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Overview

OVERVIEW AND EVIDENCE BASE

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THIS PROCESS?

Arranging for Community Mobilizers is a process that assures that people are available to help plan, take action, and adapt the community change and improvement effort. It involves (a) Arranging needed financial and human resources, (b) Engaging and prompting people to do things themselves, and (c) Helping people to plan, take action, and evaluate the effort. The process of Arranging for Community Mobilizers helps groups prioritize resources for organizing efforts that promote community involvement and commitment to the effort. When groups engage in this process, they are mobilizing community support and engaging in ongoing relationship-building for change.

Arranging for Community Mobilizers is a key process to help communities implement targeted action for community and system change and related improvements.

HOW IT WORKS

The work of community change and improvement requires people --- known as community mobilizers or organizers --- who "start where people are" and help maintain the effort long enough to effect intended outcomes (Sorensen, Emmons, Hunt, & Johnston, 1998). In particular, community organizers or mobilizers play a critical role to activate and sustain support for collaborative action and follow-through on priorities in the action plan. Community mobilizers are critical collaborators who take the particular lead on (a) Building relationships with key constituents and (b) Implementing particular intervention strategies to pursue community and system change as outlined by the action plan (Fawcett, Francisco, Paine-Andrews, & Schultz, 2000; Israel, Schulz, Parker, & Becker, 1998).

Although the exact contribution of community mobilization remains unclear, Arranging for Community Mobilizers may help groups to:

  • Engage a broad spectrum of community members of different ages, ethnicities, organizational affiliations, and community sectors (e.g., parents, religious groups) who are affected by and essential to addressing the problem or goal (e.g., Florin, Mitchell, & Stevenson, 1993; Foster-Fishman, Berkowitz, Lounsbury, Jacobson, & Allen, 2001; Israel, Schulz, Parker, & Becker, 1998).
  • Target political leaders, opinion-makers, the general public, and persons who control resources to improve the political and social climate for collaboration (Mattessich & Monsey, 1992). Community mobilizers may play a critical role in establishing inter-organizational linkages (Florin, Mitchell, & Stephenson, 1993).
  • Recruit a critical mass of active participants (Florin, Mitchell, & Stevenson, 1993).
  • Catalyze and reinforce a range of change-agent roles among community partners that build collective efficacy (Ploeg et al., 1996).
  • Pay particular attention to taking action and following-up on action plans (Fawcett, Francisco, Paine-Andrews, & Schultz, 2000).
  • Increase the rate of new programs, policies, and practices to address the project's mission (e.g., Roussos & Fawcett, 2000).

EMPIRICAL AND EXPERIENTIAL EVIDENCE

Successful community health and development efforts often include community organizers who take the lead on implementing programs, policies, and practices for community improvement. In particular, leading with a community organizing approach can enable efforts to create and enhance efforts of other agents of change. For example, Ploeg et al. (1996) described the important contribution of community organizers to three community development efforts. In the first, an effort in Toronto involved low-income seniors who worked with a community organizer from a community health center to initiative services such as recycling, recreation, and transportation in their community. In the second, residents in a Mexican American community were trained as community health organizers, and developed a community immunization clinic to increase the number of fully immunized children. Finally, in the Tenderloin Senior Outreach Project, low-income seniors living in single-room occupancy hotels in San Francisco worked with community mobilizers to address issues related to crime. Through leadership training and coalition building, the seniors established mini-markets and safe-houses to address identified concerns of access to food and crime. Overall, investigators clarified the community organizer's role in "professional advocacy" as acting with community members, not for them. Their aim was to enable individuals and communities to set their own agendas and develop skills to become their own advocates.

In the East Side Village Health Worker Partnership of the Detroit Community-Academic Prevention Research Center, particular resources were devoted to selecting and training community members as community organizers. Engagement of these members who were familiar and conducted outreach with the community was essential for several reasons:

  • To begin to understand the social and economic worlds of women living in this neighborhood.
  • To identify a smaller geographic target and determine the extent to which it was a community.
  • To shape research questions.
  • To define the survey population, and
  • To develop questionnaire items, select interviewers, and other survey administration issues.

Their community experience, credibility, and support contributed to the successful response rate (81%). In particular, community mobilizers also facilitated a bridge between researchers and disenfranchised communities who are often challenged by differences in ethnicity, class, and issues of trust (Schultz, Parker, Israel, Becker, Maciak, & Hollis, 1998).

In a review of exemplars in community-based research for preventing cardiovascular disease, Mittelmark, Hunt, Heath, & Schmid (1993) named the process of arranging for community mobilizers as the centerpiece of a community change and improvement effort. Among "first" and "second" generation programs, they identified the process of selecting, training, and providing technical support to a community mobilizer as the most critical decisions and resources for a community prevention program. Most often, the results of this process included (a) multi-sectoral involvement by business, government, education, and health leaders and (b) leveraged resources (e.g., technical assistance, time, space, and incentives). Overall, the enduring lesson from these exemplar programs emphasized the process of community mobilization as the core of successful programs. Investigators suggested greater attention to the process rather than the material aspects of community change and improvement.

IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PRACTICE

At present, much of the information available on Arranging for Community Mobilizers does not explicitly manipulate or test this process and its effects on community change and improvement. Although this process has been identified as a key ingredient for advancing change, there is a need for more systematic evaluations of its implementation and effects. Such research would provide a better understanding of the factors that enable communities to come together and address shared problems and goals.

Some key research questions include: (a) What activities characterize the work of effective mobilizers or organizers? (b) What is the role of local people as agents (champions) of change?(c) What knowledge and resources (and limitations and barriers) do key stakeholders bring to the effort? And (d) What strategies (e.g., skills training) prepare community members to be effective as agents of community change and improvement efforts?

OVERALL RECOMMENDATION FOR PRACTICE

Based on research and experience, we recommend Arranging for Community Mobilizers as a key process to advance community change and improvement.