COMM-ORG Papers 2003

Blanc et al.: From the Ground Up

| Preface | Summary | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Appendices | Cited Works and Notes | Acknowledgements and About Authors |

Chapter V:  Concluding Comments and Lessons Learned


The preceding case studies of schools and housing show how LSNA is building community capacity by increasing the community's ability to access internal and external resources and generate more responsive actions from local and citywide institutions.  Of particular significance is the approach that LSNA takes to creating cross-group relationships.  LSNA is committed to meeting the needs of individuals and families in the community through its programs supporting education, jobs, housing, and other pressing needs.  Many people benefit from LSNA's programs without further involvement in the organization.  However, all participants are invited to become involved in LSNA's broader project of community improvement through the interconnected arenas of: leadership development, democratic participation, and building power and changing policy.  Because LSNA's programs and campaigns draw together multiple sectors of the community, they gain legitimacy inside and outside the community and pull together both grassroots commitment and technical expertise.  As important as LSNA's ability to increase resources available within Logan Square is its ability to create a culture that supports community improvement.

Contributions to Community Capacity Building

The two analytic case studies offered detailed examples of how looking through different lenses allowed us to see the ways in which LSNA strengthens and expands its community capacities.  In terms of relationship building, many people who have been typically ignored and/or silenced as citizens have found a welcome resource in their relationships to LSNA.  LSNA helped individuals and groups name their concerns and desires and take action towards addressing them.  Neighborhood organizations such as the YMCA, churches and Bickerdike (CDC), as well as local banks, businesses, and even public officials have found an ally in LSNA, using their relationship with LSNA to further their work and build connections between and across individuals, groups, and institutions.  LSNA’s ability to broker these kinds of connections contributes to a fluid and dynamic definition of what it means to play an active and activist role in the affairs of Logan Square.  LSNA plays an activist role because it is committed to change, be it social, educational, and/or economic, and because it marshals its resources to work towards creating change and improving the conditions and life chances for residents and citizens.

Through the cultivation of many of the above relationships, LSNA has identified, trained, supported, and ultimately re-generated a vibrant flow of community leaders.  In the spirit of true community organizing, leaders in LSNA emerge from the grassroots and bring with them their passions, life experiences, and authentic voices to the work of defining and attending to problems facing their community.

LSNA recognizes that while building relationships and developing leaders are necessary dimensions of community capacity building, they are insufficient in and of themselves.  Leaders need campaigns and strategies; it is through democratic participation, exercised both internally within LSNA and in wider social and political spheres of influence, that community capacities are maintained and strengthened.  An organization needs a mission that focuses the skills and energies of individuals and groups.  LSNA’s Holistic Plan serves that purpose.

Finally, the interlocking efforts of relationship building, leadership development and democratic participation come together and find expression and relevance in the building of power and the changing of policies.  LSNA members employ their skills and demonstrate the scope of their capacities in the exercise of power and its impact on changing policy.  Examples from our case studies illustrated this in terms of the work to reduce school overcrowding and make schools centers of community life, as well as the many public actions that heightened community awareness around the need for affordable housing policies. 

Strategic Implications for Other Organizations

LSNA's approach, grounded in the traditions of community organizing, has much to offer to other organizations and individuals committed to capacity building in low-income urban communities.  The community organizing approach contrasts with many other capacity-building efforts because of its commitment to mobilizing and energizing low- and moderate-income community members.  Community capacity building has found its way onto the national agenda of many foundations and funding sources.  As these organizations continue to support research and programs in this area, we believe that LSNA’s work is a reminder of how important it is to remain open and supportive of an approach to community organizing that trusts local residents to define their own issues and take action on them.  LSNA is working specifically in the context of a mixed-income neighborhood facing displacement of its poorest residents, but its work also has lessons to offer community-building efforts in other contexts.  We believe that LSNA’s work of building community capacity offers a valuable model for community organizations and the funders who support them.

This research also raises questions about the work and future of a group like LSNA.  As the organ­ization, the community, and the city as a whole change, it is valuable to step back and ask "What aspects of LSNA's work can continue? What parts must change? What parts must be given up?"


Recommendation One: Building interpersonal relationships and trust is important for organ­izations that want to identify and incorporate the range of resources and constituencies available within their communities.  Constituencies may include businesses or professionals, cultural organizations, churches or other social groups. Sometimes resources and constituencies are located in non-formal settings and with individuals and groups not clearly affiliated with a specific organization.  Incorporating multiple voices and agendas requires both trust and democratic organizational processes such as the Holistic Planning process.

Recommendation Two: Developing leadership and democratic participation among low- and moderate-income neighborhood residents is a valuable way to develop individuals’ sense of worth and self-confidence. Traditionally, a majority of the programs offered to help low-income people develop “self-efficacy” focus on the building of individual skills.  However, LSNA’s work shows that involvement in actions to challenge power inequities in interpersonal relationships, in institutions, and in the political realm makes a powerful contribution to people’s self-efficacy.  This, in turn, contributes to developing leaders and increasing democratic participation.

Recommendation Three: Community organizations need to develop strategies for addressing public policies that shape their communities.  It is important to integrate long-term strategies to build power and change policies with short-term strategies that provide skills and resources to community members.  As community organizations develop leadership and community vision, they also need to help the community locate itself within larger social, political, and economic contexts. The successful development of self-efficacy leads citizens to create their own social and political agendas and take action on them.  Community organizations have an important role to play in connecting local initiatives to broader campaigns for change. LSNA has been effective in meeting immediate needs of community residents while also developing campaigns to work for policy change.

Recommendation Four: Community organizations need to maintain a vision based on the needs and dreams of community members.  LSNA's Holistic Plan provides a strong example of how a clear vision can help guide an organization.  Community organizations need to be cognizant of changing political and economic landscapes.  For example, they need to be aware of how people in their communities can take advantage of changing workforce needs.  However, too often community organizations are driven by the agendas of funders or single constituencies within a community and lose sight of the needs and visions of the community as a whole.  Balancing awareness of development opportunities, relationships with funders, the emphases of various issue-oriented groups, and fidelity to overarching community needs requires sophisticated knowledge, as well as well-honed communication and negotiation skills.

Issues for the Future of LSNA

1.   If an Executive Director plays as strong a role as Nancy Aardema in nurturing a sense of trust and mentoring leaders, what happens when that person leaves the organization?  Is the organizational culture strong enough to reproduce itself in Nancy's absence?  Do the trust, risk-taking, and creativity we have observed in LSNA rely too heavily on an individual personality and leadership style, or do they represent an organizing approach that other people can learn.  If so, the sense of vitality and commitment present in LSNA can be maintained and can be developed in other settings. 

2.   As LSNA moves deeper into the arena of citywide advocacy and organizing, how will it find ways to maintain its commitment to its core practices of relationship building, leadership development, democratic participation and building power and changing policies?  How will the larger sphere of influence affect these practices as LSNA positions itself relative to citywide politics around race and class?  Working within one neighborhood, LSNA has been able to create a sense of shared purpose that grows from trust and the development of one-on-one relationships.  Will this sense of trust, especially as it relates to longstanding racial divisions within Chicago, be maintained as LSNA makes trade-offs and compromises in order to negotiate successfully with powerful political and economic forces?

3.  As a community faced with the realities of development and change, how can LSNA work to maintain the diversity and respect for difference that is a character of Logan Square in the face of market forces?  Even if the balanced development policy is adopted by the city and implemented, most low-income residents of Logan Square would still be at risk of displacement. Can LSNA play a significant role in preserving the essential spirit and character of the neighborhood while at the same time working to negotiate trade-offs with outsider developers? 


In LSNA, we see an organization that knits together multiple constituencies within a large neighborhood which is both economically and socially diverse.  In this report, we have looked at how low- and moderate-income parents, renters, and homeowners, Anglos, Latinos, African Americans, principals, teachers, and pastors work together to develop and enact a shared vision of community change.  Diversity is valued and necessary in LSNA and allows the organization to develop a vision that goes beyond the self-interest or worldview of any specific group. 

Although it is multi-class, LSNA does not attempt to bring together all the different economic interests in Logan Square.  More important is the fact that it brings low-income and working class residents together with the representatives of neighborhood institutions.  Because of LSNA's commitment to mentoring and building relationships, people learn from each other, develop new skills and take on new roles.  In spite of the power differences that still characterize the institutions LSNA works with, the organization's leaders articulate a sense of community and a belief in shared goals that is quite different from the ethnic, racial, and class fragmentation that is more common in American society. 

During RFA's research process, the processes of relationship building and personal transformation and the fear and anger related to community displacement were perhaps the themes most prominent in our interviews with leaders and organizers.  However, the political processes of strategic planning, development of alliances within and across the city, and considering public policy and economic realities are also key aspects of LSNA's work.  LSNA focuses intensely on issues of immediate concern to neighborhood residents, but is only able to deliver resources or build power to the extent that its leaders and organizers are able to engage with a changing economic and political context.