Sustaining Gains

In an ideal situation, sustainability planning is included in initial strategic plan development and addressed in an ongoing manner throughout implementation. Regardless of the scale or scope of the sustainability effort, if sustaining the work is important, don’t wait to tackle it. Planning for sustainability is not something that should be left until right before the plan and implementation are needed. It is also not something to approach only when external funding is ending. Sustainability should be planned for from the beginning. 

Many aspects of the sustainability plan are based on sound implementation strategies:
•  The development and cultivation of buy-in among current participants and supporters 
•  Engagement in strong, ongoing marketing and communication for whatever you are seeking to sustain, both internally within your organization and externally with the broader community
•  Early and continuous use of data to track and demonstrate impact 
•  Connection to identified goals 

If your state is already using an established framework such as implementation science or results-based accountability to guide its efforts, the fundamentals of sustainability planning and implementation may already be integrated into your day-to-day processes.

As with any type of planning, it may be difficult to find the time, energy, and discipline to engage in sustainability planning and implementation. Try these startegies:

  • Schedule time blocks on your calendar.
  • Schedule recurring meetings with key thought partners.
  • Delegate and assign tasks.

Having a plan provides stakeholders with a shared sense of direction, clarifies the support needed to continue improving programs and policies, and identifies further planning needed. It can provide timely information and data to support hard decisions, clear goals, and essential stakeholder engagement and buy-in. This can save time in the long run.
Strategies for making time for this work may include allocating dedicated staff time to this process. This could include such activities as monthly or quarterly meetings; setting aside time on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis to address sustainability planning and implementation on existing agendas; or establishing a time each year to address staff roles and responsibilities along with strategic planning and organizational workplan development.
Timing and proactive nature of sustainability planning. Sustainability planning can happen at any time if is there is enough stakeholder engagement and commitment to the process. If the sustainability work is focused on a particular time-limited program or funding stream, it should happen along with the initial planning and implementation of the program. It may be helpful for the planning process to include options for sustaining the program by connecting and aligning it with other ongoing efforts in the early childhood system.
Even if the optimal time has passed, it is still worthwhile to plan for sustainability. Sustainability planning is the best way to be prepared in case things change in the early childhood environment, and to be able to make informed decisions about what should be sustained along with a reasonable plan to achieve the goals. It is never too late to start sustainability planning, although the comprehensive nature of planning may be impacted by a late start.

Time needed for sustainability planning. Each plan will be unique. The scale and scope of what is being considered may impact the timeline, as may the stakeholder, policy, budget, and leadership environments. Creating the sustainability plan may take anywhere from a few months to more than a year. Once the plan is created, time will be needed to implement the plan and to track, monitor, and update the implementation strategy.
Monitor context, data, actions, and decisions throughout implementation. When necessary, modify the plan to reflect changing circumstances. The plan is a living document. Updates should be made and tracked regularly as the plan is implemented. It is critical to actively monitor how implementation is going and to reflect and modify the plan as needed, based on additional data and changing circumstances, to support the plan goals. There is no set timeframe for these plans to be updated. Like any plan, if it isn’t current and accurate, it won’t be helpful. Since one of the goals of creating a sustainability plan is to have a roadmap that will inform action and decisions, it is important to regularly use the plan and reflect on whether the strategy is working or needs to be changed.