Defining Sustainability

When it comes to community mobilization, sustainability means keeping your community efforts moving. How can your community keep up the momentum? 

Your community’s plan for addressing youth suicide will be more successful if you consider a number of key ingredients as part of your planning process:1 2 

Build backbone support 

Build a foundation for collective action that includes an independent group of motivated people (e.g. staff [funded or in-kind], volunteers or other stakeholders) who are dedicated to the initiative’s vision and strategy, support aligned activities, establish shared measurement practices, build public will, advance policy and mobilize resources. 

Keep talking

All players must engage in frequent and structured communication with the aim of building trust, meeting mutual objectives and ensuring joint motivation. It’s important to think about how community partners will regularly communicate with one another in a meaningful way.

Reinforce your action plan

It’s important to coordinate efforts among community partners, creating an action plan with a mix of reinforcing activities coordinated by a diverse set of cross-sector stakeholders. For more information on what to include in your community action plan, check out Planning strategically.

Collectively decide what success looks like

All key players need to agree on how success will be measured and reported using a short list of common indicators. Evaluation should be ongoing with feedback loops encouraging a culture of continuous improvement and allow for real-time adjustments. For more information on evaluation, check out Evaluate your efforts.

Find a common agenda

All participants must share a vision for change that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed-upon activities. Align your action plan with the predetermined common goal.

Work together

Complex social issues require complex solutions that can’t be addressed by a single person or agency, but require multiple individuals and organizations to come together. It’s important to engage local expertise and leaders in your community, including invested cross-sector partners and those with lived experience. Each partner needs to see the value in being at the table to meaningfully contribute to and champion the work. Due to diverse perspectives, it’s also important to create a common language to allow everyone to work together effectively.

It’s all about relationships

It’s important to take the time to build strong interpersonal relationships and trust to allow for collective visioning and learning. This also requires you to be mindful of power dynamics.

Use cascading levels of collaboration

Create multiple ways for people to participate, communicate lessons and coordinate efforts. Try using a joint steering committee with strong, cross-sector leadership from key organizations engaged with the issues as well as those directly touched by the issue. This committee can create the common agenda and strategic action framework. Once the framework is agreed upon, working groups can be established and the steering committee can meet regularly to oversee progress. For more considerations on working together, check out Come together and download our Building a coalition tool.

Share credit

It’s so much more than taking credit. It’s about celebrating shared successes. On the flipside, it’s equally important to ‘fail forward – view mistakes as learning opportunities.

Adapt solutions

Complex problems mean that solutions aren’t always clear from the outset. This requires flexibility and adaptive problem solving. Support community members to look for resources and innovation to solve common problems, encouraging community members to think outside of the box.

Use a multi-pronged approach

Success comes from a combination of interventions – not just a single solution. For example, your community may want to explore ways of addressing stigma, promoting mental health, gatekeeper training, understanding media guidelines, early identification and treatment of disorders, and postvention. For different best practices around youth suicide prevention, risk management and postvention check out Understanding youth suicide. You may also want to take the time to learn lessons from other communities who are doing similar work.

Make yourself a priority

It’s important to think about yourself, too. Community-based suicide prevention isn’t easy and maintaining your mental health is key to putting your best foot forward. For more information on self-care, check out the care for the caregiver section. 

Ready to create a sustainability plan for your community mobilization efforts? Check out our Maintaining sustainability section.