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Full Posts:

Working Through the Community

Post:

28

Date:

Jan 27, 2001

From:

Kit Collins


Many thanks in advance for moving this with such a demanding deadline!!! Kit

A. SUMMARY POINTS

During the next week, our objective is to move quickly to arrive at a more substantial articulation of the following:

1. the centrality of functional community capacity as a context for the effective deployment of technology in achieving social change, and setting forth what we mean by community capacity; signs of whether communities have the necessary capacity in place;

2. key considerations and criteria and for identifying organizations and systems that achieve positive social outcomes that serve real needs and interests of the community itself;

3. the importance of locating and engaging leaders who have earned significant respect within the community as well as nourishing and building on trusted relationships;

4. the nature and importance of community-based planning processes that build community capacity and scale positive community impact;

5. relevant experience and lessons learned by organizations already tackling the challenge of building and sustaining neighborhoods and communities;

6. finely honed examples relevant to our position on the centrality of community capacity and the importance of launching and sustaining community planning.

B. THE TASK RE: ASPECTS OF OUR DIALOGUE ON COMMUNITY CAPACITY/COMMUNITY PLANNING TO DATE

Please note that in the course of our dialogue to date, aspects of the above have suggested some convergence in our collective thinking. Please move us further on those aspects. We ask that you develop one or more of the points listed above, support or disagree with what is below, and offer alternative perspectives and examples that illustrate the points or principles being set forth.

B - I. COMMUNITY CAPACITY Aspects that suggest some convergence in our collective thinking on community capacity via the dialogue:

The path to achieving positive social outcomes is to work within a community's capacity tapping the strength that enables people to improve their own lives and to support the growth and expansion of organizations in the community or region that do the same for increasing numbers of communities. The kind of social change that we are looking for is, by any measure, an enormously difficult undertaking that can be grounded only in deep convictions, community potential, shared and optimized resources and the energy of all involved to commit to the long haul.

One clear approach is to "find the vein" of strength and vitality in the community system - the networking and convergence of its socially positive organizations (e.g. schools, non profits, business and community partnerships, religious and faith-based institutions) as critical entry points. That is where the force of technology can be most productively infused for sustained economic mobility, personal advancement and a better quality of life. Such a strategic approach requires a "close to the ground" experience of the targeted communities and associated infrastructures, as they are not all identical. There are two ways in which to affect a community's capacity to achieve outcomes. One path drives change within the system of intermediary institutions -- schools, government agencies, businesses, nonprofit organizations and others. And the other forces change through the actions of individuals, including neighborhood activists, elected officials, parents, young people and others involved in their communities.

Major challenges confront us on this score: How do we create an environment where people who are under-served understand that there are possibilities with their participation or where there are other trusted entities that have their interests solidly in place? How do we approach the capacity issues relating to technology when the real barriers to opportunity-language, education, literacy, poverty, discrimination-are left untouched. People are not poor because they lack access to the Internet. They lack access because they are poor. What is required by way of discipline, time and the skill/experience to identify, or enable the community to identify, leaders that have real credibility within their respective communities? Who are those who will be trusted to advance the acceptance and use of technology in the priority interests and to the benefit of the community itself? Who has the access and how have they participated in a particular community? How are they viewed in that community; Are their opinions, stances, actions respected and supported by the community? What partnerships and grass roots advocacy organizations have been created, engaged?

What must also be factored into the community change effort is the reality that the capacity of low-income communities to improve their own lives is badly frayed. Low-income communities face a lack of economic infrastructure, such as jobs, transportation and training; an absence of strong families and adults involved in children's lives; the poorest delivery systems for social services; ineffective schools; and the lack of a connected network of support joining these services together. In such settings, the efforts of intermediary organizations to serve are often ineffective, while the efforts of individuals to change their lives are severely constrained.

B -2. COMMUNITY PLANNING - Aspects that suggest some convergence in our collective thinking on community planning via the dialogue:

Inevitably there is a critical integrating link between the capacity of a neighborhood, community or even region, and the effectiveness of trusted leaders networked within that community and engaged with those trusted source relationships both within and around the community as frameworks for community planning - experience, skills, resources and the true interests of that community. A solid community planning process would go a long way toward addressing a number of the issues raised.

Community planning efforts touch on several key prerequisites: clear identification of the beneficiaries targeted in efforts that are being proposed; identification of the "intermediaries" to be engaged or perhaps better, planning for intermediaries to grow out of a broadly inclusive planning process; selecting/designing a well targeted process that taps into the vein of strength within and around the effort.

It is too often the case that outside-led bureaucratic and interventionist approaches seldom yield long term positive outcomes in low-income or otherwise fragile communities. The best possibilities seem to come from a combination of such things as: community-rooted leadership, local leadership engaging members and achieving credibility with service organizations and social networks, clarity on what is in the self-interest of the community, and strategic identification and development of resource partnerships. Locally driven planning cannot be long and abstract, and must point to clear tangible benefits for the community itself.

Trusted source relationships are central - who knows who, who works with whom and who respects whom. In the end, and for better or worse organizationally, many civil society initiatives are extremely personality based. While this is not necessarily the best way to run an enterprise, the benefits on the not-for-profit side is that people in this sector are willing to invest their heart & soul (and thus their personalities) into the endeavors to keep them afloat, even with limited resources. People (and de facto organizations) in these situations are more likely to be influenced by others whom they trust that have had a good experience with technology and who have made it work for them. For people to buy-in, incorporate them into a process that is meaningful, where their contributions matter and the return is worth the investment - trust will follow The key is pulling people into using technology rather than pushing it upon them. Success rests with those who are interested first, always leaving the door open for the resisters to come in later.

It might behoove us to look at a) the kinds of organizations that energize and empower the community while being a part of the community itself and b) those which are outside of the community but play a major role in supporting, initiating and investing in key social outcomes for the community. Both are key to the development of a dynamic community change infrastructure but may have very different functions. Investing in and binding the power of technology to the growth and effectiveness of a dynamic infrastructure does have the promise of transforming a fast growing civic movement into a true social force that works to the favor of what is becoming the permanent underclass.

B-3. COMMUNITY PLANNING STRATEGIES AND PROCESSES

We need to benefit from the experience of groups and organizations who are tackling the issues of what it takes to build and sustain neighborhoods and communities in low income areas and are working with cross sections of community players committed to re-shaping relationships, access to resources and measurable outcomes that track community success. We look here to Bonnie Politz and Richard Murphy (AED) for both insight, information, and examples here. There are other groups and established practices from which we can glean insights and examples, such as the Center for Community Change here in DC and the National Community Building Network in Oakland. (Other suggestions, successful examples?)

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