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 3: Community Development, Organizing and Building
Community Organizing back to table of contents
Brief Background of Community Organizing
The most famous figure in modern community organizing is Saul Alinsky. Alinsky was a community organizer who worked around the nation from the 1930s to the 1970s. Alinsky’s writings serve as a bible for many direct action community organizers (for instance, Alinsky, 1971). Direct and indirect descendents of Alinsky include such famous figures as Caesar Chavez, Fred Ross Sr. and the current staff of the IAF and several similar organizing networks. Alinsky plays such a dominant role in discussions of organizing that the irreverent, aggressive and arrogant personality he interjects into his writings have become a stereotype for community organizers. Indeed, community change strategies which use public confrontation are often referred to as "Alinsky-style" models.
Despite Alinsky’s ties to many modern organizing efforts, his fame overshadows an older tradition in community organizing in America than is commonly recognized. The Association of Community Organization for Reform Now, for instance, recognizes the heritage of its organizing practice as including nineteenth century populist movements such as the Southern Tenant Farmworker Union and the Non-partisan League (Adamson and Borgos, 1987; Betten and Austin, 1990; Kest and Rathke, 1979).
Although there are many styles of community organizing and many organizational structures which arise out of organizing drives, the emphasis for those practices which I place under community organizing is the same: organizing community members to take on powerful institutions in their community through direct public confrontation and action. Sometimes this even includes political work such as voter registration, endorsement of candidates or even running candidates for office (Alinsky, 1971; Delgado, 1986, 1994; Khan, 1991).
Although all of the categorical systems mentioned in the previous chapter identified community organizing as distinct from other categories the authors used, it is hard to find a working definition of it in any literature outside of the writings of practitioners. When reviewing funding of community organizing for the Woods Fund of Chicago, Sandy O’Donnell and Ellen Schumer (1996) noticed "few funders understand organizing: few even know it exists as a field of philanthropic endeavor, and those who do tend to view it as insurrectionist" (n.p.). However, for analytical, much less managerial, purposes it is important to have a grasp of organizing beyond the "I know it when I see it" description (or suspicion) which many professionals carry about in their heads. Through interviews with organizers, foundation staff experienced in funding community organizing and a review of the literature, I developed the characteristic features of organizing outlined in Table 3.5
Table 3: Defining Community Organizing
|Local, democratic control. Direct constituency
involvement in the organization is a central and even defining feature
of the organization. The constituency is clearly defined and the growth
and participation of membership is seen as fundamental. Members’ agenda
for their community, as expressed through felt needs, is the starting point
for campaigns that meet needs as well as inspire participation.
Power is based on participation of mass-based constituency. As opposed to mobilizing resources to generate influence through expert staff, research information or money, the power of organizing to influence other institutions is mainly derived from the direct involvement of membership. Most, although not all, organizing projects are multi-issue and seek to constantly expand their membership base beyond their present constituency. Boards are usually elected and members often pay dues.
Leadership development is central. The development of leadership is a program goal related to the two criteria above. Leaders are necessary for constituency control over the organization and for the ability of the organization to move large numbers of people to participate. Leadership development also entails expanding member-cum-leaders’ understanding and analysis of social problems, opening up their definition of interest to include the wider community and solidarity with other movement organizations.
Permanence and growth of the organization is paramount. Capacity to do work over time is suggested not only because policy and institutional changes are significant goals, but also because groups are expected to grow and relate to other organizing ventures or simply continue to organize the "unorganized." Compared to professional advocacy or activist networks, organizing does not exist to win a certain issue. While some issue or principle is the reason-for-being for activists and advocates, issues are selected in organizing based on their ability to further the organization’s drive to include more members, develop new leaders and build more power for the group. Issues are often chosen to expose who does and does not represent the interests of the public the organizing is focused on moving. Furthermore, organizing seeks to advance what some call "group efficacy." The goal, in other words, is not just to win a change, but to win it as an organized group — in short, an organized community.
Contestation at the institutional level. As opposed to making changes at the level of the self or physical structure, organizing works to change institutions and norms in the society at-large. While organizing might fight for paving the streets, funding a school or ending discrimination in banks, these are just the outward signs of what it really wants to accomplish: changing how decisions are made. Furthermore, putting new groups of people into community institutions and decision making processes almost always means some degree of confrontation. In addition, since organizing is about developing broad involvement, organizing campaigns often make this confrontation public (uncomfortably so for some). Organizing often has as its goal the control of the institutions it targets. Finally, organizing ventures often spawn new institutions (e.g., CDCs, charter schools, etc.) or decision making systems (e.g., reforming election laws) which future organizing will seek to use to the members’ advantage.
Comparing Community Organizing Against the Bases
Table 4 compares community organizing and the other practices against
the dimensions of the bases outlined in Chapter 2. The rest of this section
notes several important features from that comparison.
Table 4: Comparing Community
Organizing, Building and Developing Against the Bases
|Conception of Public Interest in a Community||Conflicting||Communal||Singular|
|Power||Agenda setting||Agenda planning||Pluralist|
|Nature of Social Capital||Political||Internal||Collaboration|
|Nature of Civic Engagement||Political Activism||Engaged Citizenry||Policy Making|
Primary Value. In community organizing the goal is to control the future of the community through a permanent, politically powerful, organized body of resident participants. Quoting Heather Booth, formerly of Citizen Action, Beckwith and Lopez (1997) point to a simple mnemonic for a community organizers’ job description: "OOO = Organizers Organize Organizations." Organizers explicitly do not see their primary role as that of maintaining expertise in solving social problems (other than that of building the "people’s organization"). Indeed, as several seasoned practitioners point out, organizing is often best served if the programs it fights for are implemented by others (Beckwith and Lopez, 1997; Bharagava, 1998a; Dailey, 1998; Shea, 1998).
Additionally, because organizing places much emphasis on bringing new voices to the table and on building power through numbers it has a strong focus on developing new membership and leadership. In order to develop a constantly expanding and democratic organization, organizing must rely on new leadership and new constituencies, not just existing leadership (von Hoffman undated; Trapp, 1976). Hence, in Gilbert et al’s terms, community organizing holds participation as its major value with a secondary focus on leadership.
Conception of Public Interest. Another feature of community organizing is essential to highlight and is probably the most salient to its critics: community organizing engages in conflict. Because organizing engages in public affairs those people who are least involved in community decision making processes, current relationships in the larger community are shaken. Constituents engaged in organizing are demanding a greater say in both government policy making and the impacts which market forces have on their community. This feature of organizing is perhaps the hardest for some funders, practitioners and government officials to come to terms with (Bhargava, 1998a; Marris and Rein, 1973; Walsh, 1997a).
Power. Following Luke and Gaventa’s model, community organizing engages power at the second level: attempting to mobilize resources to increase control over agendas. Additionally, organizing strives to change the "rules" of decision making so the resource mobilization bias in the agenda setting process favors their community. A common example of this is the passing of election law reforms to strengthen the voice of each neighborhood at the city council. Many organizations, for example, have done this through eliminating or reducing the number of at-large seats on their city council and strengthening the ward election system as a way of increasing resident control over what become more highly visible local races. (Adjusting election laws was also a common campaign of the Populist and agrarian social movements in the last century.)
Social Capital and Civic Engagement. While organizing often begins with those interests which are very close and visible to potential members (the "felt needs"), organizing’s longer-term goal is to expand the interest of members to include broader issues (Rubin and Rubin, 1992; Trapp, 1976). This allows the group to move on to issues which are inclusive of new members’ interests and are more sophisticated than the easy, early "wins" with which membership based organizing drives start (the perennial examples being stop signs and rats). As Trapp (1976) notes, it would be hard to build any substantial amount of power at all if organizing could not get renters to work on home-owner issues and visa-versa.
However, while building social capital among members and bridging relations across interest groups is important in organizing, the emphasis is still on the political nature of social capital. While it would be hard to develop the political power of any organization without developing a significant amount of internal social capital within some of the "fault lines" of society (place, gender, class, race, etc.) and across others, those relationships which are chosen in an organizing venture are those that will build the most power for the organization.
Civic Engagement. This is clearly the political activist form of civic engagement defined by Sviridoff and Ryan. Organizing is less concerned about involving residents in specific policy roles (often viewed as a drain on an organization’s leadership by organizers) than their general political activism which will allow them to keep decision makers accountable. Furthermore, while organizing is concerned about developing an engaged citizenry, the relationship building which this entails is internal to the organization (members, leaders, staff) and not external or highly varied (generally increasing or improving civic relations). In contrast, community building, the next practice we will examine, places an emphasis on a more generalized set of broad relations.
Community Building back to table of contents
Brief Background of Community Building
Community building is defined here as those projects which seek to build new relationships among members in a community and develop change out of the connections these relationships provide for solving member-defined problems. Significantly, community building focuses on utilizing the existing assets within a community and not the provision of services for resolving deficits within a community. The community building model has its genesis in three sources: the self-help movement’s reformist critique of the service delivery and advocacy models of change, Kretzman and McKnights’ asset-based community development model and the feminist response to traditional community organizing. Each of these influences is briefly reviewed below.
Critics of the social service model felt that its fundamental assumptions were misdirected as evidenced by a perceived lack of success. Thomas Dewar (1978), writing from a pro-self-help vantage, critiques the advocacy and service delivery practices mentioned in the chapter 2:
Despite growing claims of importance by professionals and rising expectations of many of their clients, more and more professional services offer no clear-cut definition of success. Instead, the clients are urged to try to understand the situation or predicament as their helpers do (p.4).
The third influence on the strain of community practices which I am calling community building is feminism. Feminist organizers have responded to the conflict and confrontation nature of traditional community organizing by focusing on the development of power through building relations among community members (Bradshaw, Soifer and Guiterrez, 1994; O’Donnell and Schumer, 1996; Stall and Stoecker, 1997). Whereas traditional community organizing focuses on building mass-based, permanent organizations which confront state and market institutions, feminist organizing focuses on smaller, less formal groups.
The emphasis in feminist organizing is on changing members’ consciousness about private problems as a means toward developing voluntary, communal responses. These responses might include public action spanning from activism to cultural activities, but are also likely to include self-help and betterment programs or support networks. Furthermore, as with the other influences on community building, feminist organizing seeks to demystify expertise and place experts in the role of a co-learner with participants. Finally, power in feminist organizing is not "seen as a finite resource that must be gained" at the expense of others (Bradshaw, Soifer and Gutierrez, 1994, p.31). Instead, community power is believed to be rooted in relationships. Therefore, power is limitless and increases as relationships, including collaborations with other groups, are expanded and improved.
Comparing Community Building Against the Bases
Primary Value. Clearly community building places, as does community organizing, great emphasis on participation. However, because community building focuses so intensely on the development of relationships, participation has a focus on smaller groups with a very large commitment of time from each participant (Bradshaw, Soifer and Gutierrez, 1994). Because of this more intense focus on small task-groups (such as community surveying), group processes and relationships, I identify community building with the leadership dimension. Community building values change through participants "doing for themselves."
Conception of Public Interest. Defining the public interest in community building is oriented around finding a public good which community members desire and agree upon. Because improved relationships and conciliation are emphasized, community building avoids conflict and stresses voluntary action. Thus, a communal definition of the public interest is stressed in community building projects.6
Power. Of the three faces of power identified, community building specializes in agenda planning. By focusing on participants’ (re)discovery of local assets, new relations and opportunities, participants in community building develop a new vision for their community, one that external actors would not have been able to discover without them. Kretzman and McKnights’ (1993) 370 page training manual is almost completely silent about how a community with its new found vision (or agenda) relates to external actors and resources, much less the political process. This is a substantially different vision of power than that used in community organizing which is very conscious about mobilizing resources to target external actors and institutions for assistance.
SocialCapital. In his general discussion of what a rebuilding process might look like, McKnight (1994) stresses elements such as story telling, celebration and even tragedy. Wallis (1998) observed in a workshop where community activists discussed social capital with Robert Putnam that projects to build social capital often begin with a process which echoes McKnight’s depiction:
Civic Engagement. Just as community building seems almost synonymous
with internal social capital, so it does with Sviridoff and Ryan’s engaged
citizenry. A community with an engaged citizenry is one where many dense
and different social ties facilitate planning and the supervision of public
Community Development back to table of contents
Brief Background of Community Development
The early history of the community-based development movement in the 1960s is a well documented example of the complex tensions involved in the political history of community organizations. Minority nationalist and self-determination movements, community organizing by New Left radicals, urban riots, the war in Vietnam and the rise of social policy planning within the federal government and national philanthropic foundations all influenced the rapid development and demise of various participatory and social change programs in the 1960s and 1970s (Moynihan, 1969; Peirce and Steinbach, 1987). The philanthropic world’s interest in community development, most significantly the Ford Foundation’s early support, was sparked by many of these same social factors (Peirce and Steinbach, 1987).
Daniel Moynihan, in his book Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding (1969), lays out the now familiar tale of how federal funding of Community Action Programs quickly came under fire from local officials resentful of the outside funding for local activism which was often very political. Nonetheless, several programs — including community development corporations (CDCs), Youth Corps and Head Start — survived the collapse of CAP (Moynihan, 1969). To simplify the discussion about the community development model somewhat, I will focus on the case of CDCs, which now number in the thousands (Peirce and Steinbach, 1987; Zdenek, 1987).
Typically, CDCs are non-profit corporations with community boards and, often, members of institutions external to the community, such as banks, government officials or foundations who provide expertise, political clout and/or financial assistance. While many CDCs found initial support from various federal, state and local programs or foundations, others grew out of churches and other non-profits. In Chicago, for instance, O’Donnell and Schumer (1996) noted that
Comparing Community Development Against the Bases
Primary Value. The primary value community development embodies is expertise. As collaborative projects between residents of a community and external funders, community development projects exist to provide services and products to a community based upon their ability to manage tight budgets, assess the need for and feasibility of community projects and adroitly assemble a "complex combinations of resources to make projects work" (Rohe, 1998, p.185). Compared to community organizing and building, community development is less focused on participation and leadership, although it is under significant pressure from critics to improve its record in these areas.
Conception of Community Interests. Expertise in a community development venture is used to diagnose the opportunities and ills of a community and respond based on its capacity to turn its resources (from foundations, governments and fees) into programs. When it does engage in politics over conflicting interests at the local or national level, CDCs tend to use advocacy and research (professional skills emphasizing expertise), instead of community organizing (Dreier, 1998, p.120). Furthermore, while the community may have input as to where the expertise is directed, many CDCs, out of necessity for survival, select communities in which to base projects based on financial considerations (Levavi, 1996). Hence, community developoment tends to conceive of public interest as singular, meaning it finds what is needed for the public interest and sets to work implementing it.
Power. Because of its collaborative nature with other agents in the larger community, the community development practice represents a pluralist arrangement with power. Although it is subject to the resource mobilization bias problems the second face of power confronts, the partnering between various communities sometimes prevents cooperative projects from attempting to shift the agenda.
Social Capital. Through their partnerships with other institutions and their human capital programs which frequently connect residents with employment and other external relations, community development projects develop bridging social capital. Development projects, more so than organizing and building, present opportunities for external forces to engage the community in a cooperative spirit. Development projects which train residents in local governance (public housing councils, for instance) also develop internal social capital. Furthermore, as development projects are forced to increase the community’s role in and acceptance of its programs, some seem able to expand their involvement into community building projects (Kingsley, McNeely and Gibson, 1997). However, for the time being, this is often for very specific projects, for limited numbers of residents. Often these involve the community in annual planning workshops where the agenda revolves around ongoing projects of the CDC (Murray, 1998; Tobin, 1998).
Civic Engagement. Few residents are likely to be involved in political projects through a development project. When community development corporations do engage in political affairs, it is a function of their own development-policy concerns regarding specific resources. Furthermore, as Dreier (1998) notes, political work by CDCs and their networks is much more likely to involve research and advocacy than political mobilizations of residents. Thus, the form of civic engagement that community development utilizes most often is resident participation in policy making.
Do these Differences Matter? back to table of contents
Do the differences between the community practices matter? If differences between community organizing, building and developing have important implications for a community, are there weakness in each practice which the other practices can address?
Community Building and Community Organizing
The conflict-oriented political activism of organizing, and the focus on what external agents can do to further the community’s interest, lend themselves to several criticisms from the community building corner. First, local government officials, even if sympathetic, may not have the resources to do what is needed or demanded by residents. As a result, confrontational tactics will have fewer results in times of government rollback (Fisher, 1995; Smock, 1997). Second, organizing often demands more government services in a neighborhood which is the antithesis of community building’s focus on a local web of family and neighborly supports. For instance, whereas a community building project might focus on a neighborhood cleanup of a deteriorating park, community organizing will rally residents to pressure the city to do it for them (an example of using the internal versus political nature of social capital).
Third, because the relationships between members and professional staff are designed to be separate and the membership base is meant to be large in community organizing, it is often subject to the charge that it manipulates members (Stall and Stoecker, 1997; Bradshaw, Soifer and Gutierrez, 1994). In addition, community organizing networks often have national goals which require that campaigns be implemented in many of its chapters without origination at the grassroots. Furthermore, selecting where to operate or place resources can be an issue of national strategy for larger organizing efforts. This can lead to turf battles with other organizations, especially local ones which view themselves as more authentically "grassroots" than national organizations (Delgado, 1986; Medoff and Sklar, 1994, pp. 74-75). Community building, with its focus on relationships, local opportunities and members’ accountability to one another is often touted as less manipulative.
For its part, community building also has several flaws which the community organizing traidition would point out. As Smock (1997) observes, highly local, voluntaristic projects have the following weaknesses:
For instance, Mary Dailey of the North West Community and Clergy Coalition in the Bronx (a community organizing project with ties to ACORN and a background with the IAF) provides and example of how a community building self-reliance project with technical help from a CDC provides community organizers with a way to keep potential members tied to organizing. In a neighborhood where Dailey’s organization was conducting a membership drive, the Coalition found some new members who wanted to develop a neighborhood garden. "[The organizers] couldn’t give [two cents] about a garden, but with the CDC helping to develop it for us, it meets the CDC’s needs, keeps some people involved and allows us to look successful" (Dailey, 1998). However, staff working on building and organizing would still have to decide which projects should become "politicized" (i.e., seek intervention of government). In other words, mass-based mobilization for political action is easier when there are bustling cafes and lively churches in a community. An area where residents report not knowing any of their neighbors will prove slow going for recruiting members in a community organizing campaign.
For its part, community organizing can provide community building with the power necessary to confront imbalances between members’ and external actors. Asset-based development lays down as its final step the recruitment of external support for its projects but is silent about the sort of conflicts and struggles over power which may occur when communities collaborate. Furthermore, without some development of agenda-setting power, observers note that community building ventures can not fight against government cuts. Additionally, community building is not always honest about how agenda’s within their own organization are influenced (Bradshaw, Soifer and Gutierrez, 1994; Stall and Stoecker1997). Perhaps through using the more formal staff position of a professional organizer the roles between members, leaders and staff can be more overtly discussed and negotiated in communities. Finally, national organizing networks can also provide members with involvement in issues larger than, and perhaps vital to, residents’ own neighborhoods.
Community Building and Community Developing
For the community builder, the services flowing from a community development corporation’s professionals may appear little different than government services. Indeed, foreshadowing the development of the CCI, McKnight (1994) even refers to
Community Organizing and Community Developing
Many critics of reliance on the CDC model for community change see the success of CDCs as a sign of moderation in the community organizing movement (Drieir, 1998; Fisher, 1994; Rubin and Rubin, 1992; Stoecker, 1996a; Stoecker, 1996b). They criticize CDCs for being too parochial, service oriented or co-opted by political or business authorities to demand greater change in the political economy. For instance, banks involved in a CDC are not going to support an aggressive campaign against redlining by area banks. Likewise, CDCs with political operatives or elected officials on their board may not be happy to hear that the CDC is joining the fight against a sports arena tax or for an increase in the minimum wage
However, others see CDCs as a sign of successful community empowerment. In this interpretation, CDCs are the resulting wins from compromises between the more and the less powerful. Their argument is that even radical community organizing is meant to build power for weak communities up to the point where compromises with powerful institutions bring about new services and programs. Hence, if community organizing leads to the formation of CDCs connecting poorer communities to economic and political interests in a development coalition, so much the better. In other words, the development of thousand of CDCs across the nation could be seen as the result of successful organizing (Robinson, 1996).
Certainly, the idea that CDCs can play a politically representative and socially reparative role in the community has some truth to it: many CDCs do engage the citizenry in planning for their community with values that differ from, and often conflict with, those of the market place or the government (Robinson, 1996). Furthermore, many CDCs do belong to national organizations which lobby on federal housing work. Nonetheless, many observers note that CDCs’ attention to producing services and products tends to "bend" the community organizing and political work it engages in away from the mass mobilization and broad political-structural goals of traditional community organizing (Dreier, 1998; Murray, 1998; Tobin, 1998).
Furthermore, echoes of the fall of CAP still seem to resound across the community development landscape (Smock, 1997). Groups with government funding which engage in lawful political activity can come under additional unwanted scrutiny (Shea, 1998). This lack of engagement in the legitimate political opportunities that do exist because of collaborative ties, combined with a fear of oversight which some political activity might bring, undermines the theory that CDCs are themselves signs of successful political action. While the birth of the CDC movement may be rooted in the self-determination social movements of the 1960s, the narrowly focused CDCs of today appear as the "responsible militants" Jenkins (1987) sees elite networks anointing as solutions to community aspirations too radical to support more thoroughly.
There is also the concern that because CDCs are at the table with partners in the communities, they can be "set up to fail." If CDCs are given insufficient resources or support by a government, the failure of the CDC can be used to demonstrate that local residents are incapable or a community unsalvageable (Stoecker, 1996a). As with community building projects, community development organizations can also be used to justify a "bootstrap" political agenda. That is to say, an argument that voluntary action through non-governmental organizations is sufficient for resolving the crisis in the cities (Dreier, 1998; Smock, 1997).
Community organizing can provide community development with the political clout when needed to hold collaborating partners accountable and push to increase the size of the pie with which the collaboration operates. Furthermore, organizing networks are in a better position to mobilize a movement around state and national issues which networks of community development corporations have yet to do or are unable to do.
In return, organizing efforts can gain resources when working on development and outreach projects (e.g., a computer purchased for a housing program staff to be used during the day can also be used by organizers to manage memberships at night). Development programs (such as home buying) may also attract members into an affiliated community organizing project. Finally, community development corporations may help with the management of the independent institutions which organizing drives want to develop. In short, community development projects are the collaborations which many community organizing drives seek to win after building power.
Figure 2 diagrams the ways in which various practices could support each other. What communities need is a way to integrate these three practices. Do comprehensive community initiatives provide the answer? The next chapter explores the background of CCIs, their features when compared against the bases outlined above and their relationship to these past practices.
Figure 2: Cooperation Between Models back to table of contents
Contents Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Apps/Notes/Refs