Contents      Chapter 1      Chapter 2      Chapter 3      Chapter 4      Chapter 5      Apps/Notes/Refs

Community Organizing, Building and Developing: Their Relationship to Comprehensive Community Initiatives, by Douglas R. Hess

Chapter 1: Introduction          

Introduction to The Problem     back to table of contents

Local, or community-based, initiatives to alleviate poverty in distressed communities are certainly as old as civilization itself. Nonetheless, only during the past several decades have a wide variety of approaches to community change come under the scrutiny of professional practitioners, academics, governments and philanthropists.

Over time various types of local initiatives have developed into forms of "community practice." To a greater or lesser degree, these various approaches to community change have each developed their own techniques, as well as professional networks, trade literature, training programs, and vocabulary. One of the most recent developments in the field is a complex set of projects commonly known as comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs).

In brief, CCIs are attempts by a variety of local actors to coordinate the work of community-based and government agency-based services and projects to offer more comprehensive treatments to social problems than the fragmented programs of the past. Furthermore, CCIs strive to increase the capacity of service and development providers by increasing the linkages between programs within a community to external actors and thus raising the number of opportunities local projects have for taking action. In addition, CCIs aim to increase the social capital within distressed communities including developing a strong resident vision for and participation in these various projects.

Despite years of experience with various forms of local initiatives — such as those defined here as community organizing, development and building — there remains much confusion on the part of many observers and practitioners over the differences in the nature of these various strategies. Furthermore, the dependence of the outcomes of interventions on the approach undertaken is often not recognized or expressed by those who support or engage in these efforts at community change. Finally, little discussion has occurred regarding the way these strategies can relate to each other.

Practitioners, such as David Beckwith of the Center for Community Change, note that confusion over the differences between social change methods is common, especially when community members and staff rely on what worked for one project (such as community organizing) to do another (such as community development):

Development methods require, like the other . . . methods, particular skills. Many groups have struggled to achieve good results in housing development with staff whose training, experience and interests, are in community organizing, causing pain and suffering for the group and the staff. This in unfair. If we understand the distinction between the strategies, we can see [that] different resources [are] needed for [different] methods . . .(Beckwith and Lopez, 1997). In the preface to this paper I quoted at length from Otis Johnson, who has worked with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s New Futures projects.  In that quote, Johnson identified three models of change and observes that very few people realize you need all three models to make change. And if I could go back and start over . . . I’d have been much clearer up front about the importance of using all three models, and reconciling them (quoted in Walsh, 1997a, p.38). Outline of this Paper  back to table of contents

In this paper I will, first, explore some bases upon which to differentiate various community intervention strategies. Second, I will explore the history of three approaches most relevant to CCIs and explore what the varying features of these different approaches might mean for a community project. This will include an examination of why it each of the elements that the various practices offer a community are valuable.

Third, I will review comprehensive community initiatives as a social change model. Through reviewing existing literature, exploring examples of CCIs and other practices and interviews with practitioners, I examine the ability of the CCI movement to provide a comprehensive means to tackling persistent poverty. Avoiding a definitional debate over what "comprehensive" means in services or community development, CCIs will instead be critiqued based on their ability to address and incorporate the achievements and features of other, earlier practices. Thus, a lack of comprehensiveness would mean that many CCIs are not integrating important elements of various prior practices.

Finally, I will make some recommendations on relationships between approaches to community-based change to suggest improved ways at developing a comprehensive approach to alleviating poverty in distressed communities.

Contents      Chapter 1      Chapter 2      Chapter 3      Chapter 4      Chapter 5      Apps/Notes/Refs