Identifying the Role of Community Partnerships in Creating Change to Support Active Living

This study of the community partnerships funded by Active Living by Design (ALbD) explores which structures and functioning contributed to success and which presented challenges. It finds no single partnership model is best: the partnership must fit the initiative and community.

The ALbD initiative funded 25 community partnerships across the U.S. from 2003-2008; these partnerships were charged with using five “community action” strategies to change environments and policies to make it easier for people to lead active daily lives. Part of a three-year cross-site evaluation started in Year Three of ALbD funding, this paper specifically examines the partnerships’ structures and functioning to identify which contributed to or hindered success. Data was gathered through interviews with key individuals, focus groups, a partnership survey, and the ALbD Progress Reporting System.

Key Findings:

  • For success, partnerships should include a broad range of members, including policy and decision makers with the know-how to change environments and policies, and community representatives who can ensure efforts are well-suited for their community and who can lead and champion grassroots support and engagement.
  • Performance improves when partnerships tend to the partnership itself, building capacity related to leadership, advocacy, group management, assessment, and action planning. 
  • Challenges to performance include mobilizing community members, and maintaining long-term community engagement.
  • The research “somewhat uniquely” finds that “contextual factors,” such as the community’s history with previous partnerships and the inequitable distribution of community resources, influence a partnership’s success.

This study observes that there is no one partnership model that leads to success. To be successful, a partnership should fit the initiative and, in particular, take into account the history of collaboration within its particular community.