Creating collaborative community youth development partnerships: Part 1

Tips for successful youth development partnerships.

Communities often function with an assortment of valuable but often disconnected programs, services and agencies. With budget reductions and limited resources available, interagency collaboration is becoming increasingly important.

Many communities currently operate with a range of interagency cooperation where they share resource or facilities, plan joint programs or meet together to discuss common goals and community needs. Some communities form coalitions where agencies join together in a common action for a specific, time-limited issue or agenda. However, true collaboration involves a more formal and sustained commitment from agencies and organizations and needs to have established, on-going relationships for the good of the community. Collaborative communities are dynamic social structures that require “cultivation” so they can grow.

Collaborative partnerships can take various forms but most successful ones have some common characteristics. These include shared goals, inclusive membership, community legitimacy and an ability to mobilize community assets and resources. An important outcome of these partnerships should be policy or community change.

When developing a collaborative community partnership, it is important to consider the community action frame work approach. With this approach, the collaborative sets long-term goals, identifies milestones to acknowledge how these goals will be reached, and initiates the pooling of resources to strengthen the community. Collectively, these efforts provide support for programs and services that will help youth meet these milestones.

In contrast to a coalition structure, the community action framework approach utilizes a strategy that involves all of the significant influences in a young person’s development over a sustained period of time.  Collaborative partners in community youth development need to build relationships, establish trust, define roles and responsibilities, create a common language, design together, create an evaluation plan, celebrate successes and milestones and plan for the future.

It is important for partners in these partnerships to be aware of changes in each other’s roles, responsibilities, resources and direction. Open communication about these conditions needs to be a priority among staff members involved in community collaborations because a change in one of the partners can affect the entire structure of the collaboration.

Over the last decade, the youth development field has made significant progress in shifting from the unsuccessful “quick fix” of a deficit by one agency to a more proactive philosophy of a group of agencies planning, implementing and evaluating a continuum of programming efforts in a community. Connections with schools have proven to be an important element in community youth development collaborations .Campbell and Erbstein (2010) reported schools were the most consistent collaborative partner even though they were originally viewed as impenetrable bureaucracies by many of their community partners. Schools often function as the base point to expand existing student services.

Creating conditions that will ensure community mobilization and encourage stakeholders to work together are paramount when developing a community youth development strategy. Conditions that support developing a successful community youth strategy and framework as identified by Gambone and Connell (2004, p. 20) include all partners having a sense of urgency about the issue or need and an attitude that change is possible. In addition, they must be willing to change how they operate. This becomes easier for organizations if they see others are willing to take a risk and step out of their comfort zone by changing the status quo of how they operate.

For additional Michigan State University Extension articles on collaborative community partnerships, view Part 2 in this series.


  •  Campbell, D., & Erbstein, N. (2010). Benefits and challenges in building a community youth development coalition. REACH Issue Brief Series,1,1-8.
  • Connell, J.P., & Gambone, M. A., (2002). Youth development in community settings: A community action framework (draft copy). Youth Development Strategies, Inc.
  • Gambone, M.A., & Connell,l J.P. (2004). The community action framework for youth development. The Prevention Researcher. 11(2), 17-20.

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