The Program takes a multi-tiered approach that includes technical assistance, funding, promotion, coordination and collaboration, systems reform, program evaluation, and celebration.
Technical assistance. The goal of the Programs technical assistance services is to help participating cities and communities to develop, implement, and evaluate community-driven programs, policies, and plans for improved quality of life. Site-specific technical assistance is tailored to each community’s characteristics—recognizing its assets and challenges—to facilitate the discovery and sustainability of its collective wisdom and power. In addition, the Program facilitates networking and peer-to-peer exchange among communities in order to share resources and institutionalize best practices.
The Program provides the following forms of technical assistance: consultation, educational programs, literature and information, and a resource clearinghouse.
Consultation. The Program provides on-site skill-building consultation to community coalitions on such topics as governance, collaborative planning, systems thinking, and intersectoral coalition building. While technical assistance is often provided on request, the cultivation of pos¬itive relationships between Program staff and communities also allows the Program to identify challenges and proactively provide assistance and resources. This approach results in the integration of technical assistance into ongoing local planning and development. For example, the Program staff often receives requests from communities to participate in coalition retreats and vision workshops and for assistance in making presentations to governing bodies.
The Program also helps to facilitate communication within community coalitions. Staff members’ facilitative role includes assisting communities to bridge knowledge gaps and cultural understandings among residents, organizations, and institutions and to foster collaborative relationships to develop a collective vision, shared values, and mutual exchange of skills and resources. In this role, the Program also serves as a sounding board for communities, offering an “outsider” perspective that can present and interpret different viewpoints. California’s changing demographics challenge communities to embrace ethnic and cultural diversity as part of a commitment to full participation. Program staff members have recommended strategies that are responsive to existing or emerging cultural norms and that engage ethnic communities through inclusive and empowering approaches.
Technical assistance also has a role in monitoring community progress. Program participants submit progress reports and annual work plans. Review of reports and consultation on work plans provides opportunities to assess the integration of the Healthy Cities and Communities model. Program staff members identify local successes and challenges, offer recommendations (including lessons learned from other communities), and assess the use of technical assistance.
Educational programs. The Program also sponsors interactive educational programs to promote learning and the sharing of community-building skills. These include daylong orientation sessions, an annual conference, and regional workshops. Through the exchange of information, resources, and stories, the Programs educational opportunities help participants in their community improvement efforts and broaden their understanding of what it takes to do this work; develop and nurture relationships among participants; and energize and support all those in attendance (including
Each educational event models Healthy Cities principles by involving program participants in the planning, implementation, and evaluation. For the annual conference, participants are surveyed on their interest with regard to content, and a planning committee of community representatives develops the agenda and conference format and identifies speakers.
The majority of the conference speakers and workshop facilitators are community residents. Meeting “ground rules” are posted, and “jargon police” monitor the use of acronyms and language that can be exclusionary. In the last eight years, attendance at the annual conference has grown more than five-fold, to over 270 participants.
A recent technical assistance survey of participating communities indicated great interest in the areas of: leadership development, Healthy Cities and Communities “basics,” sustaining coalitions, inclusive community-building strategies, and using evaluation results for advocacy. Participants also indicated a high level of willingness to be involved in educational sessions as hosts, participants, or facilitators. As a result of this interest and the growth in the number of participating communities, the Program will sponsor regional workshops to provide more accessible opportunities for sharing expertise. These workshops will be hosted by participating communities, will have minimal registration fees, and will offer low-cost meals.
Literature and information. As part of technical assistance, the Program provides participating communities with literature, including a comprehensive resource guide; Connections, our quarterly newsletter; and biannual mailings of Highlights, a bulletin of funding opportunities, best practices, innovative community-building strategies, and useful websites. Additionally, the Program makes available the latest reference materials on various topics, including meeting facilitation, coalition-building, and evaluation. The Program also maintains an electronic mailing list and website.
Resource clearinghouse. Each year, the Program receives hundreds of in-state inquiries and requests for information from throughout the United States and abroad. To respond to these, the Program has developed a wide selection of literature that explains the Healthy Cities and Communities concept and profiles, in a mini-case study format, the background, experiences, and results achieved by program participants. Planning guides have been developed on youth violence prevention, promoting youth development, and tobacco control and sent to thousands of professionals and activists.
The Program provides an important link to practitioners in the community-building field and the Healthy Cities and Communities movement nationally and internationally. For instance, as part of the Coalition for Healthier Cities and Communities, the Program assisted with nationwide dialogues on community-building in 1999-2000.