IFAS community development: empowering your community, stage 1, initiation.

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IFAS community development: empowering your community, stage 1, initiation.
Cantrell, Randall
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IFAS Community Development: Empowering Your Community, Stage 1, Initiation 1 Jade Marcus Mark A. Brennan Muthusami Kumaran, Randall Cantrell, and Michael Spranger 2 This paper is part of a series of discussions on community development. This series includes specialized papers on civic engagement, community action, and other topics important to community development Introduction R esidents of communit ies are increasingly expected to assume greater responsibility in addressing local issues, planning for future development, and providing community services In response to the pressures and changes facing communities, activists, community based nonprofit organizations a nd coalitions of concerned community groups have emerged to shape and guide the development process. Similarly, organized residents continue to play instrumental roles in identifying new development opportunities in localities that historically were presen ted with few or no such options. Community based action is increasingly seen as essential to the overall development of a community and its well being. In its most basic form, this action refers to the process of building social relationships in pursuit of common community int erests and maintaining local life (Wilkinson, 1970; Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff and Bridger, 2003). Such action is the fou ndation of the community development process because it represents deliberate and positive efforts designed to meet the general needs of all local res idents. While central to the emergence of community development the organizing of local residents into c ommunity actions does not take place by itself. It is a process that needs to be cultivated and systematically approached (Cantrell and Stafford 2013) Through this process, the interactions among local residents evolve through a series of steps that focus on solving specific problems, establishing channels of communication, and establishing a framework for long term social change (Wilkinson, 1991). During t he first stage the process focuses on initiating community inte rest and promoting awareness of issues as well as establishing opportunities for participation in action (Wilkinson, 1970; Wilkinson, 1991). Initiation of Community Action While interaction s among residents facilitate solutions to many of the basic human needs, the development of purposive community action requires more focused links between members to foster change. The first phase of community action is initiation (Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff and Bridger, 2003). Initiation of interest occurs when residents from across the community identify common issues/ needs and begin to discuss the m as potential focus areas for group action (Luloff and Swanson, 1995; Wilkinson, 1991). This process facilitates the spread of awareness across diverse groups and reflects the process of acknowledging common issues/ needs in the community and the recognition that solutions to resolve them exist (K orsching and Allen, 2004). By addressing these commonalities and planning possible solutions, the community action process begins. For example, a local school board and a real estate business operating in the community can have widely different priorities that they feel are essential to meeting the needs of their particular social group. However, through interaction in a variety of s ettings, both can come to an agree ment that they and other groups have mutual community n eeds, such as community safety. Instead of the school board asking for increased security guards and the real estate sector pushing for more police coverage, the groups realize that a partnership such as a neighborhood crime watch program and a homeowners association would achieve a greater impact. Such efforts would not only help the school protect their students, but increase property values and the preservation of neighborhood security. Bringing in even more groups such as religious, business, civic org anizations, and others within the community would further expand the representation of local voices in the decision making process. Identifying common needs and initiating efforts to meet th o se needs can take many forms. Often times, the active choice of diverse residents is to organize themselves to resolve some immediate threat or overarching need. Such conditions tend to make the organization of active individuals more simple and direct. However, action often focuses solely on the success or failure of efforts to address the needs (task accomplishment). While such conditions are of course beneficial in bringing people together, they can serve only as short term action efforts. Considering such factors, it is useful for Cooperative Extension and other change agents to consider more long term plans and to frame action as part of a greater effort to improve the vibrancy and vitality of the community. Bringing together residents in such settings is not based around a single issue, but rather in response to the need to promote the overall local well being of residents. Including Initiation in Cooperative Extension Work When issues are identified and discussed in the initiation stage, they are often in the context of accomplishing one or more specific goals. Herein lies the importance of interaction: when diverse residents communicate about issu es facing their shared locality they are building relationships with other members of the community who would otherwise may not interact with them As a product of such interaction s within community, the development process of the community emerges.


Fostering Initiation Change does not come only from those formally named as community organizers, but from people who live and interact within a community. Recognizing these people as important assets and direct agents of change is imperative in shaping the emergence of community action The initiation stage of community action is therefore essential to increasing individual awareness and providing a venue for people to come together and become active. Initiation can include the following actions: Start with a small number of people who represent the diversity of the community. Identifying stakeholders, leaders from various groups throughout the community, and other important partners will help frame initial efforts. This includes members of the business community, social service sector, local government, school board, Parent Teacher Associations, local newspapers and media, as well as religious group s These individuals are the primary connection to the diverse groups they represent in the community and can serve the important role of bring ing a wider audience into development efforts. Identify social fields not represented. Based on the initial grouping of individuals involved in the community action process, it is possible to identify individuals/groups missing from the decision making process. To better identify these groups, a listing or asset map ping of all of the stakeholders within the community (e.g. religious, social, business, government) and the organizations or groups that comprise these field s (e.g. churches community development corporations, chamber of commerce, city commission ) can be developed. This process helps identify those voices that might be missing from local decision making. To be successful, community action efforts must be inclusive of the many diverse groups and perspectives within the community. By fostering div erse interactions and relationships across the community that would otherwise not occur, an entity stronger than the sum of its parts develops. Develop a framework for linking fields and bringing in new people. Once the organizations existing within the community are identified, innovative, creative, and unique strategies for addressi ng issues that build on the strengths of the community can be developed. Building on the diverse skills and background present within the community, this approach involves meeting local needs through methods unique to the locality instead of concentrating on traditional courses of action. This framework involv es innovation and allows us to link a variety of organizations and institutions within the community towards addressing its given needs. Spread awareness through all channels available. With groups and partners identified, it is important then to begin a course of action for spreading awareness among all residents of the community By identifying various groups and establishing channels of communication, these groups can in turn disseminate the information about local issues to their respective members. For example, efforts to raise awareness and call residents to action can be presented at civic events, festivals, sports events, religious gatherings, and town meetings. Summary Initiation and promotion of awareness are vital first step s in the community action process. From this stage, strong relationships are established that represent the entire community. These relationships cut across the various divides and social barriers that may exist within a community More importantly the initiation and promotion of awareness provide a strong foundation for stage two of the action process, organization of sponsorship Initiation is the first step in the process that allows local residents to take on a more direct and active role in local decision making t hereby taking on an increased say in the decisions that shape their lives. References Cantrell, R. and A. Stafford (2013). The Introduction and Development of the Community flow Measurement Instrument, Journal of Community Development. ( Community Development Journal 39 (4): 385 400. Luloff, A.E., and J. Bridger. 2003. Community Agency and Local Development. Pp. 203 213 in, Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty First Century edited by D. Brown and L. Swanson University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.


Lulo ff, A. E. and L. Swanson. 1995. "Community Agency and Disaffection: Enhancing Collective Resources." Pp. 351 372 in Investing in People: The Human Capital Needs of Rural America edited by L. Beaulieu and D. Mulkey. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Wilkinson, Rural Sociology. 35 (1): 54 68. Wilkinson, K.P. 1991. The Community in Rural America New York, NY: Greenwood Press, 1991. Suggeted Websites The Asset Based Community Development Institute The Community Development Society. http://www.comm Community Resource Group. Civic Practices Network. International Association for Community Deve lopment. Footnotes 1. This document is FCS 92 1 0, one of a series of publication s on Community Development from the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. First Published : April 2005. Revised: August 2013 Please visit the EDIS website at 2. Jade Marcus, former graduate student, Mark A. Brennan, former Assistant Professor of Community Development, Muthusami Kumaran, Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Management and Community Organizations, Randall Cantrell, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist for Housing and Community Development, and Michael Spranger, Professor and Extension Specialist for Community Development, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611.