Voices from the Field LEARNING


The Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families was established in 1992 as a forum in which people engaged in the field of comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs)—including foundation sponsors, directors, technical assistance providers, evaluators, and public sector officials—could meet to discuss the lessons that are being learned by initiatives across the country and to work on common problems that they are facing. (A list of Roundtable members is included as appendix A.)  In addition to the project that has resulted in this report, the Roundtable is examining a range of specific issues that are critical to the CCI field. For example, to address the challenges associated with evaluating CCIs, the Roundtable regularly convenes a Steering Committee on Evaluation. The first phase of that committee’s work is presented in New Approaches to Evaluating Community Initiatives: Concepts, Methods, and Contexts, edited by James P. Connell, Anne C. Kubisch, Lisbeth B. Schorr, and Carol H. Weiss, published by the Aspen Institute in 1995. A second volume on CCI evaluation is scheduled for publication during 1998.

In 1995, members of the Roundtable pointed to the need to systematically distill the experiences of the current generation of CCIs in order to:  (a) inform work on important cross-cutting issues that are at the forefront of the CCI field, such as comprehensiveness of program, community building, and related operational challenges;  (b) suggest next steps to enhance the effectiveness of currently operating CCIs; (c) guide new program architects and implementers; and (d) define a research agenda for further learning and application.

The co-chairs and staff of the Roundtable responded to this charge by designing a participatory process with the aim of eliciting the observations of fellow actors in the CCI field and producing an analytical portrait of CCIs that could be of use to a number of audiences. Over the course of a two-month period, June - July 1995, the Roundtable sponsored eleven focus group discussions, each with 6-14 “peers” in the CCI field—defined as people occupying similar positions, including foundation representatives, initiative directors and staff, evaluators, members of the governance structures of local initiatives, residents of the neighborhoods in which CCIs are taking place, and other experts and observers of the field. By the end of the process, 94 individuals participated in the day-long structured discussion sessions, which were taped, transcribed, and analyzed for presentation in this report. (Further discussion of the methodology that was used and a list of the participants in the focus group sessions can be found in appendices B and C.)

In the series of peer group discussions that informed this report, participants were asked to consider their experiences and the lessons they are learning about CCI goals, principles, operational strategies, and programs. In analyzing the data, however, it became apparent that a simple reporting of the observations of actors within these static categories would understate the complexity of the CCI phenomenon and would do a disservice to the depth of knowledge that is being generated through CCIs about how to promote significant and lasting change in poor neighborhoods. It is the dynamics of CCIs that are important to understand—that is, the interplay among goals, principles, operations, and programs. This report, therefore, emphasizes and explores what is being learned about those dynamics.

Although seven people were responsible for putting pen to paper and serving as the scribes for this project, in many ways it was the 94 people who participated in our focus group sessions who “wrote” this report. Please refer to Appendix B for this list of the focus group participants, the true authors of this report.

The activities that led to the production of this paper were led by Anne C. Kubisch, director of the Roundtable. She was joined by six people, and the team worked together throughout all stages of the project: defining the scope of work, conducting the focus group sessions, analyzing the data, identifying the key messages that the data suggested, and writing the report. Three of the team members were Roundtable staff, three were staff of the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, and one belonged to both institutions:

The Roundtable’s activities are funded by ten foundations and two federal departments:  the Ford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Foundation for Child Development, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the C. S. Mott Foundation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The co-chairs and staff of the Roundtable are grateful to their foundation and government sponsors, who made this work possible. The Roundtable is also grateful to the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago for lending its staff to this project and to the Foundation for Child Development, which provided office space and other generous support for the Roundtable’s work.

Many people assisted in this effort and provided important feedback on earlier drafts. On behalf of the authors, we thank them all. Several people deserve special mention:  Barbara Blum, Sid Gardner, Craig Howard, Sarah Ingersoll, Rebecca Riley, and Rebecca Stone. In addition, thanks go to all the members of the Roundtable who helped us to frame both the project and the final product. Two Chapin Hall staff deserve special thanks: Susan Campbell for her expert editing and Sylvan Robb for her work on the initiative descriptions that informed our work. Finally, many thanks go to Anne Mackinnon, Rick Landesberg, Carolyn Uhl, and Sylvia Pear for producing this final version of the report.

The authors are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and the interpretations contained within this report. The interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring foundations or of the federal government.

Finally, and most important of all, we thank the 94 people who participated in the peer group discussions and shared their experiences and wisdom with us. As suggested by its title, Voices from the Field, the aim of this report is to explore and capture the wisdom of those who are actively engaged in CCIs today. We hope that they find their “voices” represented here.

Harold Richman, Roundtable Co-Chair
  Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor of Social Welfare Policy
  Director, Chapin Hall Center for Children
  University of Chicago

Lisbeth B. Schorr, Roundtable Co-Chair
  Director, Harvard Project on Effective Interventions
  Harvard University

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