanding the progress of and challenges to sustaining a group of promising community collaboratives designed to tackle social challenges, such as teen pregnancy, youth violence and low high school graduation rates, and catalyze change. The research found that while only one of the initiatives, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program in Milwaukee, had succeeded in reaching and now increasing its goals, two-thirds of them had made continued progress, with persistence as a hallmark characteristic of each.

This work builds on a 2012 report by Bridgespan and the White House Council for Community Solutions, Needle-Moving Community Collaboratives: A Promising Approach to Addressing America’s Biggest Challenges, which described communities that had successfully worked collaboratively across business, government, philanthropy, and nonprofits to produce measurable improvement of at least 10 percent on these challenging community issues.

According to Bridgespan Partner and co-author of both reports Willa Seldon, “In 2012 we focused on surfacing the shared characteristics of the few successful community collaboratives we found; for this follow-up article, we went back to the 11 communities whose collaborations remained active to learn about how and if they kept going and improving outcomes.”

According to Bridgespan Manager and co-author Meera Chary, “The progress that has been made did not come easily. The collaboratives have had to evolve in different ways while facing some common challenges. And we still have a lot to learn about how, and if, these communities can truly address the societal problems they are focused on.”

The research surfaced four shared challenges:

  • Identifying and keeping stakeholders at the table
  • Managing the changes in the external environment, such as transitions in leadership, government or budget modifications
  • Getting and maintaining community buy-in: finding a balance between grassroots community involvement and objective measures of results
  • Gathering data on performance and using it to improve and communicate results

“Supporting the creation and ongoing management of new civic infrastructures like community collaboratives is a huge challenge; yet, these 11 community collaboratives we revisited offer inspiring examples of citizen persistence in uniting to better their communities,” said Seldon.

About The Bridgespan Group

The Bridgespan Group ( is a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. We collaborate with social sector leaders to help scale impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning. We work on issues related to society’s most important challenges and to break cycles of intergenerational poverty. Our services include strategy consulting, leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights.

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Liz London
The Bridgespan Group
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