An Organizational Guide to Building Health Services Research Capacity

Step 6: Planning for Sustainability



Importance of Sustainability

Maintaining a health services research program can be an arduous task. While there are many challenges to sustaining a program, the greatest challenge is locating and obtaining subsequent funding.ii, vi, vii, viii, ix You can overcome this challenge by creating a sustainability plan at the outset of a new program.

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Creating a Sustainability Plan

Begin by creating your sustainability plan at the start of your program. Implementing a sustainability plan is a five-step process.x

Five Components of a Sustainability Plan

  1. Assessment.
  2. Development.
  3. Implementation.
  4. Evaluation.
  5. Reassessment/ modification.

Start by assessing your vision of the program in the next 2, 5, and 10 years. Establish the business case or reason for your program; what makes your program worth the time, expense, and effort? Answer these questions:

  • What do you want your program to look like 2, 5, and 10 years in the future?
  • What will be the research priorities or research focus for your program
  • What type of staff and equipment will you need to conduct your research?
  • Who will be your partners? What type of support will they provide?
    How much money will it take to support this vision? What will be the source(s) of funding?
  • What impact will your program have in the research community?
  • What will your program's community impact be?

Elements of a Sustainability Plan

Based on the answers to the questions above, develop the following elements to be inserted into the sustainability plan. For each of these elements:

  1. Set measurable, quantifiable goals.
  2. Discuss the means for achieving these goals.
  3. Set timelines for achieving your goals.
  4. Set new goals once previous ones are achieved.

One or more of the following elements may make up your program's sustainability plan:

  • Short and long-term goals:
    • Short-term goals are those set for 2-5 years. These goals may be process-based, particularly for seed organizations, or outcomes-based for fertilizer organizations. Some examples of short-term goals include: meeting timelines, completing project activities, developing project-related publications, generating research/future funding ideas based on current project work, receiving positive feedback from internal and external stakeholders, and increasing student interest in health services research.
    • Long-term goals are primarily outcomes-based goals and can be accomplished in 5-10 years. Some examples of long-term goals include: retaining a team of 10 doctorate-level health services researchers, creating a health services educational track in a university setting, and obtaining a particular amount of research funding each year.
  • Research priorities. Define and limit what your program's thematic focus will be. Although this may seem limiting, it can help you to develop experience and expertise in a specific area or niche. Take into consideration funding opportunities and priorities of current and potential funders.
  • Staff retention and recruitment. Attrition is a natural part of any organization's growth. Retain staff by supporting their efforts and recognizing their work via verbal appreciation, awards, promotions, and raises. Recruit new staff with applicable skills and interests in health services research.
  • Partnerships. Identify strategies for improving your relationships and the effectiveness of the partnerships. Create opportunities to sustain and strengthen the partnerships. Establish new partners by networking at conferences. Recognize the unique knowledge, skills, and capabilities your organization possesses. Summarize these in a one-page document to distribute to potential partners.
  • Funding opportunities. Use your research priorities to identify appropriate funding agencies. Monitor potential funding opportunities released from these sources on a weekly or daily basis. Store the information on the funding opportunities in a searchable database that is accessible to key stakeholders in your organization.
    • Consider ways to expand on your current work that can lead to future funding. Explore whether a current funding agency has additional monies or suggestions about other agencies that may fund related projects.
    • It can be particularly challenging to maintain your desired level of infrastructure or research center support without adequate financial resources. Possible sources of funding include your organization's overhead, individual research project funding, and new infrastructure support funding.
  • Publications and presentations. Publications in leading, peer-reviewed health services research journals will bring positive attention to your organization and demonstrate your research abilities. Presentations at conferences will also demonstrate your skills and allow you the opportunity to network with others in your field. Conferences also give you exposure to funding agencies that sponsor the type of work you do. Budget and schedule time for writing, travel, and registration fees.
  • Community impact. Positive community impact can make it easier for you to engage participants in the future. Community impact may include: enhancing health care through the research projects, informing government policies with research project findings, or distributing health-related information to the public. Share the results of your research widely. Go to Step 4 for more information.

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Implementing the Plan and Monitoring Progress

Build the support systems necessary to implement and achieve your plan. For example, to achieve your publications and presentations goals, budget funds to support attendance at conferences or employ the use of a technical writer to assist with writing and editing publishable articles. Information for building support systems can be found in Steps 2, 3, and 4 of this Guide.

Use the assessment and evaluation plan to ascertain the gap between your current position and the vision for your program. Revisit the plan every 6 months to 2 years to make appropriate modifications to the plan. Monitor your progress by reviewing the results from your assessment and evaluation activities. Be sure to include key measures from the sustainability plan as variables in the evaluation. Refer to Steps 1 and 5 for more information on conducting assessments and evaluations.

Maximizing Success

  • Begin planning for the long-term by creating a sustainability plan at the outset of your program.
  • Monitor potential funding opportunities closely.
  • Encourage and support staff publications development and attendance at conferences. These activities also demonstrate research skills and give your program exposure to funding agencies and potential partners.
  • Look for funding for the research center via your organization's overhead, individual research project funding, and new infrastructure support funding.

b Logic models provide a visual showing the relationships between resources, activities, and outcomes of your program. Additional information about logic models can be found at (Plugin Software Help)

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Page last reviewed October 2014
Page originally created October 2011
Internet Citation: Step 6: Planning for Sustainability. Content last reviewed October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.
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