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 2: Classifying Approaches to Change       

Past Attempts at Classifying Community Change Practices     back to table of contents

Many authors and practitioners have attempted to categorize various models of community practice.

Marshall Ganz, a former organizing director with over 30 years of experience and currently at the Kennedy School at Harvard, has developed a method for distinguishing four categories of interventions which appear over and over again in the practitioner literature: service delivery, community development, professional advocacy and community organizing (Ganz, 1998).Ganz uses two bases, each with two dimensions, about change practices to create these four categories. The first basis regards the location of control of the program: internal to the community or external to the community. The second basis regards the product the program creates: a tangible benefit or service or an advocacy role whereby some claim for change is made on others.

 A two-by-two box helps explicate this division:

Figure 1: Traditional Model1

In box A are local service and development programs controlled by the community, such as community development corporations (CDCs), service centers and cultural groups overseen by community boards. In box B we find community organizing: efforts by residents and issue groups to influence institutions or decision making bodies which have an impact on the lives of the groups’ members. Social service programs are located in box C, distinguished from box A because they are controlled by external actors (the government or non-resident boards). Finally, professional advocacy or reform campaigns which are not controlled by community participation are located in box D (e.g., legal defense funds).

Similarly, David Beckwith and Christina Lopez of the Center for Community Change identify "four fundamental strategies available to neighborhood groups to address community problems: community organizing, advocacy, service delivery or development" (Beckwith and Lopez, 1997). Like Ganz, they note that

Advocacy and Service delivery are both characterized by doing FOR people. Often professionals like lawyers or social workers will attack a problem on behalf of those perceived as unable to speak for themselves. Job referral services, social work, training for job readiness, homeownership counseling, business plan preparation training — these are methods which fit into the Advocacy or Service Delivery strategy (capitals in original, n.p.). Like Ganz again, they define community development as "a strategy that gets the [community] group directly into the business of delivering a physical product" or service. Alternatively, community organizing is characterized by the mobilizing of volunteers. Staff roles are limited to helping volunteers become effective, to guiding the learning of leaders through the process, and to helping create the mechanism for the group to advocate on their own behalf. . . . Community organizing strategies include meeting with corporate or government decision makers to hold them accountable for their actions, designing programs for others (not the group) to implement that meet the needs of the community, and aggressive group action to block negative developments (italics mine, n.p.). Using different criteria, historian Robert Fisher and social work professor Jack Rothman have each also developed typologies of social change practices (Fisher, 1995; Rothman, 1995). Each defines a practice comparable to the community organizing practice in the models of Ganz and Beckwith and Lopez. Fisher’s typology includes a category labeled political activist. Like the organizing category developed so far, political activism sees power as the fundamental issue. Political activism seeks to mobilize community residents in order to develop sufficient power to challenge decisions made by other institutions. In addition, Fisher identifies another category, social work, which is similar to the service delivery categories mentioned above. Fisher agrees that social workers conceive of residents as recipients or clients primarily in need of service delivery.

Rothman, meanwhile, identifies a category of community practice which he calls social action. Similar to what the other previous authors identify as community organizing or political action, the most salient feature of social action is that it organizes groups of people to influence political processes. These actions are designed to change the balance of power between one group and their opposition.

However, Fisher and Rothman also develop categories of practice which are not comparable to those in the previous typologies. Fisher includes a method of social change, neighborhood maintenance, most commonly used by middle- and upper-income home owners who seek to increase the values of their property and maintain the identity of their community through preservation campaigns, changing zoning ordinances and improving local services. In fact, although Fisher separates this out from other organizing projects as a separate category, it is really just a variation on organizing which has been adopted by members of what are not traditionally seen as disempowered social groups.

Likewise, Rothman develops two categories that do not line up with the prior typologies. The first category is social planning. This category is actually a description of the role that policy planners and analysts play in social change. As employees of an institution they marshal facts and develop plans to solve the problems placed in front of them. As such, it does not really represent a method of change, but rather a task-specific function which many organizations all employ at various times. It is likely that Rothman included this profession as a model for social change because he first developed this typology based on his observations of the career paths of his students.

Finally, Rothman introduces the category "locality development." While he states that this is synonymous with community development, it is really a broader category than the attempt by residents to develop and manage social and physical service delivery within their own community, the definition used by Ganz and Beckwith and Lopez. For Rothman, locality development also includes the repair of social relations and the development of consensus-building decision making processes. By being so broad Rothman merges what I believe should be identified as two distinct practices: community development (which focuses on delivering physical products and services) and community building (which focuses on creating social relations and improving community social assets).

The problem with the typologies reviewed so far is that their bases are either too simple or too complex. In the case of the traditional two by two division, community controlled projects which are neither service nor advocacy oriented (which describes the practice I will define latter as community building) are not included. On the other hand, Fisher limits his categorical system by only focusing on social work and what are really two forms of activist organizing (the kind used by grassroots social change agents in low-income and minority neighborhoods and the more conservative kind used by associations of property owners). 2  Finally, Rothmans’ typology is too complex (using 11 variables). The result is a list of categories that could be collapsed on a typology made from fewer variables with more specific dimensions. It appears that Rothman overextends the breadth of activities which fall under at least one category in his attempt to flesh out such a large number of variables.

Selecting Community Change Practices to Examine     back to table of contents

In the next section I will outline which variables, and which dimensions along these variables, I will use for highlighting differences between the various community change practices. In this section, however, I mention which community change practices will be reviewed in this paper. The selection criteria are: which practices existed prior to CCIs and which are most relevant to the work of CCIs. By relevant I mean those practices which are most consistent with the goals of community participation and control over local development. Thus, since they are either externally controlled or not focused on low-income communities, I will remove from the discussion the neighborhood maintenance, social service delivery, social planning and advocacy models identified in the typologies discussed above. From the previous author’s writings this leaves community organizing and community development. Furthermore, I will add in one model absent in the previous typologies: community building.

Community building ventures, popularized in part by the writings of Kretzman and McKnight mentioned in the next chapter, are often used in CCIs.3  Indeed, as will be discussed later, many CCIs use community building projects as a substitute for what is defined in this paper as community organizing. Thus, understanding the differences between community building and community organizing will be important for evaluating CCIs. In brief, community building emphasizes a change process which begins with community residents identifying assets and relationships in their locale which, if further developed, will bring about significant change without a reliance on social service interventions. Community building often involves mapping out the resources in a community and meeting needs through strengthening those resources through local action. More specifics on community building and how it differs from the other models can be found in the next chapter.

Table 1 names the categories each author uses, shows where I believe some are synonymous (or are not) and then shows which three I select.

Table 1: How Categories Line Up Across Typologies
Ganz, Beckwith and Lopez
Community Organizing
Service Delivery
Social Action
Locality Development
Social Planning
Locality Development
Political Activist
Social Work
Neighborhood Maintenance
Community Organizing
Community Development
Community Building

Bases for Distinguishing Among Community Change Practices    back to table of contents

To help distinguish among these community practices (organizing, building, developing), I will use the following five bases: primary values of the practice, conception of public interest, power, nature of social capital and nature of civic engagement.

Primary value of the practice. Of the various values or principles a practice can uphold, which are paramount in a particular practices’ relationship towards solving community problems?

Gilbert, Specht and Terrell (1993) note that:

There is a continuing cycle of competition among three values that govern the management of community affairs and that affect the degree to which different conceptions of the public interest are emphasized. These are the values of participation, leadership and expertise (p.223). Participation "is a value that extols the virtue of each and every person joining meaningfully and directly in decisions that affect their welfare" (p.223). The authors note that the strength of interest in increasing participation in society as a primary value seems to wax and wane in various periods: "the Jacksonian era . . . the Populist period of the late 1888s; and the period of social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s were times when issues of participation were paramount" (p.224).

Expertise is defined as a value

that makes rationality the supreme criterion for decision making. . . .As the expert gains primacy, the planning enterprise moves to the touchstone of professionalism — technique. Refinement of professional skill, experimentation, coordination, and the attainment of improved methods of executive intervention become the major interests (p.224). Leadership means taking responsibility for tasks which need to be done. "Unless the executive committee, the board of directors, the officers — in short, leadership —undertake these tasks for the community, chaos will reign" (p.224). Where Gilbert et al see this as the primary value in building bureaucracies and representative (as opposed to direct) government, it could also be seen as the primary value in projects where people decide to undertake tasks which others have not or will not. In other words, leadership can also been seen as a "bootstrap" or entrepreneurial value: if we do not do this, nobody else will.

Conception of Public Interest. Additionally, Gilbert et al identify three competing views of the public interest. First, a community’s public interests can be viewed as belonging to a single organism. As a unitary body, the community’s interests can be identified and treated with expert knowledge. Alternatively, communities can be seen as a set individuals who voluntarily work together on interests common to those concerned. This communal view of the public interest envisions individuals identifying and working on the public interests as they (those involved) define them. Finally, interests can be conceived as conflicting. Subsets of the community may hold interests in conflict with other subsets (pp. 220-223).

Power. Steven Lukes and John Gaventa identify three faces, or dimensions, of power in society (Gaventa, 1980; Lukes, 1974;). The first dimension is a simple form of pluralism where various forums exist for the expression of concerns which are then discussed and hammered out by the actors and players involved in the community. At this level of power equal access to the decision making table is assumed.

However, Lukes and Gaventa find this presentation of political action insufficient because it fails to explain why people do not act when the status quo is glaringly not in their favor. The second dimension of power realizes that to benefit from the pluralist level you have to have enough power to get your items on the agenda. Following on Schattschneider (1960) and Bachrach and Baratz (1970), Lukes observes that the rules within any decision making system inherently bias the mobilization of resources for competing for agenda formation against some individuals and groups versus others. Furthermore, because only a few issues can be handled on any agenda at a time, many items simply never make it on the agenda.4

In brief, the "resource mobilization bias" of decision making systems may consistently weaken the agenda formation position of certain communities and thus limit the number of items they can have addressed in public forums. Thus, if some issues are not addressed, it is not because there is no public for them or that the public for that issue is irrational or politically "inefficient." Instead, the issue is not raised because

political organizations, like all organizations, develop a ‘mobilization of bias . . in favour of the exploitation of certain kinds of conflict and the suppression of others . . . Some issues are organized into politics while others are organized out’ (Gavneta, 1980, p.9, quoting Schattschneider, 1960, p.8 ). The third face of power rests on the ability of communities to create their own set of issues for the agenda. Luke and Gaventa believe that traditionally weak or minority communities not only have difficulties in participating in pluralist decision making systems, they also need to have the space and resources available to define what issues they wish to see on the agenda. Like Gramsci, Luke and Gaventa are concerned that weak communities may have their aspirations manipulated. In other words, patterns of relations within a community may be so weakened (or oppressed) that issue identification may not develop.

Instead of first, second and third, these three dimensions of power will be labeled for simplicity’s sake in this paper as pluralist, agenda setting and agenda planning. The distinction between setting and planning is the ability to place items on the agenda (agenda setting) versus the ability to generate from one’s culture items for an agenda (agenda planning). Moving items from the agenda plan on to society’s agenda requires the second form of power.

Social Capital. This final dimension of power, creating items for an agenda through developing culture, brings us close to the currently popular discussions of social capital. Change activists who believe that social relations in distressed communities are damaged and if repaired could help communities to solve their problems are asking how to rebuild social capital. However, some observers and practitioners believe there may be several different features of social capital which if confused or ignored, can lead to unintended consequences.

Xavier de Souza Briggs’ (1997) warning to social capital discussants is to make sure they recognize that different features of social capital networks exist and that some of the features of social capital may solve problems others cannot or raise new problems. For instance, de Souza Briggs notes that the impact of the development of the social capital of one group can be undesirable to another group. In a brief case study, he relates the story of a successful community development corporation which opened up its board to a neighborhood election in compliance with requirements for receiving special government funds. The stronger social capital of white homeowners in the area allowed them to defeat the weaker black community of low-income renters which had run the CDC to date. Under new owners, the CDC significantly altered its services and minority participation in the programs decreased.

Several lessons come out of de Souza Briggs’ warning. First, social capital building within the "fault lines" of race, class and other social cleavages will still be necessary as bridging relationships between groups will not always produce desirable outcomes for the weaker community. Second, social capital building across communities, often referred to as bridging social capital, will nonetheless be necessary in order for diverse communities to cooperate in a pluralist society and for the aggregate community to improve. Finally, social capital is not just used to increase the ability of individuals in a social network to rely on each other for coping with adversity or building trust, thus facilitating the development and completion of projects, social capital also can be used against others. As de Souza Briggs notes, there are some groups whose social capital would be harmed if another group’s social capital increased. In other words, social capital can have a nature that could be deemed political (see also Wallis 1998 for a discussion between community organizers and Robert Putnam on these issues).

Thus, we will ask which of the various "social capitals" a practice most frequently influences:

Civic Engagement. Sviridoff and Ryan (1996) write "perhaps nothing says more about the underlying values of a comprehensive initiative than its relationship to community residents" (p.20). They recognize four different roles that residents can be encouraged to play: client, political activist, policy maker, and engaged citizen. The final three will be used in differentiating the three types of community-based practice reviewed in this paper, all of which attempt to steer away from the client-based nature of social service programs. Political activism includes attempts to "redress social and economic injustice by organizing residents as a political force" (p.20). Using residents as policy makers is "popular in a number of comprehensive initiatives . . . [residents] are attached as advisors or planners, usually on a board or council, to the comprehensive initiative" (p.21). Finally, engagement implies a broader set of roles for a wider number of residents. Engagement refers to the ability of a practice to involve a larger number of people in building "networks, contacts, trust and standards — all essential to a community’s problem-solving capacity" (p.22).

Table 2 below summarizes the dimensions I have discussed within each basis.

Table 2: Bases and Dimensions
Primary Value 
  • Participation
  • Leadership
  • Expertise
Conception of Public Interest in a Community 
  • Conflicting
  • Communal
  • Singular
  • Pluralist
  • Agenda Setting
  • Agenda Planning
Nature of Social Capital 
  • Internal
  • Collaborative
  • Political
Nature of Civic Engagement 
  • Political Activism
  • Engaged Citizenry
  • Policy Making

For understanding and comparing the three practices examined in this paper the question are: which of these values, interpretations of community interests and power dominate which practice? What aspect of social capital and which kind of civic engagement does each practice nurture? For instance, Gilbert et al observe that each value or conception of interests when taken to the extreme of excluding the others can be the undoing of an enterprise. Hence, finding which community practices serve which values and which interests can be key to meeting social needs comprehensively. Without being able to manage these various issues, the orientation of any community change venture can not claim to be comprehensive.

The next chapter introduces each of the three community practices which were identified earlier in this chapter with a brief history and then compares each of them against these bases. In addition, the next chapter will discuss what weaknesses each method raises, and might resolve, about the others. Later this will be important for discussing CCIs’ ability to comprehensively address community change in distressed areas.

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