COMM-ORG Papers 2005

Rabinovitch--Transforming Community Practice



Transforming Community Practice:
[Re]Moving the Margins

Jannit Rabinovitch

 Union Institute and University

copyright Jannit Rabinovitch, 2004


About the Author

Chapter 1 - Setting the Stage
     Introduction to my Process
     Social Change through Community Practice
     Transformative Community Practice
     [Re]Moving the Margins
     Need for Change Agents

Chapter 2 - A Review of Literature Related to Transformative Community Practice
     Focus on Practice not Research
     Intersection of Community Practice and Feminism
     Shifting Power by Changing Attitudes
     Role of the Change Agent
     Listening to the Community's Insider Knowledge
     Capacity Building
     From the Academy to the Community

Chapter 3 - Five Community Practice Examples
     Theoretical Framework
     Introduction to the Projects
     Victoria Street Community Association
     Downtown Women's Project
     Prostitutes' Empowerment, Education and Resource Society
     Out from the Shadows: International Summit of Sexually Exploited Youth
     International Centre to Combat the Exploitation of Children
     Analysis of the Projects

Chapter 4 - Going to Where People Are: Placing Experiential People at the Centre
     Going to the Experiential Community
     Building Relationships and Establishing Trust
     Listening to the Experiential Community
     Insider Knowledge: From Client to Expert
     Involving the Experiential Community in Decision-making
     Indigenous Leadership
     Building the Capacity of Experiential Community Members
     Visualizing Change: Motivation and Passion

Chapter 5 - Bringing Others Along: Engaging Community Support
     Ensuring Cultural Sensitivity
     Working Together: Partnerships, Coalitions and Collaborations
     Working with Existing Institutions
     Creating New Initiatives
     Community-University Research Partnerships
     Transforming a Community Requires Everyone

Chapter 6 - Taking the Time: Honouring the Process
     Dedicating Enough Time
     Five Internal and External Phases of Transformative Community Practice
          Phase I .  a) Internal Work-Building Relationships
                         b) External Work-Conducting Research
          Phase II.  a) Internal Work-Creating the Vision
                         b) External Work-Building Relationships
          Phase III. a) Internal Work-Strategic Planning
                          b) External Work-Gathering Support
          Phase IV. a) Internal Work-Capacity Building
                          b) External Work-Documenting & Reporting
          Phase V.  a) Internal Work-Implementing the Initiative
                          b) External Work-Ensuring Sustainability

Chapter 7 - Envisioning Transformation: Where To >From Here?
     Spiritual Activism
     Signs of the Transformation
     Living in a Time of Crisis and Opportunity

Works Cited
Works Consulted
     A - Traditional Scholarly Disciplines that Inform Transformative Community Practice
     B - PEERS' Philosophical Stance
     C - Declaration and Agenda for Action
     D - Summary Analysis of Case Stories
     E - Qualities of Change Agent Lens in Transformative Community Practice
     F - Community Partners in Transformative Community Practice


I dedicate this work to Sandy Merriman who died in 1996 during the Downtown Women’s Project. Many of the realizations that underlie this work emerged as a result of her death.


This dissertation was submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in Community Studies, October 2004, The Graduate College, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Union Institute and University, Judith Arcana, Ph.D., Faculty Advisor.

I would like to thank some of the remarkable women I have had the privilege to work with over the years—Ally, Barb, Cher, Cherry, Chuck, Grace, Gwen, Karen, Lauren, Megan—and many others. I am honoured to be the “square” in the circle.

Many people have helped me with this work. My Doctoral Committee: Judith Arcana, Audrey Faulkner, Mark Rosenman, Jennifer Rudkin, Joanne Mulcahy, Simone Yehuda, and Kathleen Adams have been an invaluable source of direction and encouragement. Ellen Ilfeld has provided guidance and support, and taught me what it means to undertake data analysis within an unconventional framework.

Most especially, I thank my partner, Lyn Davis, who lived with me and my complaints during the months which I constantly undertook new tasks. Without her support and belief in me I would not have begun let alone achieved this goal.

Last, but certainly not least, I thank the members of my chosen family: my daughter, Hannah Rabinovitch, my son, Mischa Snopkowski, the other mothers, Patrice Snopkowski, Nancy Issenman, Lyn Davis and Pam Hartling and Doug McGhee, whose role as yet in our culture, has no name. I thank you for your unwavering confidence in me, your company, and for being in my life before, throughout and after this process.

About the Author

Dr. Jannit Rabinovitch is the BC Coordinator of a national program entitled Health, Enforcement and Education in Partnership (HEP). In BC HEP is managed by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC located at the University of Victoria. As well, Jannit spent almost seven years as a member of the Victoria Police Board. She has her doctorate in Community Studies and many years experience working with marginalised and socially excluded populations. Her current work focuses on partnership, collaboration and the necessity of ensuring that those most affected by an issue are meaningfully included in addressing it.


This dissertation explores transformative community practice as an effective method of working in the community, using five narratives incorporating twelve years of community practice work with marginalized communities in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Work with one community’s homeless men, street women, sex workers and sexually exploited youth provides examples, lessons, recommendations, and insights. Transformative community practice is built on the realization that despite their insider knowledge the true experts, those with lived experience, are not usually included in discussions of how to address their needs. Existing scholarly literature on community practice demonstrates a broad consensus on the importance of the inclusion of those most marginalized but without comprehensive guidelines on how to engage them in substantive ways.

The central argument of this study is that to develop effective responses to marginalization, the most oppressed must play a central role in the development, design and delivery of programs and services designed to address their needs. Further, that to do so requires  skilled change agents to facilitate and support the engagement of marginalized people in identifying and addressing problems. This study describes one such experience in effective community practice from the point of view of a change agent working with marginalized community members.

Transformative community practice seeks to change social policy and community practice in four key areas: the redefinition of expertise to include the experiential community thus ensuring  they play a decision-making role in the design, development and implementation of all solutions; a new understanding of, and support for, the role of the change agent; the engagement of all stakeholders affected by the situation being addressed; and a commitment that sufficient time and resources will be dedicated to the process of community practice.