The Experience of an Intermediary in a Complex Initiative: The Urban Health Initiative’s National Program Office

Chapin Hall Center for Children (University of Chicago)



Case Study Sector

When a foundation decides to mount a multi-year, multi-site initiative, among the many questions it must address is how to manage it. Who will be responsible for developing the ideas behind the initiative, selecting sites, monitoring performance, providing technical assistance, promoting cross-site learning, evaluating outcomes, and institutionalizing the initiative's accomplishments? By examining the experience of the National Program Office, which functioned as the intermediary for the Urban Health Initiative, a ten-year $65 million initiative aimed at improving the health and safety of large numbers of children in five cities, this paper draws some broader lessons for foundations and intermediaries engaged in long-term multi-site initiatives. A successful foundation-intermediary relationship requires clarity regarding expectations and rules of engagement, effective communication, flexibility and trust. The paper includes a list of questions that the foundation and intermediary can address together in order to establish a strong basis for launching the initiative. The discussion requires the foundation to think through exactly how to structure the relationship in light of both the initiative's goals and the foundation's operating principles, capacities and culture. The intermediary, in turn, must understand the value of its independence and make sure it has the capacity to hold up the initiative's vision and tell the truth to both the sites and the foundation despite pressures to drift, accommodate or relay only good news. The agreements that come out of this discussion represent institutional commitments that should guide the initiative thereafter, regardless of changing personnel at the foundation or intermediary.



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