Woman pushing toddler on swing.

Best Start LA

Helping communities to improve the lives of families and young children

This project is no longer active, but we believe that the outcomes and resources generated through the work are still of value.

What We Worked For

Building the capacities of 14 Results-Focused Community Partnerships in Los Angeles County to shape stronger communities, thriving families, and improved results for young children. 

During the course of our eight-year involvement with this project, CSSP provided on-the-ground support to community partnerships in 14 diverse jurisdictions in LA County to ensure that community partnership members—residents, parents, providers, community organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders—were able to lead local efforts to strengthen their community and improve conditions for children and families. Working closely with First 5 LA’s Communities Department, CSSP’s Partnership Support Team (PST) aligned the Best Start Building Stronger Families Framework’s (BSFF) desired results with time tested approaches that help community partnerships to become vocal, strong, and committed advocates for change.  CSSP’s capacity building approach put data analysis, decision making, and strategic action into the hands of community leaders.

How We Did It

CSSP’s approaches were driven by a focus on results; responding to the priorities of local stakeholders; and recognizing the complexity and developmental nature of community change. Parents and residents were encouraged to build their skills as they lead complex local efforts. Community Partnerships were coached to operate as results-focused entities that are disciplined to “start with the end in mind,” and using data to define targets; implementing effective strategies, tracking, and reviewing effectiveness (What worked? What didn’t work?), and continuously improving strategies and actions.  

In LA County, CSSP’s Partnership Support Team included a diverse, experienced group of Capacity Builders who were senior consultants well versed in community organizing, technical assistance, curriculum design, and training, coaching, and facilitation. Capacity Builders worked with Best Start Community Partnerships to establish community specific capacity building plans. Each plan highlighted, through community self-assessments, what members agree to address among all or some of the key capacities of a high functioning partnership with the following roles: Keepers of the Vision; Inclusive Governance; Effective Collaboration; Data-Driven Learning, Decisions and Accountability; Resources and Sustainability; and Building Neighborhood Capacities. The Team was led by CSSP’s Director of Southern California Initiatives.


Best Start LA focused on building the capacities of 14 Results-Focused Community Partnerships in Los Angeles County. CSSP’s Partnership Support Team combined the wide-ranging experiences of the Team with developing comprehensive technical assistance, capacity building, coaching, and training plans with the objective of developing high performing partnerships that are well-positioned to accomplish First 5 LA’s results. 

Our approach emphasized:

  • Co-designing with First 5 LA and community partnerships. Engaging in upfront and direct dialogues with leadership team members, across the various divisions of First 5 LA, helped us to tailor a comprehensive approach that corresponded to the complex elements of the Best Start initiative. Post training, activities, and technical assistance evaluations scored measurably higher when a co-design approach was used. Co-design is a hallmark of CSSP’s approach to developing any technical assistance and training curricula.
  • Building local capacity in communities. CSSP’s efforts were intentionally aimed at augmenting the innate leadership skills of individual community members so that new capacities remain after the conclusion of the initiative. Some of those capacities included collaborative leadership, conducting effective meetings, making decisions by consensus, and facilitating groups. 
  • Focusing on community resident voice, resident role, and the balance of power among all partners, so that decision-making was truly collaborative and responsive to the lived experiences of the resident and community members who live, work, and worship in these communities. Meaningful resident participation takes focused attention and shifts in organization culture. The credibility of community partnerships increases when community members are able to see themselves in the leadership. 
  • Seeking seamless management across all elements of the initiative for the purpose of building strength and capacities. We sought to work across the several parts of the infrastructure of the sponsoring institution, First 5 LA, to support the long-term growth of community partnerships.
  • Unwavering and unapologetic focus on results. First 5 LA communicated very clearly that its mission is to help communities make measurable change. That can only be accomplished when Community Partnerships are helped to have the skills to “manage to results.” 

Best Start LA Outcomes

When established in 1998, First 5 LA adopted four goals or desired results: babies are born healthy; children maintain a healthy weight; children are safe from abuse and neglect; and children are ready for kindergarten. First 5 LA made a shift from programmatic investments in these areas to a broader, bolder strategic direction defined by four focus areas outlined in the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan with investments being directed to holistic and systemic outcomes:

  • Families: increase parent resiliency; social connections; knowledge of parenting and child development; capacity to provide enriching, structured, and nurturing environments for their children; and access to concrete supports in times of need.
  • Communities: community members have a shared vision and act collectively to improve the policies, services, and environments that impact families.
  • Early Care and Education Systems: improve access to affordable, quality, sustainable early care and education.
  • Health, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Systems: increase effectiveness and responsiveness of screening and early intervention programs.

Best Start Community Partnerships are a fundamental component of First 5 LA’s attempt to make sustained improvements for families and young children. CSSP was engaged to help build the capacities of these entities so that they were ultimately able to contribute to population level results over time. The outcomes that directed CSSP’s work were:

  • Community Partnerships are high functioning community entities with capacity building plans to guide ongoing growth and development.
  • Parents and residents are engaged and involved in collective processes to improve child, family, and community conditions.
  • Training, institutes, technical assistance, and peer-to-peer learning activities are customized for community use and delivered professionally and effectively.
  • Materials, learning, and tools are documented and developed for broader use.

Best Start LA Resource Compendium

The Resource Compendium organizes resources, materials, tools, and strategies utilized during the course of this project into a single digital library. The Resource Compendium provides the many partners working with Best Start Communities with ongoing access to these materials, while also making them available for field use. All materials included have been used and vetted with Community Partnerships for their usefulness in promoting skills, knowledge, and capacities needed to fulfill their responsibilities.

  1. Initiative-Wide PST Documents
  2. Leadership and Governance
  3. Collaboration and Networking
  4. Outreach and Engagement

Building Capacity in Community PartnershipsReflection Papers 

  1. Best Start Communities and Capacity Building in Action
  2. Mindful Leadership
  3. Systems Change Strategies and Resident Led Advocacy

Best Start LA Issue Briefs

In addition to the Best Start LA Resource Compendium, the following Best Practice Issue Briefs were developed by the Partnership Support Team and CSSP to share the learning from the work with Best Start Community Partnerships and First 5 LA:

  1. Using Results-Based Accountability for Performance Accountability with Community Partnerships
  2. Integrating the Promotores Model to Strengthen Community Partnerships
  3. Building Community Partnership Governance Capacity: Strategies and Lessons from Best Start

Best Start LA Management Team

CSSP Staff

  • Arthur Fidel Argomaniz, Program Analyst
  • Phyllis Brunson, former Director Southern California Initiatives and Project Manager

Senior Consultants to the Partnership Support Team (PST)

  • Kara Coleman, Senior Consultant, Coach and Capacity Builder
  • Audrey Jordan, Lead Coach and Senior Consultant

PST Capacity Building Consultants Team

  • Barbara Baldwin
  • Corina Espinoza
  • Lupe Gonzalez-Hernandez
  • Dara Griffin
  • Krishaunda Hampton
  • José Montaño
  • Silvia Montez
  • Miguel Perla
  • Araceli Simeón
  • Chrysta Wilson

Our Experts

Arthur Argomaniz portrait.

Arthur Fidel Argomaniz

Senior Program Analyst
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