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 4: Comprehensive Community Initiatives     

Brief History Comprehensive Community Initiatives     back to table of contents

Sometimes called comprehensive community building, or even just community building, comprehensive community initiatives are a relatively new trend in community change dating back only about a dozen years.9

CCIs developed out of the perception that poverty problems are intractable without a comprehensive and coordinated approach to rebuilding the institutions within distressed communities.  Prior to CCI, its adherents assert, developmental and service approaches to community change were compartmentalized.  Certainly, this rings somewhat true as it has long been believed that communities would be better served with coordinated programs (for instance, see Spergel, 1969). Kubisch, of the Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families, notes that CCIs are:

. . . both a reaction against recent practice in the social welfare and economic development fields and a reformulation of earlier approaches. CCIs seek to replace piecemeal approaches with broader efforts to strengthen the connections among economic, social, and physical needs, and opportunities (Kubisch, 1996, n.p.). The CCI movement embraces a wide variety of projects and organizational structures. Indeed, so many projects are defined as being a CCI one must wonder if this is not an indication of confusion over which practices in a community will achieve the results for which CCI programs aim: alleviating highly concentrated poverty and tackling complex social problems. In other words, if so many things can qualify as a CCI, just what are they?

In general, there are four features of the programs the CCI movement promotes:

In theory, by increasing the capacity of institutions and increasing the number and kind of programs they provide, CCIs vastly expand both the number of residents affected by local initiatives and the areas of their lives which are included. Who is Involved in CCIs?  back to table of contents

There are several broad groupings of actors participating in CCIs. Figure 3 shows CCIs drawing in different resources from these groups.

Figure 3: Comprehensive Community Initiatives     back to table of contents

  First, there are the community development agencies. During the same time that CCIs first began to take shape conceptually, the late 1980s, some CDCs began diversifying their projects. More CDCs began adding human capital projects (e.g., job training) to their traditional physical capital projects (e.g., housing development). Some CDCs also added participatory projects aimed at generating resident involvement in planning and community directed group action (e.g., neighborhood cleanups, meetings with police about foot patrols, etc.).

As noted earlier, these changes were, in part, a response to the criticism that CDCs had lost their community connection due to their focus on managing housing and other physical development programs. This effort to modify the work of CDCs dovetails nicely with the need of many CCIs to find intermediary organizations in communities which can collaborate with outsider institutions and also facilitate some form of community participation. Hence, many CCIs have features similar to the community development and community building practices. Some CCIs, such as the Comprehensive Community Revitalization Program of the South Bronx, are focused entirely on CDCs (Spilka and Burns, 1998). In Figure 3, these actors are represented by the community development and community building boxes.

Second, the involvement of foundations in the development of CCIs should also be highlighted. Although local governments are involved in many CCIs, some observers note that this interest would not exist without the contribution private foundations bring to the table. Foundations not only provide large, multi-year grants, they often provide technical assistance, fund evaluations of CCIs and support national discussions and research on CCIs. Finally, foundations are also able to play a convening role in a community which is important for the early collaborative work between agency officials and community-based organizations which often marks the start of a CCI.

In short, the role of foundations in the formation of the CCI movement is similar to the role foundations played in the development of CDCs. As with CDCs, they have funded initial trial projects and networks of CCIs.  Plus, most of the large CCIs, like many of the early large CDCs, exist only because of foundation support. As will be discussed in more detail below, this has two important impacts on the nature of CCIs:

Hence, CCIs bring, somewhere in the process, several other actors to the table. CCIs develop collaborative projects (often including a governing task force or committee) for specific programs they wish to implement. These projects and governing bodies involve social service agency staff and other stakeholders (such as other government officials, banks, private corporations, etc.). These stakeholders often come to the table because the new "synergistic" programs that foundations, policy researchers and community-based groups provide for systems-reform and community improvement are exciting to the stakeholders. These stakeholders, and the policy analyst/planning community that the government and foundations bring in for planning and evaluation, are also represented in Figure 3.

Tensions (over control of new resources, publicly rewriting the agendas of agencies, accountability of all players in the collaborative governance, fears of manipulation by other stakeholders, etc.) are obviously going to result from such an arrangement and are frequently mentioned in the literature (Aspen Institute, 1997; Chaskin and Garg, 1997). The next section reviews how CCIs measure up against the bases identified in chapter 2.

Comparing CCIs Against the Bases     back to table of contents

Below, I summarize trends in the features of CCIs regarding the bases outlined in chapter 2, with occasional examples of CCIs bucking the trends. Of course, there is variation in the CCI practice and it is a new and evolving field. In fact, as will be shown, it appears as if there are really two different kinds of CCI. This will be addressed in the following section. The comparison which follows, and is summarized in Table 5, is based on a review of the evaluation and planning literature of CCIs. See Table 6 in Appendix A for a review of several significant CCIs compared to the features of organizing, building and developing.

Table 5: CCIs Compared Against the Bases
Primary Value  Participation Leadership Expertise Expertise and Leadership
Nature of Public Interest in a Community  Conflicting Communal  Singular Communal and Singular
Power Agenda Setting Agenda Planning Pluralist Pluralist and Agenda Planning
Nature of Social Capital  Political Internal Collaborative Collaborative (weaker on Internal)
Nature of Civic Engagement Political Activism Engaged Citizenry Policy Making Policy Making (weaker on Engaged Citizenry)

Primary Value. From the theoretical literature it is hard to discern the primary values of CCIs. Just as it is exceedingly difficult for program evaluators to determine how to evaluate the impacts of CCIs’ complex, ever-changing and large service and treatment programs, it is hard to distinguish some of the more qualitative features of CCIs. Indeed, CCIs state an interest in all three of the values mentioned in the paper. Furthermore, they specifically recognize that expertise from the service and social planning fields has not been sufficient to tackle persistent poverty.

Nonetheless, it is clear from the practitioner and evaluation writings that most CCIs rely on leadership (often at both the government agency level and the level of community-based development and service providers) and expertise (both for managing the CCIs and identifying what social science concludes should work, e.g., reviewing program evaluation literature to find effective and relevant programs) for commencing a CCI.

Participation, in the form of membership ownership, is low in CCIs compared to community organizing. Out of 17 CCIs reviewed, Eisen (1992) found only 6 with majority resident control over the organization’s governing body. Walsh (1997b) found that resident participation in both the Atlanta Project and the Enterprise Foundation’s Community Building Partnership (CBP) in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood dropped off precipitously after management was taken over by experts, agencies or politically appointed leaders.

Walsh (1997b) summarizes her review of community organizing in CBP and 4 other initiatives:

CBP began with a strong partnership with BUILD, an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation — the venerable organizing powerhouse founded by Saul Alinsky — but its organizers gradually became "advocates" more responsible for outreach about issues on CBP’s agenda, then helping the community set its own agenda. Several years into the project, some community members clamored for more old-fashioned organizing, to surface residents’ desires and complaints independent of the program area outlined by CBP. To this day, tension persists.

None of the other initiatives [reviewed] has invested heavily in organizing (p.102).

In brief, only a few CCIs begin with the community participation and mobilization projects of a community-based organization with experience in community organizing and then proceed on to identifying which stakeholders will need to be brought into a collaboration. Chaskin and Garg (1997) agree with Walsh’s (1997b) findings that participation, a key feature of community organizing, is weak in CCIs. They write that organizing is "often limited to mobilizing residents to attend meetings or activities, or sharing information through newsletters or flyers" (p.11). Annie E. Casey Foundations’ Rebuilding Community Initiative seems to follow a model where participation through community organizing is emphasized early on, although the same foundation’s earlier New Futures program seemed to have followed the more top-down approach (Cippalone, 1999; Walsh, 1997a; Center for the Study of Social Policy, 1995).

Conception of Public Interest. The tendency of CCIs is to start with collaborative bodies, and less often a single existing organization, and expand this governing body’s capacity for community planning and resident involvement. At the same time, they also wish to increase the number of attachments the CCI’s organization has to external resources and collaborators. Thus, CCIs promote a community organization, or a newly created collaborative body of organizations, to the role of intermediary for the entire community over an important, visible and often expensive set of programs. In other words, the CCI is expanding the activities and relationships of the intermediary both down into the community (through more programs and community planning) and up out of the community (through more collaborative projects with power brokers’ agencies, corporations, etc.).

Clearly, this places CCIs in a delicate position. Agents external and internal to the community may have many interests that are not reconcilable. Surprisingly, however, conflict is only rarely recognized as a healthy part of this process. If conflict is recognized, it is viewed as something that can occasionally be harmlessly tolerated, even though in the end consensus must rule on the most important issues (Connell and Kubisch, 1998, p.30). There appears to be little explicit dedication in CCIs to seeing conflicts between interests as a point where the practice of organizing can advance the community’s agenda — which was identified in the community building process — over constraints or road blocks that other interests may place on the initiative’s success. Instead, conflict is viewed as pathological and interests for the collaborative are identified through consensus (i.e., communal) or through expert research into the community’s needs (i.e., singular).

Outliers in this matter are the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and a few CCIs in the rural south. DSNI and the rural CCIs are very atypical CCIs, however. The rural projects, funded by the Bert and Mary Meyer foundation, aim to organize residents into membership controlled, sometimes dues-based, democratic organizations which use their numbers to influence school boards and other local government institutions. One such project in a small town in Mississippi "waged a concerted political and legal struggle to be incorporated, elected a mayor and city council and began to press for services from the county and state" (Eisen, 1992, p.13). It is telling about CCIs’ neglect of traditional organizing that projects such as these which use public conflict are never mentioned in the literature beyond this early study by Eisen.

DSNI, for its part, is also very different from other projects considered CCIs. DSNI started at the resident level and rejected the collaborative design which foundations wished to impose on the community in the beginning (Tullos, 1996). The original design of the board, which like many CCIs was to be a mix of various outsiders outnumbering residents, was aggressively rejected by the community. Instead, a board with majority community control was instituted and DSNI began a project of community building (using an asset-based philosophy) and organizing (using door-to-door member recruitment) to gain eminent domain authority of a large part of decaying property in their neighborhood (Medoff and Sklar, 1994).

DSNI has been, I believe, mistakenly called a CCI. In the past it has, like the rural organizing projects, not developed collaboration first and participation second. Instead, DSNI focused on community mobilization to force the city to clean up the streets and provide other services residents identified. However, DSNI’s more recent work with the Casey Foundation to build both stronger social service reform projects and more sophisticated collaborations is a sign that CCIs can be built from identifying public interests from the bottom-up (which may lead to conflict with those institutions who are providing what these interests need) and not just from the identification of communal interests from collaborative relationships or the singular view of community interests on which experts focus.

Power. Discussion about "empowerment" in CCIs often seems to preclude a more detailed discussion of power. Empowerment appears to be defined as efficacy in coping with the factors a community faces, and not about gaining control over these factors. "Systems reform" in CCIs refers to improving agency delivery and design. It does not refer to the larger systems of the local and national political economy which organizing wishes to tackle. In other words, diagnosing ways to improve treatments or encourage voluntary action to cope with factors causing distress, and not directly confronting the origin of the factors, is key.

Although the political needs of residents are recognized as part of the holistic approach of CCIs, rarely can an explicit discussion of power be found in the literature. Exceptions in this matter, which point out the rule, are Yates, O’Donnell and Johnson (Stone, 1996). In the published papers from a symposium on CCIs held by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, these three authors, out of over three dozen, were the only ones who mentioned conflict over race or class issues in the local power structure as something that should be encouraged at key moments in comprehensive change practice. Unlike the other authors, they did not view conflict over the agenda as pathological or simply an obstacle to be overcome in the process of consensus formation.

CCIs focus more on the pluralist and agenda planning levels of power than the agenda setting level. Since most CCIs tend to have an asset-based philosophy of community development they use focus groups, surveys, resident task forces and community meetings to discover relationships and resources present in the neighborhoods which can be further developed. These discoveries, combined with the policy analysis and program evaluation research CCIs use, are brought to the collaborative bodies to be turned into programs. Indeed, one way CCIs bring outsiders into the collaborations is through the presentation of these innovative ideas and research. In other words, of the many actors from which a community needs to draw attention, CCIs focus on developing agendas with external actors through research and researching ideas (pluralism) rather than generating power to set the agenda based on the interests of the community.

Social Capital. Social capital is a major topic of discussion for CCIs, yet the emphasis is mostly on the collaborative (or bridging) and internal natures of social capital discussed in chapter 2. Like community building, CCIs focus on community relationships and local solutions to problems, but they do not do so to the degree that they ignore the need for working with service delivery and outside assistance. Projects with external agents and institutions are a source of opportunity for collaboration and building of relationships across class and race lines. However, due to the paucity of race, class and political power discussions in the CCI literature, it is not surprising that the political problems resulting from collaboration between groups — see the summary of de Souza Briggs comments above — are not discussed.

To review, collaborations between power brokers and weak community can mask with a false consensus important conflicts between communities over which the weaker community will lose out (see also Smock, 1997). Thus, by focusing on internal social capital, which is focused on local solutions, and collaborative social capital, which focuses on partnerships between the community and outside agents, to the exclusion of recognition of the political nature of social capital, communities in CCIs can not always work with their powerful partners to achieve accountability on, or even address, the larger issues in the political economy.

Fishman and Phillips (1993) note that collaborations can have severe problems when they can do nothing about the political changes which influence the actors or institutions with which they work or which constitute part of the collaboration:

One [CCI] respondent [in our interviews] noted: "When city political leadership changes, it’s like staring over." Another commented, "Changes in the political landscape create real problems. Right now there is no coherent leadership or vision in our city" [with which to collaborate] (p.21). In Atlanta, for instance, corporations provided senior staff with time to be involved in neighborhood projects, but  were not held accountable for engaging in the job creation strategy which was identified as essential to moving communities out of their dependence on services (Walsh, 1997b p.57). By focusing on collaboration from the start, communities may not have the chance to develop sufficient political capital to participate more equally with partners in the collaborative bodies.

Civic Engagement. Increasing civic engagement is to be a hallmark of CCIs. However, it appears that on our dimensions for civic engagement, most CCIs stick largely with prescribing a policy making role for residents (Sviridoff and Ryan, 1996 p.24). Many CCIs, for instance, have a governance structure relying on having powerful actors from agencies at the table, often outnumbering community residents (Eisen, 1992; Jenny, 1993; Walsh, 1997b). Those which do not use such a structure rely on focus groups, surveys or annual neighborhood meetings for another sort of policy making.

The engaged citizenry dimension seems to be such a diffuse cause for CCIs to directly engage in, especially with population sizes that are much larger than those normally used in community building practices, that CCIs can only approximate the practice of community building through a sustained repetition of planning and re-planning. Although CCIs may have very public campaigns and community meetings, these are not the same as developing a vital set of constant and frequently repeated interactions.

Thus, it seems that this engaged citizenry will only secondarily come out CCIs as a result of the relationships developed in specific community-based programs. For instance, an increase in mobilizing volunteers for community cleanups, asset surveys and task forces is something CCIs can, and some do, constantly repeat. However, the increased engagement that might come about as a result of there being more social networks, requires a larger commitment to very many small scale community building exercises, something only a minority of CCIs seem to engage in (often only as a program done with youth). Less apparent still, is how CCIs engage citizens in political affairs. The only brief references to such work are voter registration drives on lists of projects in which CCIs have engaged (Jenny, 1993). Thus, the primary role of the citizen in CCIs is policy making, with a weaker emphasis –– when compared to community building –– on developing an engaged citizenry.

To recapitulate: table 5 summarized this comparison of CCIs against the bases for distinguishing between community change practices. Generally, CCIs merge some features of the community development and community building practice, but most lack the features of community organizing.

How Can Organizing Help CCIs?     back to table of contents

It should be noted that there appears to be two different types of CCIs. First, there are those that move from the collaboration between foundations, agencies, corporations, and community-based development and service organizations towards community planning. This type represents the majority of CCIs found in the literature reviewed (see table in Appendix A). Second, there are CCIs which start with community building and organizing and build up to a collaborating role with external actors with the assistance foundations provide. This second type of CCI is what the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its Rebuilding Community Initiatives program is encouraging after using the first type in its earlier New Futures program (Cippalone, 1999).

As shown above, the dimensions of the five bases which are associated with organizing are missing from this first type of CCIs. (The second type is too new to have generated sufficient literature for review.) Below, I discuss problems which exist for CCIs which do not use organizing.

Because CCIs share many features with community development and, to a lesser degree, community building, it is not surprising that they can be critiqued as having the same weaknesses which those practices have:

Insufficient Power. CCIs which focus on collaboration foremost in their evolution will not have the political "leverage" or "authority" to change large systems. The Center for the Study of the Social Policy’s review (1995) of five CCIs in the Annie E. Casey’s Foundation New Futures program found that:

[CCI] collaboratives must move beyond the stage of "cooperative" organizations that simply coordinate activities and oversee the distribution of money. The New Futures experience suggests that political power is necessary to handle competing and conflicting agendas, resolve controversy, and ultimately hold organizations and individuals accountable for meeting the goals and expectations for the [CCI]. . . (p.95). Likewise, Walsh (1997b) noted that the Atlanta CCI sponsored by the Carter Center was unable to secure sufficient participation by corporations for neighborhoods around employment issues even though this was identified early on as an important issue. Numerous organizing networks around the country currently waging campaigns around jobs and wages (see for a summary). CCIs which focus on building organizing into their work early on will be better positioned to both ask the question Richard Taub (1996) encourages: "what if everyone had a job?" and elicit support from the public and private sectors for commitments to job and wage growth.10

In short, as with community development and building, organizing can provide CCIs with the needed clout to press the communities’ agenda forward and hold actors in the collaborative bodies accountable.

Avoiding Conflict. In their recent book, Ross Gittel and Adis Vidal (1998) follow the application of a consensus organizing model (i.e., one that avoids conflict) in several cities. Consensus organizing, developed by Michael Eichler, focuses on putting groups together across class, race and other divides (a common collaborative feature of CCIs).11   In order to justify using a form of organizing that downplays conflict within communities the authors spend some time attacking more traditional community organizing methods. Both the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) come under fire in the book for focusing too much on conflict:

Although in the short run, benefits may be derived by a disempowered group through conflict organizing, long-term conflictual organizing efforts could lead to social and political division, harm the ability of different groups to work together, limit the amount of funding and access to outside resources, and be detrimental to larger community and societal interests (Gittell and Vidal, 1998, p.52). However, Gittel and Vidal have, in turn, come under attack for their desire to sidestep political conflict in comprehensive initiatives. Garland Yates (1998), of the Anne E. Casey Foundation’s Rebuilding Community Initiative, notes in a review of Gittel and Vidals’ book: The authors are either being inflammatory or don’t know what they are talking about. In the Southwest, the IAF got drinking water into desperate barrios and today works with 150 public schools. Banks that ACORN fought for years over redlining are now major partners in its loan-counseling program. These aren’t short-term accomplishments. And the groups’ confrontational approach didn’t forever alienate government and the private sector (p.31). Examples of the success of a community organizing tradition which strategically uses conflict can be found in Michael Katz’s history of social welfare in the United States In the Shadow of the Poorhouse (1996). Katz’s review of twentieth century welfare finds that the community action plans of the 1960s, including those of independent movements such as the National Welfare Rights Organization (which used confrontational tactics and trained many staff who still work as senior staff in community organizing), contributed the following: In their famous study of community action programs Peter Marris and Martin Rein (1973) likewise note that many anti-poverty programs failed because of their inability to cope with conflict. Professional staff found conflict to be pathological and thus could not overcome the fact that change is often a battle over resources. Reformers who wished to change services found they needed to change policies. This, the authors noted, pulls actors in at least three competing directions: action for structural reform, political accommodation and the pursuit of academic knowledge or evaluation (pp. 54-55).

As Martin and Rein note in their conclusion, it is not enough for experts or advocates to merely have better or new information or services. They must also be able to secure attention to it (p.280). This is what I have been calling here the agenda setting nature of power. For Martin and Reins, the inability of the poor to communicate to the political structure through informal means, forces them to seek redress through also pushing for reform of formal (political) channels (p.279).

Gittell and Vidals’ interpretation of traditional community organizing as counter-productive epitomizes a trend common in writings about change methods: differences between approaches are zero-summed. In other words, the differences between various social change methods are highlighted and used to assert that one method is superior to another. It has been difficult to find commentators who believe that differences between methods do exist, but that different methods must be used if a truly comprehensive approach to community change is to be undertaken. If Martin and Rein are correct, that efforts at significant change require actors to operate in different modes, then finding ways these different modes can function together, or at least simultaneously, is a problem apparently still needing to be solved. As noted above, organizing can shore up the ability of internal social capital to survive the conflict partnering with powerful actors can bring about.

Localism. Finally, organizing networks can provide CCIs with a solution to their lack of involvement in regional or national affairs. Smock (1997) notes that inner-city problems are not resolvable with the resources that city-based actors can provide alone. Specifically, Bhargava (1998b) notes that only through working on a regional, state and federal level can inner-cities and inner-suburbs gain enough clout to "counterbalance weathy, exurban interests" (p.7). As mentioned above, many organizing networks have, or are developing (see Bhargava 1988b), regional, state-wide and national ties to politics. These coalition formation projects, which often includes churches, labor unions and unaffiliated community organizations, could offer CCIs the opportunity to expand their vision beyond just local solutions to nationally induced problems.

The final chapter shall discuss some ways that CCIs can incorporate these practices, particularly the elements of organizing.

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