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Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community
Jonathan F. Zaff a,
⁎, Elizabeth Pufall Jones b
, Katie Aasland b
, Alice E. Donlan b
, Emily S. Lin b
,
Jennifer Elise Prescott b
, Alexandra Baker b
a
America's Promise Alliance
b
Tufts University
a b s t r a c ta r t i c l e i n f o
Available online xxxx
Keywords:
Comprehensive community initiatives
Alignment
Community needs
Family needs
Youth-focused comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) exist to create the conditions so all young people
may have the developmental supports needed to thrive. Research shows alignment is a key ingredient for
meaningful change in a community. The current study discusses the theoretical basis for the importance of
alignment, and provides a method to measure alignment of perceived needs in the community using semi-
structured interview data. Our results suggest a method of using the perceptions of multiple stakeholders to
reveal that there are alignments and misalignments across the levels of a community. Direct service providers
(DSP) and families had the most alignment, while the least alignment was between the CCI leadership and
families. Further, DSP and families stressed basic needs (such as needing to pay bills and buy food, or needing
transportation), while CCI leadership stressed the need for the creation and/or implementation of academic
programmatic efforts to ensure positive developmental outcomes.
© 2015 Published by Elsevier Inc.
Comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) have been promoted
over the past 30 years as entities that can bring together sectors and in-
dividuals to address complex problems that are believed to be immune
to single interventions (e.g., Wolff, 2001). A key assumption of CCIs is
that all facets of the community are interconnected and important to
achieving positive change within the community (Kubisch, 2010).
CCIs assess, design, and implement policies and programs that leverage
the capacity of the community, and have traditionally targeted issues
related to public health, social welfare, housing, education, and commu-
nity development (Kubisch, 2010). In particular, CCIs focused on young
people are positioned to coordinate efforts, resources, and funding
across organizations to cultivate human, institutional, and social capital
(together considered community capacity) that a community would
need to resolve the needs of their young people (Chaskin, 2001).
Community capacity has been shown to improve the available develop-
mental supports and positive developmental outcomes for young
people (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). Unfortunately, relatively
few youth-focused CCIs have been effective at attaining community-
level impacts (see Foster-Fishman, Berkowitz, Lounsbury, Jacobson, &
Allen, 2001; Kubisch, 2010; Roussos & Fawcett, 2000 for reviews).
However, community-level impacts have been found when CCIs are
aligned across the levels of a community, with the vision and program-
matic strategies of each level aligning with the strategies and imple-
mentation of actions and programs; and in turn, those actions and
programs aligning with the children and youth who are the focus of
the efforts (e.g., Auspos, 2010; Hawkins et al., 2008; Spoth, Guyll,
Redmond, Greenberg, & Feinberg, 2011). In this paper, we explore
the degree to which three CCI's visions and perceived needs of the com-
munity are aligned with the needs identified by direct service providers,
and youth and their families in the communities. To complement and
extend the current literature, we present an in-depth examination of
alignment of vision and perceived needs across levels of a community
system. In our introduction, we discuss theory that supports the notion
that misalignment creates roadblocks for success whereas alignment
facilitates opportunities. Then we use cross-case qualitative analyses
(Miles & Huberman, 1994) to explore alignment and misalignment
within three communities, and finally propose ways to improve align-
ment within CCIs.
Consistent with Relational Developmental Systems Theories that
emphasize the importance of person ← →multiple-context relations
(RDST; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006; Lerner, 2012; Overton, 2013),
alignment within and across levels of a community system should
lead to a higher likelihood of achieving positive developmental out-
comes (Brandtstädter, 1998; Zaff & Smerdon, 2009). However, CCIs do
not often meet the ideal of alignment within and across levels, and in-
stead show a lack of alignment or even misalignment across the levels
of the community (e.g., among decision-makers, practitioners, and the
families and youth at the center of the CCI's work; Auspos, 2010).
Thus, we propose that one reason for modest or null effects of CCIs on
youth outcomes is a lack of alignment. For the purposes of this study,
we define alignment as sharing the same or complementary perceived
Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx
⁎ Corresponding author.
E-mail address: jonz@americaspromise.org (J.F. Zaff).
APPDEV-00774; No of Pages 9
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
0193-3973/© 2015 Published by Elsevier Inc.
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
(2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
community needs and how these needs will be met, across multiple
levels of the community (e.g., community leaders, business leaders,
parents, and youth).
The link between alignment of vision and action within and across
levels of a community and impact has been explicit (e.g., Auspos,
2010; Nowell, 2010; White & Wehlage, 1995) or implicit in numerous
studies of CCIs (e.g., Fagan, Hanson, Hawkins, & Arthur, 2009).
Auspos (2010) has discussed alignment in vision among members of
collaborative units in numerous CCIs, and White and Wehlage (1995)
found that there is often a lack of alignment between the decisions
being made by the collaborative unit and the implementers of those de-
cisions. In particular, Nowell (2010) found that misalignment across
community collaborative stakeholders negatively impacted a
collaboration's efforts to combat domestic violence. However, little re-
search has been conducted on how to assess alignment. Therefore, we
present an in-depth example of one way to assess alignment within
three different communities.
Our proposition that alignment is an essential ingredient for
effective CCIs is based on RDST (e.g., Overton, 2013), previous research
and evaluations of CCIs (e.g., Auspos, 2010; Nowell, 2010), and frame-
works that have been developed for the functioning of CCIs
(e.g., Foster-Fishman et al., 2001; Lasker, Weiss, & Miller, 2001). We
start with the recognition that development is defined as the relation
between an individual and her or his context (Lerner, 2012) and that in-
dividuals are embedded within multiple contexts or layers within their
ecology (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Youths' ecologies extend
from proximal relationships with other people (e.g., parents, teachers,
youth workers, other adults in their communities), and organizations
within which young people learn and grow (e.g., schools, faith-based
institutions, youth development organizations), to more distal factors,
such as public policies, economic conditions, and cultural norms
(Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Importantly, consistent with the te-
nets of RDST, all of these factors are part of an interconnected system,
such that each piece influences other pieces and simultaneously influ-
ences the individual. In turn, the individual also exerts influence on
the layers of the ecology that surrounds her (Bronfenbrenner &
Morris, 2006).
When applied to the lived experiences of youth, we call this system a
youth system. When there is alignment among the contexts within the
system and the individual strengths and needs of the individual (an
ideal which we call a supportive youth system), the hypothesized results
are adaptive developmental regulations for the individual and for the
ecology around the individual (Brandtstädter, 1998); that is, a support-
ive youth system leading to benefits for the young person as well as
benefits for the surrounding community. Extending this idea one step
further, we propose that alignment within and across levels of the
eco-system will facilitate the optimization of the youth system
(Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006).
Alignment within a given level of a system is necessary but not suf-
ficient for alignment across the entire system. For example, research has
continually shown that it is important to have member agreement and
alignment on vision and how to reach that vision within a collaborative
body (e.g., Auspos, 2010). However, less work has focused on the
importance of alignment across levels of the system (e.g., shared vision
and goals among collaborative members, direct service providers, and
families).
Two CCI models provide illustrative examples of how to encourage
cross-level alignment: Communities that Care (CTC) and PROSPER.
The CTC community change system is a community collaborative
model that focuses on identifying community needs, aligning relation-
ships and contexts, choosing proven prevention programs, and
implementing those programs with fidelity (Hawkins, Catalano, &
Arthur, 2002). In addition to on-the-ground efforts to create alignment
across contexts, the CTC process has explicit protocols in place to em-
phasize alignment. For instance, a core component of the CTC process
is that key partners learn about (and ultimately internalize) the social
development model. This model informs the community's selection and
implementation of prevention programs and provides a frame through
which to consider the creation of supportive conditions for youth in the
community. In addition, the CTC staff conducts a needs assessment that
is used to target the needs of the youth in the community. That is,
instead of assuming that the council knows intuitively what issues
youth in the community confront, the council surveys a representative
sample of youth and asks them directly. CTC also explicitly encourages
alignment across contexts through facilitating and emphasizing strong
school-community relationships (Fagan et al., 2009). These core CTC
components (coupled with choosing “proven” programs that address
community needs and implementing the programs with fidelity) have
resulted in significant and substantive impacts on reductions in
incidence of alcohol, cigarette, smokeless tobacco, and overall acts of
delinquency (Hawkins et al., 2008).
The mechanisms for alignment for CTC are similar in the PROSPER
model, a university–researcher–community partnership model de-
signed to facilitate the effective delivery of prevention and intervention
programs in schools and within families. A core component of this
model is the Prevention Coordinator, who aligns the work of a commu-
nity council with the needs of the community. A long-term impact study
of PROSPER has shown substantive impacts on child, parent, and family
outcomes, including drug and alcohol use, among others (Redmond
et al., 2009). Others who have studied single-site CCIs have documented
similar processes for understanding the needs (and strengths) of a com-
munity, developing strategies, and obtaining buy-in from program pro-
viders, practitioners, parents, and young people (e.g., Anderson-Butcher
et al., 2008; Bringle, Officer, Grim, & Hatcher, 2009).
These examples of successful collaborations impacting youth
outcomes suggest alignment is integral. Researchers can also look
to examples of unsuccessful initiatives to learn about the dangers
of misalignment. For example, in the late 1980s and early 1990s
the Annie E. Casey Foundation funded the New Futures Initiative, a
five-city effort designed to improve the conditions within a commu-
nity and support the community's young people. However, the ini-
tiative did not result in positive outcomes for youth, and teen
pregnancy rates (a primary focus of the effort) increased during the
program's tenure. In addition, it is questionable whether any struc-
tural changes (e.g., to policy or organizational capacity) implement-
ed by the program were sustained over time (Annie E. Casey
Foundation, 1995). White and Wehlage (1995) concluded that
there was misalignment between the vision of policymakers and
the experiences of on-the-ground practitioners who worked with
young people every day. They posited that desired change would
occur if areas of misalignments became aligned. For example, a city
agency that incorporates the lived experience of the youth in their
community into policy changes would be more likely to have an im-
pact on youth (White & Wehlage, 1995). In the case of The New Fu-
tures Initiative, those making the decisions and planning solutions
tended to be senior-level officials in agencies and organizations, in-
stead of a group of individuals who represented all aspects of a
community.
We propose that a major reason for the lack of youth-level effects
from most collaborative work is the misalignment across levels of the
CCI. Specifically, we suggest that a lack of alignment across collaborative
entities, agencies, practitioners (e.g., executive-level and direct service
providers), youth, and their families will limit the impact on community
capacity and on social outcomes. The focus of the present study is to de-
scribe a method for assessing alignment of perceived needs across levels
of a community, including the CCI, those working directly with youth
(i.e., direct service providers; DSP), and the youth and their families
themselves. We focus on CCIs that have already been formed, have the
same goal (all youth graduating from high school ready for college
and/or career), and have agreed, as a community, to work together.
We do not assess the connection of alignment to specific outcomes,
but rather examine the alignment itself.
2 J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
(2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
Method
This paper uses data from a larger, longitudinal, mixed-methods
study of how communities come together to support young people.
Data were collected at three levels of a community using multiple
methods designed to elicit the most information from each level of the
community: (1) CCI leadership (two sets of annual key respondent
interviews with members of the CCI leadership); (2) direct service pro-
viders (two rounds of focus groups); and (3) youth and their caregivers
(three semi-annual interviews with caregiver-youth dyads, in each
community).
Participants
Participants were drawn from a longitudinal study focused on three
urban communities that have an existing CCI focused on increasing the
educational attainment of their children and youth. The communities
are similar in terms of having a high rate of poverty and a large racial
and ethnic minority population. However, there were differences
(which we describe below) across the communities in terms of their
demographic composition, as well as how each defined their area of
intervention. Similar methods for recruitment were used in each com-
munity, with each level of the CCI requiring a different method used
for recruitment (i.e., CCI leadership, direct service providers and Youth
and Caregiver dyads). Here, we describe each community context and
the participants from that community.
Community A
Community A is a mid-sized southern city, where the CCI defined a
120 contiguous block target area for intervention. Within these 120
blocks, 51.3% of families live below the federal poverty level, and 69%
are families with children 18 years-old or younger living below the
poverty level (United States Census Bureau, 2010; see Table 1). In this
community, 60.3% are unemployed or not in the labor force, and 31.5%
are only high school graduates or equivalent (United States Census
Bureau, 2010). In this city as a whole, violent crime is 725.9 instances
per 100,000 people in the city in 2012 (United States Department of
Justice, 2012). The majority of youth in the schools located within this
120 block area that the CCI targets are African American, and the majority
of the student population receives free or reduced-price lunch (between
68.4% and 89.5%) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012).
In Community A, we interviewed 18 caregiver and youth dyads; the
majority of caregivers (n = 17) and youth (n = 10) were female (see
Table 2). The mean caregiver age was 42.12 (SD = 11.23) and the
mean age for youth was 12.37 (SD = .92) at the time of our first inter-
view. Fifteen families described themselves as Black and the other three
Latino. Dyads were recruited using a variety of methods including post-
ing flyers within the 120-block area and outreach from CCI members.
Through our relationship and regular meetings with the CCI leadership,
we were able to conduct interviews with 7 members of the leadership
and focus groups with 36 DSPs.
Community B
Community B is a large urban city in the south. The CCI in this com-
munity focuses on the entire city as its targeted area of intervention. In
this city, 21.8% of families live below the federal poverty level, and 32.9%
are families with children 18 years-old or younger living below the pov-
erty level (United States Census Bureau, 2010; see Table 1). In this city
44.8% are unemployed or not in the labor force, and 25.1% are only
high school graduates or equivalent (United States Census Bureau,
2010). Further, violent crime was 815.2 instances per 100,000 people
in the city during 2012 (United States Department of Justice, 2012).
The majority of youth in the schools in this city are African American
(73.07%), and the majority of the student population receives free
or reduced-priced lunch (80.23%) (National Center for Education
Statistics, 2012).
In Community B, we interviewed 15 caregiver and youth dyads; the
majority of caregivers (n = 14) and youth (n = 9) were female (see
Table 2). The mean caregiver age was 40 (SD = 6.47) and the mean
age for youth was 12.1 (SD = 1.06) at the time of our first interview.
The majority of families (n = 13) described themselves as Black.
Dyads were recruited using a variety of methods including posting
flyers in schools and through the outreach of CCI members. Through
our relationship and regular meetings with the CCI leadership, we
were able to conduct interviews with 10 members of the leadership
and focus groups with 31 DSPs.
Community C
Community C is a small urban community in the northeast. The CCI
chose a specific public housing development within the city as their
targeted intervention area. This housing development lies within a cen-
sus tract where 22.7% of families live below the federal poverty level,
and 35.5% are families with children 18 years-old or younger (United
States Census Bureau, 2010; see Table 1). In this area 32.8% are unem-
ployed or not in the labor force, and only 25.7% are high school gradu-
ates or equivalent (United States Census Bureau, 2010). In this census
tract area, only 42.8% of the population use English as the primary
language at home (United States Census Bureau, 2010). Further, violent
crime is 348.4 instances per 100,000 people in the city overall during
2012 (United States Department of Justice, 2012). The majority of
youth attending schools central to the housing development are
Hispanic (45.03%), followed by White (32.07%), and Black (13.81%).
The majority of the student population received free or reduced-
priced lunch (74.09%).
In Community C, over the course of the longitudinal study we
interviewed 19 caregiver and youth dyads; all of the caregivers were fe-
male and the majority of youth were male (n = 9) (see Table 2). The
mean caregiver age was 41.64 (SD = 6.97) and the mean age for
youth was 12.54 (SD = 1.50) at the time of our first interview. Six fam-
ilies described themselves as Black, 7 as Latino, and 5 as White. Dyads
were recruited using a variety of methods including posting flyers in
schools and throughout the housing development, CCI member out-
reach, and with assistance from community informants. Through our
relationship, and regular meetings with the CCI leadership, we were
Table 1
Community demographics.
Demographics Community
A B C
Personal Family
structure
Single male with
own children
8.10% 1.90% 3.00%
Single female with
own children
16.50% 11.40% 16.20%
Education Less than 9th grade 18.60% 5.00% 11.50%
No diploma (9–12) 20.40% 10.30% 8.40%
High school
graduate/equivalent
31.50% 25.10% 25.70%
Place of birth Foreign born 12.70% 5.60% 38.00%
Language English only 71.80% 90.20% 42.80%
School Sex Male 50.03% 51.04% 49.87%
Female 49.97% 49.72% 50.13%
Race/ethnicity Hispanic 27.30% 10.11% 45.03%
Black 65.01% 73.07% 13.81%
White 5.03% 18.18% 32.07%
Other 2.66% 5.37% 9.09%
Free and reduced-price lunch
eligible
76.07% 80.23% 74.09%
Economic Income b poverty level 51.30% 21.80% 22.70%
With children under
18 years
69.00% 32.90% 35.50%
Employment Population
16+
Unemployed 12.40% 7.30% 5.30%
Not in labor force 47.90% 37.40% 27.50%
Violent
Crime
Per 100,000 2010 706.90 754.20 324.70
2011 738.20 792.00 370.00
2012 725.90 815.20 348.40
3J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
(2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
able to recruit and conduct interviews with 8 members of the leadership
and focus groups with 28 DSPs.
Materials
To examine alignment across levels of the CCIs, and to explore
similarities and differences in alignment among the respective CCIs,
we conducted a cross-case analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994). For
this analysis we completed meta-matrices (Miles & Huberman, 1994),
which are complex visualizations of qualitative data that allow a
researcher to infer meaning and analyze themes. To complete these
meta-matrices enabling cross-case comparisons, we condensed data
(Miles & Huberman, 1994) from a variety of measures across the various
levels of the CCI (i.e., the CCI leadership, direct service provider, and
youth and caregivers). Below we describe the measures we used to
collect the data, the procedures we used to collect data, and the specific
selection of data we used for our current analysis.
CCI leadership interview
The questions for the key respondent interviews with members of
the CCI leadership focused on their perceptions and attitudes about
the youth and families they serve, their organization, and the structures
and processes of the CCI. The interviews were semi-structured, so while
there was a list of questions developed to understand these aspects of
the CCI, interviewers were given the flexibility of asking follow up
probes, or skipping over questions, dependent upon the respondent's
answers.
Direct service provider (DSP) Focus Groups
The DSP focus group questions explored the direct service provider's
experiences and work with families in their service community.
Questions focused on their perceptions and attitudes about the youth
and families they serve, the structures and processes at play in their
various organizations, their specific work with youth and families,
their perceived impact of this work, and what they believed was neces-
sary to truly have an impact on the lives of families in their service com-
munity. We also asked questions so that we could understand their
knowledge of the CCI in the community and the impact that the CCI
had on their direct service work.
Youth and caregiver interviews
The focus of these interviews was to assess youth and caregivers'
abilities to navigate and negotiate their communities to access the
opportunities and resources they need to thrive academically, socially,
and civically. The interviews were semi-structured so that while we
developed a set group of questions to understand these aspects of
their life experiences, interviewers were given the flexibility of asking
follow up probes, or skipping over questions, dependent upon the
respondent's answers.
Procedure
Procedure for CCI leadership interviews
Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with execu-
tive members of the CCI boards/leadership committees in the respective
communities at the beginning of the first and second year of our three-
year longitudinal study (Winter 2011 and Winter 2012 respectively).
Members of the boards were recruited through the lead conveners,
and we had samples of at least four board members in each community.
The size and composition of the boards changed over the course of the
year, and as a result we were not always able to follow-up with the
same board members. However, the sample was refreshed with new
Table 2
Participant demographics.
Participant type Demographic Community
A B C
Youth/caregiver dyads Sex (F/M) Youth 18 15 19
10/8 9/6 8/9
Caregiver 17/1 14/1 19/0
Age (SD) Youth 12.37 (.92) 12.1 (1.06) 12.54 (1.5)
Caregiver 42.12 (11.23) 40 (6.47) 41.64 (6.97)
Marital STATUS Married 2 7 7
Single 4 5 3
Divorced 1 3 1
Cohabitation 1 – 1
Widowed 1 – 1
Separated – – 1
Education High school or less 4 2 6
Some college 4 4 3
Associates degree – 1 1
Technical school – – 1
Bachelors degree – 3 2
Graduate school – 5 –
Employment Employed 4 11 4
Unemployed — looking 2 3 2
Unemployed — not looking 1 1 8
Retired 1 – –
Housing status Rent 7 7 19
Own 1 8 –
Race/ethnicity African-American/Black 15 13 6
Latino/Hispanic 3 1 7
White – – 5
Other – 1 1
Grade 5th – – 2
6th 14 5 3
7th 3 6 8
8th 1 4 3
9th – 1 –
Collaborative leadershipa
7 10 8
Direct service providersa
36 31 28
a
Demographic data were not collected for collaborative leadership or direct service providers.
4 J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
(2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
members of the board (see Table 2 for sample sizes). Interviews lasted
45 min to 1 h and were conducted in a private setting of the participant's
choosing.
For the current analysis, we engaged in an iterative coding process
using the data from both executive member interviews with regards to
what they identified as the needs and concerns of families in the commu-
nity, and how and if the CCI was working to address the needs and con-
cerns in the community. Given the iterative nature of the coding process,
we describe the coding process fully in our analysis and results section.
Procedure for direct service provider focus groups
Through a partnership with the lead convener in each of the commu-
nities, we identified a set of organizations that would be most relevant to
have their staff represented in the focus groups (i.e. the organizations
had some form of affiliation with the CCI in the community). Once iden-
tified, we emailed the directors at each of the organizations indicating
the purpose of the study, and asking them to nominate at least three ex-
emplar DSPs from their organization to participate. We then contacted
these DSPs and asked them to participate in a 45 minute focus group
to discuss their work with families in their respective communities.
Focus groups were conducted in public venues that were often in a cen-
tral location and offered convenient parking and accessibility to public
transportation (e.g., a school or community center located in the CCI
footprint). Focus groups were audio taped, and the audio files were
then coded in Atlas.ti 6. Focus groups were conducted twice during the
course of our three-year study, at the beginning of the first year of the
study (Winter 2011) and the beginning of the second year in the study
(Winter 2012).
For the current analysis, we engaged in an iterative coding process
using the data from both focus groups with regards to the needs and
concerns of families in the community as identified by DSPs. The itera-
tive coding process is explained in our analysis.
Procedure for youth and caregiver interviews
Interviews were conducted semi-annually for three years (Spring of
2011–Spring of 2014) by graduate students for a total of six interviews
per family. Whenever possible, the same graduate student conducted
the interviews with the same caregiver/youth dyads in subsequent
rounds, so that a rapport could be built between the participants and
the researcher. Youth and caregiver interviews were conducted sepa-
rately, and in private whenever possible. Interviews were conducted
in the participants' home, or any other location where they felt comfort-
able and able to speak candidly about their life experiences. Youth inter-
views typically lasted 30 to 45 min, and caregiver interviews typically
lasted 45 min to 1 h. All interviews were audio recorded and then
transcribed for coding.
For the current analysis, we engaged in an iterative coding process
using rounds 1, 2, and 3 interviews (i.e., the Spring of 2011–Winter
2012, which was the same time period during which the collaborative
leadership interviews and DSP focus groups were collected,) examining
the needs and concerns identified by the dyads. The iterative coding
process is explained in our analysis.
Analysis and results
We conducted a cross-case analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to
examine alignment across levels of the CCIs, and to explore similarities
and differences between the respective CCIs. For this analysis, each level
of the CCI was considered a case (e.g., CCI leadership in Community A,
DSP Community A, and Families Community A), and the variables ana-
lyzed were the needs of the community identified at each level
(e.g., safety). To explore commonalities across levels within each CCI,
as well as across levels between the CCIs, we developed meta-
matrices allowing us to stack cases so that we could look for common
themes among the needs variables. We then partitioned (by exact
need) and clustered (type of need and by community) the data regard-
ing participants' perceived needs (Miles & Huberman, 1994).
Alignment of identified needs
We used an iterative process for data analysis whereby coding
continually informed our analysis and findings; each iteration of coding
informed how we partitioned and clustered our codes for further analysis
and the refinement of our findings. Each round of data (CCI leadership
interviews, and DSP focus groups, and youth and caregiver interviews)
was coded and analyzed by one post-doctoral fellow and five graduate
students. Although our initial analyses focused on emerging themes
within each level of the CCI, we noticed several prevalent themes that
illustrated issues of alignment among the different levels.
For example, in these initial stages of our analysis, we noticed very
few DSPs knew about the CCIs in their communities. Looking closer,
we noticed differing theories of change across levels of the systems
(e.g., there was no shared vision for what different actors in the commu-
nity wanted for their young people). Indeed, the theory of change for
each participant group was informed by their varying backgrounds,
and by what they thought would be best for accomplishing levers of
success. Further, these conversations inevitably revolved around the
perceived pervasive needs in the communities (e.g., financial assis-
tance). Thus, we returned to our data in order to partition the needs of
community members identified by our participants, and then cluster
them by types, looking at how and if the perceived needs at each level
of the CCI aligned with the others.
Given that coding schemes and interview structures for these initial
analyses varied across our participant groups, we developed a consis-
tent method by which to extract needs from the interviews. The post-
doctoral scholar and one graduate student from the research team
returned to the interviews, coding schemes, coding memos, and written
analyses, combining and condensing these components to derive a sin-
gle structure by which to understand the identified needs of youth and
families at each level of the community.1
Using this structure, we con-
ducted our analysis examining the needs identified by each level in a
given community for the first 1.5 years of data (i.e., 2 annual interviews
with CCI leadership, 2 annual focus groups with direct service providers,
and 3 semi-annual interviews with youth/caregiver dyads), constantly
returning to the data to understand how each level (the CCI leadership,
direct service providers, and the youth and caregivers) defined and ad-
dressed (or proposed to address) the need. We then tabulated the needs
in meta-matrices, which allowed us to stack cases so that we could look
for common themes among the needs variables, partitioning (by need)
and clustering (by type of need and community) the data (Miles &
Huberman, 1994) to illustrate how the needs aligned within each com-
munity, and if we noticed similarities across communities.
To show how we arrived at the summary of alignment, we provide
an illustrative case, depicting the overarching needs indicated for Com-
munity A, and how each level of the community discussed or defined
the need (see Table 3). Exact needs could be defined in several different
ways within any given type. For example, a financial need may be de-
fined as a need for money to pay for a basic need, the need for adequate
employment, and/or the need to fund enrichment opportunities for
the youth. For this analysis, each definition of a need was regarded as
an instance for possible alignment. Using the example above, financial
was a type of need that was partitioned in the three above-defined
ways, each of which is considered one instance. For example, instance
14 in Community A is agreed upon by all three levels of the CCI, thus in-
dicating that the CCI leadership, DSPs and Families all agree that there is
a need for a centralized source of information about resources in the
community. This process of analysis showed that, overall, our commu-
nities lacked alignment, which we believe critical to understanding
the impact of collaborative efforts on child and youth outcomes. After
1
The coding scheme is available from the corresponding author by request.
5J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
(2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
Table 3
Alignment meta-matrix for community A.
Need Instance Level
CCI DSP Caregiver
Parental Involvement 1 Need to educate parents on parenting — parenting training Need to help the parents be able to meet the needs of their
children on their own — need to educate the parents so that
they can break the cycle of poverty
2 One off involvement techniques such as block parties and
Kaboom builds, community dinners
Need more than one off involvement like just coming to see
your child in a play
3 Also more sustained efforts such as parent advocates Need parent advocates to help parents navigate the school
system
4 Need more proactive involvement in the school rather than
reactive
Academic 5 A need for early education that isn't siloed from other
programming/schooling
Children need the same academic resources and building
blocks as their peers
6 Need for tutoring — building out tutoring programs both
in and outside of the school
Need tutoring/help after school
Safety 7 Need structurally safe homes
8 Need less violence in the community — drive by shootings
Financial 9 No effective/affordable transportation Need transportation to programs (cannot afford/provide own
transportation due to financial hardship)
10 Struggle with meeting the day to day needs – paying the
electrical bill – which inhibits involvement and long term
planning
Need free or help paying for programs because we cannot
afford day to day needs much less enrichment opportunities
11 Violence stems from poverty/we need to get rid of poverty
Effective Communication 12 Need to build trust among the families and providers
13 Mobility hinders ability to get in touch with youth and
families effectively and consistently
14 Need a one stop shop for opportunities — Benefit Bank to
find out about financial, medical and enrichment resources
Need to centralize information about resources at the school Need better communication regarding
opportunities/resources in the community
15 Need for interpreters because of language barriers
Enrichment 16 A pipeline of services
17 Need a community center
18 Need for more playgrounds/safe outdoor recreation space
19 Need after school enrichment opportunities like art, music,
sports and drama
Food 20 Need to be able to put food on the table
21 Need to feed the children before you can teach the children
22 Need more healthy food options in the community and at school
23 School needs to provide food packs for the youth
6J.F.Zaffetal./JournalofAppliedDevelopmentalPsychologyxxx(2015)xxx–xxx
Pleasecitethisarticleas:Zaff,J.F.,etal.,Alignmentofperceivedneedsacrosslevelsofacommunity,JournalofAppliedDevelopmentalPsychology
(2015),http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
developing an overall picture of alignment, we returned to the tables to
further examine experiences of alignment within each community.
Adding up all of the definitions across the three communities, there
are a total of 55 instances on which levels of the CCI could potentially
agree (Community A = 23, Community B = 17, and Community
C = 15). Reading across each individual table indicates where and
how CCI levels agreed on any given need definition (see Table 4).
From our analysis, overall we found alignment in 23 out of the total
possible 55 instances between at least two levels of the community.
Two out of the 23 instances were aligned across all three levels (CCI,
DSP and Youth-Caregiver). The most alignment occurred between DSP
and Caregivers, which might be expected since the DSP in our study
work directly with families in the communities. Agreement was lowest
between CCI leadership and Caregivers, showing a possible disconnect
between what families say they need to support their children and
what the CCI eventually implements. Even if the CCI leadership focuses
on a need that they uncover through careful analysis of the community,
they might not have buy-in from Caregivers; thus reducing the likeli-
hood that families will engage with the CCI-led initiatives.
We found that Community B had the greatest alignment, with at
least two levels agreeing on 9 out of a possible 17 instances of need def-
initions (see Table 4). This agreement occurred primarily between the
DSPs and Caregivers (n = 6) and secondarily between the CCI leader-
ship and Caregivers (n = 2); these included one instance where a
need was defined in the same manner across all three levels of the com-
munity (i.e., parents need to be involved in the education process to en-
sure academic success). This was also the only instance where the CCI in
Community B agreed with how the DSPs defined a need. Alternatively,
while Community A had 8 agreements out of a possible 23 instances,
the majority of agreements were between CCI executives and DSPs.
From our analysis, we also were able to see which level of the com-
munity had the highest frequency of agreement with the other levels.
Across the communities, we found that the DSP (19 out of 55 instances)
and Caregiver levels (18 out of 55 instances) had more agreement
with another level than the CCI leadership (11 out of 55). Frequency
of agreement also varied by community. Community B had agreement
among more than half of the instances (9 out of 17), while Community
C (6 out of 15) and Community A (8 out of 23) had rates of agreement
that were at 40% or below. We also found that 40% of needs expressed
were unique needs; that is, needs that were expressed by only one of
the levels of the community (see Table 5). The DSP level had the highest
rate of unique needs, with fully one half of their expressed needs being
unique. Caregivers and CCI leadership not only expressed fewer needs
overall, but also expressed a lower rate of unique needs.
Further, the ways needs were discussed varied by level. DSPs and
Families were aligned in how they spoke regarding needs, focusing
primarily on the daily challenges that youth face and act as barriers to
success (e.g., not having a consistent caring adult in the home, not
enough food on the table, violence outside their front door, and parents
unemployed, incarcerated, or having to work multiple jobs in order to
make ends meet). On the other hand, CCI leadership members discussed
the structures the CCI needs, or the actions they need to take, in order to
meet the needs of youth and families (e.g., how the CCI struggles to
build the internal structures necessary to facilitate collaboration
among members).
For example, in Communities A and C, both the DSPs and the Fami-
lies discussed how there is a need for affordable transportation in
their cities. Both indicated that if youth and parents had reliable
modes of transportation they would be able to engage in more of the ac-
tivities and afterschool programs in the community. Both Caregivers
and DSPs indicated that transportation would facilitate parents acquir-
ing and retaining employment. However, facilitating or funding trans-
portation in the community was not discussed by any of the CCI
leadership in these two communities. Similarly, CCI leadership in both
Community A and C mention a need for “wraparound” services or a
“pipeline” of services. However, both the DSPs and families in these
communities felt that meeting the basic needs of the families is neces-
sary before creating a wraparound service structure.
Discussion
Youth-focused comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) have
the potential to achieve community-level impacts that individual orga-
nizations would not be able to accomplish alone (Lasker & Weiss, 2003;
Wolff, 2001). Because they are typically comprised of organizations
from multiple sectors within a community, CCIs are positioned to create
the conditions so that all young people have the developmental sup-
ports they need to thrive; whether academically, socioemotionally, vo-
cationally, or civically. However, since CCIs were promoted 30 years
ago as the “answer” to social and economic problems in communities,
few CCIs have successfully achieved the impacts that they were purport-
ed to achieve (Auspos, 2010; Foster-Fishman et al., 2001).
One reason for the lack of success stories can be traced to a lack of
alignment within and across levels of a community (e.g., the vision for
the CCI; the needs perceived by the collaborative unit, direct service
providers, and families; the actions that are conceived, implemented,
and experienced). Studies of successful (Hawkins et al., 2008;
Redmond et al., 2009) and unsuccessful CCIs (Auspos, 2010; White &
Wehlage, 1995) have found alignment to be a key ingredient. Although
some insights into the expression of alignment have been derived from
previous studies (e.g., Fagan et al., 2009), much still needs to be learned
about where alignments and misalignments can occur within a commu-
nity. The current study was designed to look deeply into the inevitable
nuances in perceived needs for each level of the community (i.e., CCI,
direct service providers, and young people and their families) to
provide a method for examining alignment.
Our results suggest that there are alignments and misalignments
across the levels of a community collaborative. We found that DSPs
and families had the most alignment in perceived needs. Because of
the scope of their work, DSPs usually interact with young people and
their families multiple days per week and often are skilled at under-
standing what is occurring in their young people's lives (Rhodes,
2004). However, youth development workers are not necessarily skilled
at navigating the decision-making roles of a CCI (e.g., Borden & Perkins,
2006). Therefore, if the collaborative entity does not intentionally create
opportunities for DSPs to be a part of the strategic planning and
decision-making processes, their perspectives (and as our results sug-
gest, the perspectives of the young people and families who they
serve) will be missing from the collaboration's discussions. The poten-
tial of youth when they are included in community decisions has prece-
dence; when they are considered to be assets and given opportunities to
be included in the workings of the community, young people can create
Table 5
Frequency (%) of “unique” needs by party.
Party Community Total
A B C
CCI 1/7 (14.28) 2/5 (40.00) 3/5 (60.00) 6/17 (35.29)
DSP 11/18 (61.11) 5/12 (41.66) 3/8 (37.50) 19/38 (50.00)
Caregiver 3/7 (42.85) 1/10 (10.00) 3/8 (37.50) 7/25 (28.00)
Total 15/32 (46.87) 8/27 (29.62) 9/21 (42.85) 32/80 (40.00)
Table 4
Frequency of agreement between levels of the community.
Agreement Community Total
A B C
CCI-DSP only 4/23 (17.39) 0/17 (0.00) 1/15 (6.66) 5/55 (9.09)
DSP-Caregiver only 2/23 (8.69) 6/17 (35.29) 4/15 (26.66) 12/55 (21.81)
CCI-Caregiver only 1/23 (4.35) 2/17 (11.76) 1/15 (6.66) 4/55 (7.27)
CCI-DSP-Caregiver 1/23 (4.35) 1/17 (5.88) 0/15 (0.0) 2/55 (3.63)
7J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
(2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
positive change (Checkoway & Richards-Schuster, 2006; Zeldin &
Topitzes, 2002). In the case of the three CCIs that were the focus of
this study, none included DSPs or families in the decision-making
process; at least during the first year of their work.
Another way to consider alignment is by the expression of unique
needs; that is, needs that are only expressed by one level of the commu-
nity. Having many unique needs could be an indication of misalignment,
since these would be needs that no one else across the other levels
recognizes as important. In addition, one could suppose that an increase
in the number of unique needs would be related to an increase in the
frustration of the level of the community with the unique needs.
For example, if the DSP continually voice concern about a set of needs
to which no one else pays attention, then the DSP would most likely
become disengaged from the CCI process. There is an indication that
not including the voices of DSPs and families in the planning may
have contributed to the misalignment across the levels of the systems
in the three communities. No matter the strategies being developed
by the collaborative entity or the programs to be implemented, an out-
standing question is whether parents and their children will engage
with programs and services that they do not necessarily believe are in
sync with what their perceived needs are (e.g., a CCI opening a new
tutoring center in the area when parents might say that they need better
transportation to access social services).
Limitations and future directions
This study used the first wave of data from a longitudinal study of
CCIs. The current study presents only a snapshot into the work of
youth-focused CCIs; in this case, CCIs that were in the early stages of
their existence. Because the current study is not longitudinal, we were
unable to assess whether alignment persisted over time. Understanding
whether there was more cross-level alignment over time and examin-
ing why there was more (or less) alignment would be an important
next step. Initial analyses of Wave 2 from our study suggested that the
collaborative entities were being more responsive to the perceived
needs of community members.2
The reason for this responsiveness ap-
peared to be the result of the CCIs gaining their footing over the course
of a year, having a better system in place to elicit feedback from the
community, and simply being based in the community for another
year. This preliminary work suggests longitudinal analyses would pro-
vide insights into how CCIs develop.
In addition, although we were able to assess perceived needs at each
level of the community, our sampling did not include every member of
the collaborative entity, nor a representative sample of DSPs (we relied
on nominations by the executive directors of the organizations from
where the DSPs came). Considering the diverse paths of DSPs, including
more than full-time, full-time, part-time, and volunteers, and the diver-
sity of roles that DSPs have within an organization, it is difficult to
construct a representative sample. We believe that our nomination
methodology, though not perfect, still provides valid perspectives
from the DSP level of each community.
Similarly, we erred on depth over breadth with our sample of fami-
lies. The families were recruited with assistance from the collaborative
entity and most likely represent the middle of the distribution of
families living within those communities. That is, the families expressed
difficulties that might be expected for any family, especially families
living in an economically disadvantaged community. However, they
most likely did not represent families at the highest risk for their chil-
dren experiencing negative outcomes (e.g., poor academic outcomes),
nor did they represent families that were exemplars for their ability to
thrive. Future research that includes the perspectives of the two tails
of the distribution could provide additional insights into how all families
perceive their needs and the needs of their children.
Finally, assessing the predicted link between alignment and
effecting change on desired developmental outcomes is a rich avenue
for future research. The current study provides a model for assessing
alignment, and we hope that future researchers will use this model as
a starting place to continue to understand the ways in which alignment
increases the odds of CCI success over time.
Conclusion
Based on strong developmental theory, we believe that alignment of
vision, goals, and actions across levels of a CCI will improve the effec-
tiveness of that CCI, and bring positive change to communities. Howev-
er, in our analyses we found that in three established CCIs, there was
significant room for improvement in alignment across levels. In partic-
ular, we suggest that CCI leadership bring more families, DSPs and
other community members into their planning sessions to ensure
more perspectives are heard. CCIs have the potential to enact
community-level change, but only if they are aligned to the meet the
true needs of the community.
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Zaff et al (2014)

  • 1. Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community Jonathan F. Zaff a, ⁎, Elizabeth Pufall Jones b , Katie Aasland b , Alice E. Donlan b , Emily S. Lin b , Jennifer Elise Prescott b , Alexandra Baker b a America's Promise Alliance b Tufts University a b s t r a c ta r t i c l e i n f o Available online xxxx Keywords: Comprehensive community initiatives Alignment Community needs Family needs Youth-focused comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) exist to create the conditions so all young people may have the developmental supports needed to thrive. Research shows alignment is a key ingredient for meaningful change in a community. The current study discusses the theoretical basis for the importance of alignment, and provides a method to measure alignment of perceived needs in the community using semi- structured interview data. Our results suggest a method of using the perceptions of multiple stakeholders to reveal that there are alignments and misalignments across the levels of a community. Direct service providers (DSP) and families had the most alignment, while the least alignment was between the CCI leadership and families. Further, DSP and families stressed basic needs (such as needing to pay bills and buy food, or needing transportation), while CCI leadership stressed the need for the creation and/or implementation of academic programmatic efforts to ensure positive developmental outcomes. © 2015 Published by Elsevier Inc. Comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) have been promoted over the past 30 years as entities that can bring together sectors and in- dividuals to address complex problems that are believed to be immune to single interventions (e.g., Wolff, 2001). A key assumption of CCIs is that all facets of the community are interconnected and important to achieving positive change within the community (Kubisch, 2010). CCIs assess, design, and implement policies and programs that leverage the capacity of the community, and have traditionally targeted issues related to public health, social welfare, housing, education, and commu- nity development (Kubisch, 2010). In particular, CCIs focused on young people are positioned to coordinate efforts, resources, and funding across organizations to cultivate human, institutional, and social capital (together considered community capacity) that a community would need to resolve the needs of their young people (Chaskin, 2001). Community capacity has been shown to improve the available develop- mental supports and positive developmental outcomes for young people (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). Unfortunately, relatively few youth-focused CCIs have been effective at attaining community- level impacts (see Foster-Fishman, Berkowitz, Lounsbury, Jacobson, & Allen, 2001; Kubisch, 2010; Roussos & Fawcett, 2000 for reviews). However, community-level impacts have been found when CCIs are aligned across the levels of a community, with the vision and program- matic strategies of each level aligning with the strategies and imple- mentation of actions and programs; and in turn, those actions and programs aligning with the children and youth who are the focus of the efforts (e.g., Auspos, 2010; Hawkins et al., 2008; Spoth, Guyll, Redmond, Greenberg, & Feinberg, 2011). In this paper, we explore the degree to which three CCI's visions and perceived needs of the com- munity are aligned with the needs identified by direct service providers, and youth and their families in the communities. To complement and extend the current literature, we present an in-depth examination of alignment of vision and perceived needs across levels of a community system. In our introduction, we discuss theory that supports the notion that misalignment creates roadblocks for success whereas alignment facilitates opportunities. Then we use cross-case qualitative analyses (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to explore alignment and misalignment within three communities, and finally propose ways to improve align- ment within CCIs. Consistent with Relational Developmental Systems Theories that emphasize the importance of person ← →multiple-context relations (RDST; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006; Lerner, 2012; Overton, 2013), alignment within and across levels of a community system should lead to a higher likelihood of achieving positive developmental out- comes (Brandtstädter, 1998; Zaff & Smerdon, 2009). However, CCIs do not often meet the ideal of alignment within and across levels, and in- stead show a lack of alignment or even misalignment across the levels of the community (e.g., among decision-makers, practitioners, and the families and youth at the center of the CCI's work; Auspos, 2010). Thus, we propose that one reason for modest or null effects of CCIs on youth outcomes is a lack of alignment. For the purposes of this study, we define alignment as sharing the same or complementary perceived Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx ⁎ Corresponding author. E-mail address: jonz@americaspromise.org (J.F. Zaff). APPDEV-00774; No of Pages 9 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002 0193-3973/© 2015 Published by Elsevier Inc. Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
  • 2. community needs and how these needs will be met, across multiple levels of the community (e.g., community leaders, business leaders, parents, and youth). The link between alignment of vision and action within and across levels of a community and impact has been explicit (e.g., Auspos, 2010; Nowell, 2010; White & Wehlage, 1995) or implicit in numerous studies of CCIs (e.g., Fagan, Hanson, Hawkins, & Arthur, 2009). Auspos (2010) has discussed alignment in vision among members of collaborative units in numerous CCIs, and White and Wehlage (1995) found that there is often a lack of alignment between the decisions being made by the collaborative unit and the implementers of those de- cisions. In particular, Nowell (2010) found that misalignment across community collaborative stakeholders negatively impacted a collaboration's efforts to combat domestic violence. However, little re- search has been conducted on how to assess alignment. Therefore, we present an in-depth example of one way to assess alignment within three different communities. Our proposition that alignment is an essential ingredient for effective CCIs is based on RDST (e.g., Overton, 2013), previous research and evaluations of CCIs (e.g., Auspos, 2010; Nowell, 2010), and frame- works that have been developed for the functioning of CCIs (e.g., Foster-Fishman et al., 2001; Lasker, Weiss, & Miller, 2001). We start with the recognition that development is defined as the relation between an individual and her or his context (Lerner, 2012) and that in- dividuals are embedded within multiple contexts or layers within their ecology (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Youths' ecologies extend from proximal relationships with other people (e.g., parents, teachers, youth workers, other adults in their communities), and organizations within which young people learn and grow (e.g., schools, faith-based institutions, youth development organizations), to more distal factors, such as public policies, economic conditions, and cultural norms (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Importantly, consistent with the te- nets of RDST, all of these factors are part of an interconnected system, such that each piece influences other pieces and simultaneously influ- ences the individual. In turn, the individual also exerts influence on the layers of the ecology that surrounds her (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). When applied to the lived experiences of youth, we call this system a youth system. When there is alignment among the contexts within the system and the individual strengths and needs of the individual (an ideal which we call a supportive youth system), the hypothesized results are adaptive developmental regulations for the individual and for the ecology around the individual (Brandtstädter, 1998); that is, a support- ive youth system leading to benefits for the young person as well as benefits for the surrounding community. Extending this idea one step further, we propose that alignment within and across levels of the eco-system will facilitate the optimization of the youth system (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Alignment within a given level of a system is necessary but not suf- ficient for alignment across the entire system. For example, research has continually shown that it is important to have member agreement and alignment on vision and how to reach that vision within a collaborative body (e.g., Auspos, 2010). However, less work has focused on the importance of alignment across levels of the system (e.g., shared vision and goals among collaborative members, direct service providers, and families). Two CCI models provide illustrative examples of how to encourage cross-level alignment: Communities that Care (CTC) and PROSPER. The CTC community change system is a community collaborative model that focuses on identifying community needs, aligning relation- ships and contexts, choosing proven prevention programs, and implementing those programs with fidelity (Hawkins, Catalano, & Arthur, 2002). In addition to on-the-ground efforts to create alignment across contexts, the CTC process has explicit protocols in place to em- phasize alignment. For instance, a core component of the CTC process is that key partners learn about (and ultimately internalize) the social development model. This model informs the community's selection and implementation of prevention programs and provides a frame through which to consider the creation of supportive conditions for youth in the community. In addition, the CTC staff conducts a needs assessment that is used to target the needs of the youth in the community. That is, instead of assuming that the council knows intuitively what issues youth in the community confront, the council surveys a representative sample of youth and asks them directly. CTC also explicitly encourages alignment across contexts through facilitating and emphasizing strong school-community relationships (Fagan et al., 2009). These core CTC components (coupled with choosing “proven” programs that address community needs and implementing the programs with fidelity) have resulted in significant and substantive impacts on reductions in incidence of alcohol, cigarette, smokeless tobacco, and overall acts of delinquency (Hawkins et al., 2008). The mechanisms for alignment for CTC are similar in the PROSPER model, a university–researcher–community partnership model de- signed to facilitate the effective delivery of prevention and intervention programs in schools and within families. A core component of this model is the Prevention Coordinator, who aligns the work of a commu- nity council with the needs of the community. A long-term impact study of PROSPER has shown substantive impacts on child, parent, and family outcomes, including drug and alcohol use, among others (Redmond et al., 2009). Others who have studied single-site CCIs have documented similar processes for understanding the needs (and strengths) of a com- munity, developing strategies, and obtaining buy-in from program pro- viders, practitioners, parents, and young people (e.g., Anderson-Butcher et al., 2008; Bringle, Officer, Grim, & Hatcher, 2009). These examples of successful collaborations impacting youth outcomes suggest alignment is integral. Researchers can also look to examples of unsuccessful initiatives to learn about the dangers of misalignment. For example, in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Annie E. Casey Foundation funded the New Futures Initiative, a five-city effort designed to improve the conditions within a commu- nity and support the community's young people. However, the ini- tiative did not result in positive outcomes for youth, and teen pregnancy rates (a primary focus of the effort) increased during the program's tenure. In addition, it is questionable whether any struc- tural changes (e.g., to policy or organizational capacity) implement- ed by the program were sustained over time (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1995). White and Wehlage (1995) concluded that there was misalignment between the vision of policymakers and the experiences of on-the-ground practitioners who worked with young people every day. They posited that desired change would occur if areas of misalignments became aligned. For example, a city agency that incorporates the lived experience of the youth in their community into policy changes would be more likely to have an im- pact on youth (White & Wehlage, 1995). In the case of The New Fu- tures Initiative, those making the decisions and planning solutions tended to be senior-level officials in agencies and organizations, in- stead of a group of individuals who represented all aspects of a community. We propose that a major reason for the lack of youth-level effects from most collaborative work is the misalignment across levels of the CCI. Specifically, we suggest that a lack of alignment across collaborative entities, agencies, practitioners (e.g., executive-level and direct service providers), youth, and their families will limit the impact on community capacity and on social outcomes. The focus of the present study is to de- scribe a method for assessing alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, including the CCI, those working directly with youth (i.e., direct service providers; DSP), and the youth and their families themselves. We focus on CCIs that have already been formed, have the same goal (all youth graduating from high school ready for college and/or career), and have agreed, as a community, to work together. We do not assess the connection of alignment to specific outcomes, but rather examine the alignment itself. 2 J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
  • 3. Method This paper uses data from a larger, longitudinal, mixed-methods study of how communities come together to support young people. Data were collected at three levels of a community using multiple methods designed to elicit the most information from each level of the community: (1) CCI leadership (two sets of annual key respondent interviews with members of the CCI leadership); (2) direct service pro- viders (two rounds of focus groups); and (3) youth and their caregivers (three semi-annual interviews with caregiver-youth dyads, in each community). Participants Participants were drawn from a longitudinal study focused on three urban communities that have an existing CCI focused on increasing the educational attainment of their children and youth. The communities are similar in terms of having a high rate of poverty and a large racial and ethnic minority population. However, there were differences (which we describe below) across the communities in terms of their demographic composition, as well as how each defined their area of intervention. Similar methods for recruitment were used in each com- munity, with each level of the CCI requiring a different method used for recruitment (i.e., CCI leadership, direct service providers and Youth and Caregiver dyads). Here, we describe each community context and the participants from that community. Community A Community A is a mid-sized southern city, where the CCI defined a 120 contiguous block target area for intervention. Within these 120 blocks, 51.3% of families live below the federal poverty level, and 69% are families with children 18 years-old or younger living below the poverty level (United States Census Bureau, 2010; see Table 1). In this community, 60.3% are unemployed or not in the labor force, and 31.5% are only high school graduates or equivalent (United States Census Bureau, 2010). In this city as a whole, violent crime is 725.9 instances per 100,000 people in the city in 2012 (United States Department of Justice, 2012). The majority of youth in the schools located within this 120 block area that the CCI targets are African American, and the majority of the student population receives free or reduced-price lunch (between 68.4% and 89.5%) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). In Community A, we interviewed 18 caregiver and youth dyads; the majority of caregivers (n = 17) and youth (n = 10) were female (see Table 2). The mean caregiver age was 42.12 (SD = 11.23) and the mean age for youth was 12.37 (SD = .92) at the time of our first inter- view. Fifteen families described themselves as Black and the other three Latino. Dyads were recruited using a variety of methods including post- ing flyers within the 120-block area and outreach from CCI members. Through our relationship and regular meetings with the CCI leadership, we were able to conduct interviews with 7 members of the leadership and focus groups with 36 DSPs. Community B Community B is a large urban city in the south. The CCI in this com- munity focuses on the entire city as its targeted area of intervention. In this city, 21.8% of families live below the federal poverty level, and 32.9% are families with children 18 years-old or younger living below the pov- erty level (United States Census Bureau, 2010; see Table 1). In this city 44.8% are unemployed or not in the labor force, and 25.1% are only high school graduates or equivalent (United States Census Bureau, 2010). Further, violent crime was 815.2 instances per 100,000 people in the city during 2012 (United States Department of Justice, 2012). The majority of youth in the schools in this city are African American (73.07%), and the majority of the student population receives free or reduced-priced lunch (80.23%) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). In Community B, we interviewed 15 caregiver and youth dyads; the majority of caregivers (n = 14) and youth (n = 9) were female (see Table 2). The mean caregiver age was 40 (SD = 6.47) and the mean age for youth was 12.1 (SD = 1.06) at the time of our first interview. The majority of families (n = 13) described themselves as Black. Dyads were recruited using a variety of methods including posting flyers in schools and through the outreach of CCI members. Through our relationship and regular meetings with the CCI leadership, we were able to conduct interviews with 10 members of the leadership and focus groups with 31 DSPs. Community C Community C is a small urban community in the northeast. The CCI chose a specific public housing development within the city as their targeted intervention area. This housing development lies within a cen- sus tract where 22.7% of families live below the federal poverty level, and 35.5% are families with children 18 years-old or younger (United States Census Bureau, 2010; see Table 1). In this area 32.8% are unem- ployed or not in the labor force, and only 25.7% are high school gradu- ates or equivalent (United States Census Bureau, 2010). In this census tract area, only 42.8% of the population use English as the primary language at home (United States Census Bureau, 2010). Further, violent crime is 348.4 instances per 100,000 people in the city overall during 2012 (United States Department of Justice, 2012). The majority of youth attending schools central to the housing development are Hispanic (45.03%), followed by White (32.07%), and Black (13.81%). The majority of the student population received free or reduced- priced lunch (74.09%). In Community C, over the course of the longitudinal study we interviewed 19 caregiver and youth dyads; all of the caregivers were fe- male and the majority of youth were male (n = 9) (see Table 2). The mean caregiver age was 41.64 (SD = 6.97) and the mean age for youth was 12.54 (SD = 1.50) at the time of our first interview. Six fam- ilies described themselves as Black, 7 as Latino, and 5 as White. Dyads were recruited using a variety of methods including posting flyers in schools and throughout the housing development, CCI member out- reach, and with assistance from community informants. Through our relationship, and regular meetings with the CCI leadership, we were Table 1 Community demographics. Demographics Community A B C Personal Family structure Single male with own children 8.10% 1.90% 3.00% Single female with own children 16.50% 11.40% 16.20% Education Less than 9th grade 18.60% 5.00% 11.50% No diploma (9–12) 20.40% 10.30% 8.40% High school graduate/equivalent 31.50% 25.10% 25.70% Place of birth Foreign born 12.70% 5.60% 38.00% Language English only 71.80% 90.20% 42.80% School Sex Male 50.03% 51.04% 49.87% Female 49.97% 49.72% 50.13% Race/ethnicity Hispanic 27.30% 10.11% 45.03% Black 65.01% 73.07% 13.81% White 5.03% 18.18% 32.07% Other 2.66% 5.37% 9.09% Free and reduced-price lunch eligible 76.07% 80.23% 74.09% Economic Income b poverty level 51.30% 21.80% 22.70% With children under 18 years 69.00% 32.90% 35.50% Employment Population 16+ Unemployed 12.40% 7.30% 5.30% Not in labor force 47.90% 37.40% 27.50% Violent Crime Per 100,000 2010 706.90 754.20 324.70 2011 738.20 792.00 370.00 2012 725.90 815.20 348.40 3J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
  • 4. able to recruit and conduct interviews with 8 members of the leadership and focus groups with 28 DSPs. Materials To examine alignment across levels of the CCIs, and to explore similarities and differences in alignment among the respective CCIs, we conducted a cross-case analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994). For this analysis we completed meta-matrices (Miles & Huberman, 1994), which are complex visualizations of qualitative data that allow a researcher to infer meaning and analyze themes. To complete these meta-matrices enabling cross-case comparisons, we condensed data (Miles & Huberman, 1994) from a variety of measures across the various levels of the CCI (i.e., the CCI leadership, direct service provider, and youth and caregivers). Below we describe the measures we used to collect the data, the procedures we used to collect data, and the specific selection of data we used for our current analysis. CCI leadership interview The questions for the key respondent interviews with members of the CCI leadership focused on their perceptions and attitudes about the youth and families they serve, their organization, and the structures and processes of the CCI. The interviews were semi-structured, so while there was a list of questions developed to understand these aspects of the CCI, interviewers were given the flexibility of asking follow up probes, or skipping over questions, dependent upon the respondent's answers. Direct service provider (DSP) Focus Groups The DSP focus group questions explored the direct service provider's experiences and work with families in their service community. Questions focused on their perceptions and attitudes about the youth and families they serve, the structures and processes at play in their various organizations, their specific work with youth and families, their perceived impact of this work, and what they believed was neces- sary to truly have an impact on the lives of families in their service com- munity. We also asked questions so that we could understand their knowledge of the CCI in the community and the impact that the CCI had on their direct service work. Youth and caregiver interviews The focus of these interviews was to assess youth and caregivers' abilities to navigate and negotiate their communities to access the opportunities and resources they need to thrive academically, socially, and civically. The interviews were semi-structured so that while we developed a set group of questions to understand these aspects of their life experiences, interviewers were given the flexibility of asking follow up probes, or skipping over questions, dependent upon the respondent's answers. Procedure Procedure for CCI leadership interviews Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with execu- tive members of the CCI boards/leadership committees in the respective communities at the beginning of the first and second year of our three- year longitudinal study (Winter 2011 and Winter 2012 respectively). Members of the boards were recruited through the lead conveners, and we had samples of at least four board members in each community. The size and composition of the boards changed over the course of the year, and as a result we were not always able to follow-up with the same board members. However, the sample was refreshed with new Table 2 Participant demographics. Participant type Demographic Community A B C Youth/caregiver dyads Sex (F/M) Youth 18 15 19 10/8 9/6 8/9 Caregiver 17/1 14/1 19/0 Age (SD) Youth 12.37 (.92) 12.1 (1.06) 12.54 (1.5) Caregiver 42.12 (11.23) 40 (6.47) 41.64 (6.97) Marital STATUS Married 2 7 7 Single 4 5 3 Divorced 1 3 1 Cohabitation 1 – 1 Widowed 1 – 1 Separated – – 1 Education High school or less 4 2 6 Some college 4 4 3 Associates degree – 1 1 Technical school – – 1 Bachelors degree – 3 2 Graduate school – 5 – Employment Employed 4 11 4 Unemployed — looking 2 3 2 Unemployed — not looking 1 1 8 Retired 1 – – Housing status Rent 7 7 19 Own 1 8 – Race/ethnicity African-American/Black 15 13 6 Latino/Hispanic 3 1 7 White – – 5 Other – 1 1 Grade 5th – – 2 6th 14 5 3 7th 3 6 8 8th 1 4 3 9th – 1 – Collaborative leadershipa 7 10 8 Direct service providersa 36 31 28 a Demographic data were not collected for collaborative leadership or direct service providers. 4 J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
  • 5. members of the board (see Table 2 for sample sizes). Interviews lasted 45 min to 1 h and were conducted in a private setting of the participant's choosing. For the current analysis, we engaged in an iterative coding process using the data from both executive member interviews with regards to what they identified as the needs and concerns of families in the commu- nity, and how and if the CCI was working to address the needs and con- cerns in the community. Given the iterative nature of the coding process, we describe the coding process fully in our analysis and results section. Procedure for direct service provider focus groups Through a partnership with the lead convener in each of the commu- nities, we identified a set of organizations that would be most relevant to have their staff represented in the focus groups (i.e. the organizations had some form of affiliation with the CCI in the community). Once iden- tified, we emailed the directors at each of the organizations indicating the purpose of the study, and asking them to nominate at least three ex- emplar DSPs from their organization to participate. We then contacted these DSPs and asked them to participate in a 45 minute focus group to discuss their work with families in their respective communities. Focus groups were conducted in public venues that were often in a cen- tral location and offered convenient parking and accessibility to public transportation (e.g., a school or community center located in the CCI footprint). Focus groups were audio taped, and the audio files were then coded in Atlas.ti 6. Focus groups were conducted twice during the course of our three-year study, at the beginning of the first year of the study (Winter 2011) and the beginning of the second year in the study (Winter 2012). For the current analysis, we engaged in an iterative coding process using the data from both focus groups with regards to the needs and concerns of families in the community as identified by DSPs. The itera- tive coding process is explained in our analysis. Procedure for youth and caregiver interviews Interviews were conducted semi-annually for three years (Spring of 2011–Spring of 2014) by graduate students for a total of six interviews per family. Whenever possible, the same graduate student conducted the interviews with the same caregiver/youth dyads in subsequent rounds, so that a rapport could be built between the participants and the researcher. Youth and caregiver interviews were conducted sepa- rately, and in private whenever possible. Interviews were conducted in the participants' home, or any other location where they felt comfort- able and able to speak candidly about their life experiences. Youth inter- views typically lasted 30 to 45 min, and caregiver interviews typically lasted 45 min to 1 h. All interviews were audio recorded and then transcribed for coding. For the current analysis, we engaged in an iterative coding process using rounds 1, 2, and 3 interviews (i.e., the Spring of 2011–Winter 2012, which was the same time period during which the collaborative leadership interviews and DSP focus groups were collected,) examining the needs and concerns identified by the dyads. The iterative coding process is explained in our analysis. Analysis and results We conducted a cross-case analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to examine alignment across levels of the CCIs, and to explore similarities and differences between the respective CCIs. For this analysis, each level of the CCI was considered a case (e.g., CCI leadership in Community A, DSP Community A, and Families Community A), and the variables ana- lyzed were the needs of the community identified at each level (e.g., safety). To explore commonalities across levels within each CCI, as well as across levels between the CCIs, we developed meta- matrices allowing us to stack cases so that we could look for common themes among the needs variables. We then partitioned (by exact need) and clustered (type of need and by community) the data regard- ing participants' perceived needs (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Alignment of identified needs We used an iterative process for data analysis whereby coding continually informed our analysis and findings; each iteration of coding informed how we partitioned and clustered our codes for further analysis and the refinement of our findings. Each round of data (CCI leadership interviews, and DSP focus groups, and youth and caregiver interviews) was coded and analyzed by one post-doctoral fellow and five graduate students. Although our initial analyses focused on emerging themes within each level of the CCI, we noticed several prevalent themes that illustrated issues of alignment among the different levels. For example, in these initial stages of our analysis, we noticed very few DSPs knew about the CCIs in their communities. Looking closer, we noticed differing theories of change across levels of the systems (e.g., there was no shared vision for what different actors in the commu- nity wanted for their young people). Indeed, the theory of change for each participant group was informed by their varying backgrounds, and by what they thought would be best for accomplishing levers of success. Further, these conversations inevitably revolved around the perceived pervasive needs in the communities (e.g., financial assis- tance). Thus, we returned to our data in order to partition the needs of community members identified by our participants, and then cluster them by types, looking at how and if the perceived needs at each level of the CCI aligned with the others. Given that coding schemes and interview structures for these initial analyses varied across our participant groups, we developed a consis- tent method by which to extract needs from the interviews. The post- doctoral scholar and one graduate student from the research team returned to the interviews, coding schemes, coding memos, and written analyses, combining and condensing these components to derive a sin- gle structure by which to understand the identified needs of youth and families at each level of the community.1 Using this structure, we con- ducted our analysis examining the needs identified by each level in a given community for the first 1.5 years of data (i.e., 2 annual interviews with CCI leadership, 2 annual focus groups with direct service providers, and 3 semi-annual interviews with youth/caregiver dyads), constantly returning to the data to understand how each level (the CCI leadership, direct service providers, and the youth and caregivers) defined and ad- dressed (or proposed to address) the need. We then tabulated the needs in meta-matrices, which allowed us to stack cases so that we could look for common themes among the needs variables, partitioning (by need) and clustering (by type of need and community) the data (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to illustrate how the needs aligned within each com- munity, and if we noticed similarities across communities. To show how we arrived at the summary of alignment, we provide an illustrative case, depicting the overarching needs indicated for Com- munity A, and how each level of the community discussed or defined the need (see Table 3). Exact needs could be defined in several different ways within any given type. For example, a financial need may be de- fined as a need for money to pay for a basic need, the need for adequate employment, and/or the need to fund enrichment opportunities for the youth. For this analysis, each definition of a need was regarded as an instance for possible alignment. Using the example above, financial was a type of need that was partitioned in the three above-defined ways, each of which is considered one instance. For example, instance 14 in Community A is agreed upon by all three levels of the CCI, thus in- dicating that the CCI leadership, DSPs and Families all agree that there is a need for a centralized source of information about resources in the community. This process of analysis showed that, overall, our commu- nities lacked alignment, which we believe critical to understanding the impact of collaborative efforts on child and youth outcomes. After 1 The coding scheme is available from the corresponding author by request. 5J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
  • 6. Table 3 Alignment meta-matrix for community A. Need Instance Level CCI DSP Caregiver Parental Involvement 1 Need to educate parents on parenting — parenting training Need to help the parents be able to meet the needs of their children on their own — need to educate the parents so that they can break the cycle of poverty 2 One off involvement techniques such as block parties and Kaboom builds, community dinners Need more than one off involvement like just coming to see your child in a play 3 Also more sustained efforts such as parent advocates Need parent advocates to help parents navigate the school system 4 Need more proactive involvement in the school rather than reactive Academic 5 A need for early education that isn't siloed from other programming/schooling Children need the same academic resources and building blocks as their peers 6 Need for tutoring — building out tutoring programs both in and outside of the school Need tutoring/help after school Safety 7 Need structurally safe homes 8 Need less violence in the community — drive by shootings Financial 9 No effective/affordable transportation Need transportation to programs (cannot afford/provide own transportation due to financial hardship) 10 Struggle with meeting the day to day needs – paying the electrical bill – which inhibits involvement and long term planning Need free or help paying for programs because we cannot afford day to day needs much less enrichment opportunities 11 Violence stems from poverty/we need to get rid of poverty Effective Communication 12 Need to build trust among the families and providers 13 Mobility hinders ability to get in touch with youth and families effectively and consistently 14 Need a one stop shop for opportunities — Benefit Bank to find out about financial, medical and enrichment resources Need to centralize information about resources at the school Need better communication regarding opportunities/resources in the community 15 Need for interpreters because of language barriers Enrichment 16 A pipeline of services 17 Need a community center 18 Need for more playgrounds/safe outdoor recreation space 19 Need after school enrichment opportunities like art, music, sports and drama Food 20 Need to be able to put food on the table 21 Need to feed the children before you can teach the children 22 Need more healthy food options in the community and at school 23 School needs to provide food packs for the youth 6J.F.Zaffetal./JournalofAppliedDevelopmentalPsychologyxxx(2015)xxx–xxx Pleasecitethisarticleas:Zaff,J.F.,etal.,Alignmentofperceivedneedsacrosslevelsofacommunity,JournalofAppliedDevelopmentalPsychology (2015),http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
  • 7. developing an overall picture of alignment, we returned to the tables to further examine experiences of alignment within each community. Adding up all of the definitions across the three communities, there are a total of 55 instances on which levels of the CCI could potentially agree (Community A = 23, Community B = 17, and Community C = 15). Reading across each individual table indicates where and how CCI levels agreed on any given need definition (see Table 4). From our analysis, overall we found alignment in 23 out of the total possible 55 instances between at least two levels of the community. Two out of the 23 instances were aligned across all three levels (CCI, DSP and Youth-Caregiver). The most alignment occurred between DSP and Caregivers, which might be expected since the DSP in our study work directly with families in the communities. Agreement was lowest between CCI leadership and Caregivers, showing a possible disconnect between what families say they need to support their children and what the CCI eventually implements. Even if the CCI leadership focuses on a need that they uncover through careful analysis of the community, they might not have buy-in from Caregivers; thus reducing the likeli- hood that families will engage with the CCI-led initiatives. We found that Community B had the greatest alignment, with at least two levels agreeing on 9 out of a possible 17 instances of need def- initions (see Table 4). This agreement occurred primarily between the DSPs and Caregivers (n = 6) and secondarily between the CCI leader- ship and Caregivers (n = 2); these included one instance where a need was defined in the same manner across all three levels of the com- munity (i.e., parents need to be involved in the education process to en- sure academic success). This was also the only instance where the CCI in Community B agreed with how the DSPs defined a need. Alternatively, while Community A had 8 agreements out of a possible 23 instances, the majority of agreements were between CCI executives and DSPs. From our analysis, we also were able to see which level of the com- munity had the highest frequency of agreement with the other levels. Across the communities, we found that the DSP (19 out of 55 instances) and Caregiver levels (18 out of 55 instances) had more agreement with another level than the CCI leadership (11 out of 55). Frequency of agreement also varied by community. Community B had agreement among more than half of the instances (9 out of 17), while Community C (6 out of 15) and Community A (8 out of 23) had rates of agreement that were at 40% or below. We also found that 40% of needs expressed were unique needs; that is, needs that were expressed by only one of the levels of the community (see Table 5). The DSP level had the highest rate of unique needs, with fully one half of their expressed needs being unique. Caregivers and CCI leadership not only expressed fewer needs overall, but also expressed a lower rate of unique needs. Further, the ways needs were discussed varied by level. DSPs and Families were aligned in how they spoke regarding needs, focusing primarily on the daily challenges that youth face and act as barriers to success (e.g., not having a consistent caring adult in the home, not enough food on the table, violence outside their front door, and parents unemployed, incarcerated, or having to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet). On the other hand, CCI leadership members discussed the structures the CCI needs, or the actions they need to take, in order to meet the needs of youth and families (e.g., how the CCI struggles to build the internal structures necessary to facilitate collaboration among members). For example, in Communities A and C, both the DSPs and the Fami- lies discussed how there is a need for affordable transportation in their cities. Both indicated that if youth and parents had reliable modes of transportation they would be able to engage in more of the ac- tivities and afterschool programs in the community. Both Caregivers and DSPs indicated that transportation would facilitate parents acquir- ing and retaining employment. However, facilitating or funding trans- portation in the community was not discussed by any of the CCI leadership in these two communities. Similarly, CCI leadership in both Community A and C mention a need for “wraparound” services or a “pipeline” of services. However, both the DSPs and families in these communities felt that meeting the basic needs of the families is neces- sary before creating a wraparound service structure. Discussion Youth-focused comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) have the potential to achieve community-level impacts that individual orga- nizations would not be able to accomplish alone (Lasker & Weiss, 2003; Wolff, 2001). Because they are typically comprised of organizations from multiple sectors within a community, CCIs are positioned to create the conditions so that all young people have the developmental sup- ports they need to thrive; whether academically, socioemotionally, vo- cationally, or civically. However, since CCIs were promoted 30 years ago as the “answer” to social and economic problems in communities, few CCIs have successfully achieved the impacts that they were purport- ed to achieve (Auspos, 2010; Foster-Fishman et al., 2001). One reason for the lack of success stories can be traced to a lack of alignment within and across levels of a community (e.g., the vision for the CCI; the needs perceived by the collaborative unit, direct service providers, and families; the actions that are conceived, implemented, and experienced). Studies of successful (Hawkins et al., 2008; Redmond et al., 2009) and unsuccessful CCIs (Auspos, 2010; White & Wehlage, 1995) have found alignment to be a key ingredient. Although some insights into the expression of alignment have been derived from previous studies (e.g., Fagan et al., 2009), much still needs to be learned about where alignments and misalignments can occur within a commu- nity. The current study was designed to look deeply into the inevitable nuances in perceived needs for each level of the community (i.e., CCI, direct service providers, and young people and their families) to provide a method for examining alignment. Our results suggest that there are alignments and misalignments across the levels of a community collaborative. We found that DSPs and families had the most alignment in perceived needs. Because of the scope of their work, DSPs usually interact with young people and their families multiple days per week and often are skilled at under- standing what is occurring in their young people's lives (Rhodes, 2004). However, youth development workers are not necessarily skilled at navigating the decision-making roles of a CCI (e.g., Borden & Perkins, 2006). Therefore, if the collaborative entity does not intentionally create opportunities for DSPs to be a part of the strategic planning and decision-making processes, their perspectives (and as our results sug- gest, the perspectives of the young people and families who they serve) will be missing from the collaboration's discussions. The poten- tial of youth when they are included in community decisions has prece- dence; when they are considered to be assets and given opportunities to be included in the workings of the community, young people can create Table 5 Frequency (%) of “unique” needs by party. Party Community Total A B C CCI 1/7 (14.28) 2/5 (40.00) 3/5 (60.00) 6/17 (35.29) DSP 11/18 (61.11) 5/12 (41.66) 3/8 (37.50) 19/38 (50.00) Caregiver 3/7 (42.85) 1/10 (10.00) 3/8 (37.50) 7/25 (28.00) Total 15/32 (46.87) 8/27 (29.62) 9/21 (42.85) 32/80 (40.00) Table 4 Frequency of agreement between levels of the community. Agreement Community Total A B C CCI-DSP only 4/23 (17.39) 0/17 (0.00) 1/15 (6.66) 5/55 (9.09) DSP-Caregiver only 2/23 (8.69) 6/17 (35.29) 4/15 (26.66) 12/55 (21.81) CCI-Caregiver only 1/23 (4.35) 2/17 (11.76) 1/15 (6.66) 4/55 (7.27) CCI-DSP-Caregiver 1/23 (4.35) 1/17 (5.88) 0/15 (0.0) 2/55 (3.63) 7J.F. Zaff et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology xxx (2015) xxx–xxx Please cite this article as: Zaff, J.F., et al., Alignment of perceived needs across levels of a community, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2015.02.002
  • 8. positive change (Checkoway & Richards-Schuster, 2006; Zeldin & Topitzes, 2002). In the case of the three CCIs that were the focus of this study, none included DSPs or families in the decision-making process; at least during the first year of their work. Another way to consider alignment is by the expression of unique needs; that is, needs that are only expressed by one level of the commu- nity. Having many unique needs could be an indication of misalignment, since these would be needs that no one else across the other levels recognizes as important. In addition, one could suppose that an increase in the number of unique needs would be related to an increase in the frustration of the level of the community with the unique needs. For example, if the DSP continually voice concern about a set of needs to which no one else pays attention, then the DSP would most likely become disengaged from the CCI process. There is an indication that not including the voices of DSPs and families in the planning may have contributed to the misalignment across the levels of the systems in the three communities. No matter the strategies being developed by the collaborative entity or the programs to be implemented, an out- standing question is whether parents and their children will engage with programs and services that they do not necessarily believe are in sync with what their perceived needs are (e.g., a CCI opening a new tutoring center in the area when parents might say that they need better transportation to access social services). Limitations and future directions This study used the first wave of data from a longitudinal study of CCIs. The current study presents only a snapshot into the work of youth-focused CCIs; in this case, CCIs that were in the early stages of their existence. Because the current study is not longitudinal, we were unable to assess whether alignment persisted over time. Understanding whether there was more cross-level alignment over time and examin- ing why there was more (or less) alignment would be an important next step. Initial analyses of Wave 2 from our study suggested that the collaborative entities were being more responsive to the perceived needs of community members.2 The reason for this responsiveness ap- peared to be the result of the CCIs gaining their footing over the course of a year, having a better system in place to elicit feedback from the community, and simply being based in the community for another year. This preliminary work suggests longitudinal analyses would pro- vide insights into how CCIs develop. In addition, although we were able to assess perceived needs at each level of the community, our sampling did not include every member of the collaborative entity, nor a representative sample of DSPs (we relied on nominations by the executive directors of the organizations from where the DSPs came). Considering the diverse paths of DSPs, including more than full-time, full-time, part-time, and volunteers, and the diver- sity of roles that DSPs have within an organization, it is difficult to construct a representative sample. We believe that our nomination methodology, though not perfect, still provides valid perspectives from the DSP level of each community. Similarly, we erred on depth over breadth with our sample of fami- lies. The families were recruited with assistance from the collaborative entity and most likely represent the middle of the distribution of families living within those communities. That is, the families expressed difficulties that might be expected for any family, especially families living in an economically disadvantaged community. However, they most likely did not represent families at the highest risk for their chil- dren experiencing negative outcomes (e.g., poor academic outcomes), nor did they represent families that were exemplars for their ability to thrive. Future research that includes the perspectives of the two tails of the distribution could provide additional insights into how all families perceive their needs and the needs of their children. Finally, assessing the predicted link between alignment and effecting change on desired developmental outcomes is a rich avenue for future research. The current study provides a model for assessing alignment, and we hope that future researchers will use this model as a starting place to continue to understand the ways in which alignment increases the odds of CCI success over time. Conclusion Based on strong developmental theory, we believe that alignment of vision, goals, and actions across levels of a CCI will improve the effec- tiveness of that CCI, and bring positive change to communities. Howev- er, in our analyses we found that in three established CCIs, there was significant room for improvement in alignment across levels. In partic- ular, we suggest that CCI leadership bring more families, DSPs and other community members into their planning sessions to ensure more perspectives are heard. CCIs have the potential to enact community-level change, but only if they are aligned to the meet the true needs of the community. References Anderson-Butcher, D., Lawson, H. A., Bean, J., Flaspohler, P., Boone, B., & Kwiatkowski, A. (2008). Community collaboration to improve schools: Introducing a new model from Ohio. Children & Schools, 30(3), 161–172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cs/30.3.161. Annie E. Casey Foundation (1995). 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