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Section 6. Promoting Community-Friendly Policies in Business and Goverment

Learn how to change policies to increase funding for community health and development initiatives.

 

  • What do we mean by community-friendly policies?

  • What are some examples of community-friendly policies?

  • Why promote community-friendly policies?

  • When would you promote community-friendly policies?

  • Who should promote community-friendly policies?

  • How do you promote community-friendly policies?

 


This video illustrates how community partners worked with local businesses to improve access to healthy, affordable foods.

 

Consider two businesses, Company A and Company B:

Company A buys a tract of forest and meadow next to a wildlife protection area, cuts down all the trees, and covers most of the land with parking lots. It builds - with tax breaks given by the community to encourage it to settle there - a large factory that belches smoke into the sky and flushes chemicals into the river that flows through the protected land next door.

Many local people apply for the high-paying jobs the factory offers, but few are hired; Company A has brought most of its former workforce with it, driving up local housing prices and flooding the schools with new students. Suddenly taxes and prices rise, and new houses are going up on much of the open land that has made the community a pleasant place to live.

As if that weren't enough, the company refuses to join the local United Way, explaining that its parent company contributes to charity through its own foundation. When local organizations inquire about funding from the foundation, Company A representatives tell them that it only gives money to large, established charities.

Company B buys a similar, but larger, tract of land...and immediately sets aside half of it as a conservation area, which it invites the community to use. Rather than building a new plant, it has decided that the old factory on the edge of its new land is just what it needs, and hires local contractors to make over the building. At the company's direction, they install solar panels, double-paned windows that will reduce lighting costs and provide solar heat in winter, low-flow faucets, a water-recirculation system, and other "green" features. The plant, when it is finished, will be highly energy-efficient, and will, according to the company, put nothing into the environment that's harmful to people, wildlife, plants, or water quality.

Company B announces that it plans to hire at least 75% of its workforce from the local community, and to set up a training facility so that local people can learn the skills they need to work at the plant. It will also feature an on-site day care center for employees, as well as a generous medical and dental plan. Its executives volunteer for various organizations and boards. It funds half the cost of the construction of a new science center at the high school. It joins United Way and becomes active in its fundraising. And it explains that all of this is the policy of Company B's parent corporation, which believes in giving back to communities where it earns its money.

Which business's policies are more community-friendly? These examples are both extremes, of course. There are companies as callous as Company A, but not a huge number, and there are probably even fewer as community-spirited as Company B and its parent corporation. The contrast, however, serves to illustrate the difference between community-friendly and non-community-friendly business policies.

This section is about the social, health, economic, and environmental policies that business and government can adopt to improve community life, foster community development, and create healthy communities...and how community builders can persuade them to do so.

What do we mean by community-friendly policies?

Community-friendly policies benefit either the community as a whole or its citizens as individuals and groups. They work to strengthen the bonds that hold the community together and stimulate it to develop and grow in positive ways. In some communities, community-friendly policies may also be those that help the community keep its character and historic structures and traditions, rather than forcing it into a different mold. In others, community-friendly policies may help the community change or adapt to change. They are, in the final analysis, policies that make the community healthier and benefit its quality of life.

Community-friendly policies have some specific characteristics:

  • They regard each community individually, taking into account the realities and uniqueness of its situation and its real needs.
  • They pay attention to the cultural and social norms of the community, and to patterns of relationships and settlement.
  • They support diversity and its expression, with the understanding that people can only feel like members of a community if they feel trusted and respected for who they are.
  • They don't allow the building of highways that cut close-knit neighborhoods in half, or that eliminate neighborhoods entirely, as happened in many cities in the Urban Renewal era of the 1950's to mid-'70's.
  • They don't favor one group at the expense of another, or make racial or cultural distinctions.
  • They respect the natural environment and the history of the community enough to try to preserve and take care of them.
  • They safeguard and promote the health and security of the community and its members, and lead to regulations that are fair to everyone.

The attention paid to community-friendly policies should make the community a better place to live, and improve the lives and situations of everyone in the community over time.

In the ideal, community-friendliness would be a normal consideration in any policy decision. In order for that to happen, businesses and government have to see community not only as a place where people live, but as a shared experience as well, one to which every member contributes, and from which every member benefits. The Institute for Public Policy Research, for instance, a progressive think tank based in England, seeks to use community as the context for all thinking about social and economic policy, and thus to make all policy community-friendly. This thinking fits nicely with the World Health Organization's use of community as the context for thinking about health. Community-friendly policy ultimately leads to a healthy community.

Another British organization called Forum of Private Business surveyed a number of British and American businesses about their corporate and social responsibility (CSR) policy, and found that a large majority didn't have one - they hadn't thought about it. IPPR would hope to make thinking about CSR policy automatic... a reasonable long-term goal for anyone promoting community-friendly policies.

Community-friendly policies come in many forms. We've already suggested that they may be social, health-related, economic, or environmental, and this isn't really the whole story. We could include "political" and "cultural" under "social" as well, for example. As the title of this section implies, these policies can be the products of either business or government or both. They may be aimed directly at community-friendly goals, or they may be unintentional by-products of self-interest. Often, they are a combination of the two, in that instituting such policies may benefit a business, a government branch or agency, or an official, as well as the community.

What are some examples of community-friendly policies?

Community-friendly social policies.

Social policies affect the ways in which individuals and groups interact with and relate to one another in a community or a society, as well as their responsibilities and obligations to one another and their rights. Both governments and businesses can institute social policies - governments for communities, states, or countries as a whole; businesses for their own employees, or, sometimes, through a trade association or agreement, for all workers in a particular group or industry.

Community-friendly social policies are those that encourage or support social norms that make the community as a whole more livable, or that improve the lives of large numbers of individuals or groups without detracting from anyone else's.

Examples of community-friendly social policies:

  • Rent subsidies for low-income residents, coupled with tax incentives for landlords to fix up and offer subsidized, as well as market-rate, units. These policies make it possible for everyone to have a decent place to live, encourage mixed-income housing (and thereby diversity), and increase the supply of affordable housing.
  • The development or encouragement of the development of pedestrian spaces in the community through subsidies, negotiations with developers, tax incentives, etc.

Many such spaces exist, some as a result of civic projects, and some because of government encouragement. From the Stroget and the Radhasplats in Copenhagen, Denmark, to Church St. in Burlington, Vermont in the U.S., communities large and small have either constructed new streets and squares designed expressly for walking, lingering, shopping, and socializing or have closed off existing streets to traffic. Copenhagen, beginning in 1962, has turned itself quite consciously into a city of walkers and bikers. The city has eliminated, a few at a time, hundreds of parking spaces, and has, year by year, turned parking lots and car-choked streets into no-drive zones. In the process, it has quadrupled its street life, improved its commerce (people are much more likely to stop and buy something from a store they're walking past than from one they're driving past), reduced pollution, and made the city one of the most agreeable in Europe.

  • Policies prohibiting discriminatory practices, such as racial profiling, discrimination in housing and hiring, etc.
  • A government commitment to public transportation. Public transportation provides mobility to those who have no access to cars, conserves resources, and reduces traffic congestion.
  • Language policies. Translation in public meetings (as well as signing for the hearing-impaired) and other government activities sends a message that all are welcome to participate, and that everyone's participation is valued.
  • Financial and other encouragement for fixing up existing buildings and using former industrial and other abandoned spaces for housing and other development. This type of policy can help historic preservation - an important element of community identity - and prevent sprawl, which wastes energy and other resources and eats open space.
  • Family-friendly policies. Parental leave, on-site day care, flexible schedules, and similar benefits make lives better for working families and allow them more time to participate in community life.
  • Workplace education, particularly in basic skills and English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL). Education benefits the workers involved, the employer - because its workers are better prepared and can be more easily trained - and the community, by enabling workers to take part more fully in community life.
  • Employers encouraging - and, in many cases, paying for - employees to spend time volunteering on organizational and community boards and committees, and in health, human service, and cultural organizations.
  • Support for community arts and culture. By sponsoring performances, displaying art in business spaces open to the public (as many banks do), and otherwise supporting the arts and culture, businesses can add greatly to the quality of community life.
  • Support for recreation. Many businesses sponsor youth sports teams, charity golf tournaments, and community sports leagues.
  • Transportation. Community-friendly transportation policy could be considered social, economic, health-related, or environmental, depending on the lens through which you view it. Public transportation and business-financed or -sponsored van pools and shuttles allow for inexpensive and convenient transportation to work, school, and shopping; provide transportation for those who otherwise wouldn't have it (seniors, people with disabilities, the poor); encourage the mixing of people from different community sectors and cultures; make businesses - particularly downtown businesses - more accessible; encourage walking (to and from stops, on errands in between rides); reduce traffic congestion and pollution; and save energy.

Community-friendly economic policies.

Economic policy covers a vast area, touching on anything that involves the ways in which people and communities meet their basic needs - food, clothing, and shelter for individuals; government, education, and infrastructure (roads, utilities, etc.) for communities - and, for those fortunate enough to have that opportunity, pay for luxuries and leisure activities. Most of the policies of both government and business are either directly focused on economics, or are driven by economic concerns.

Community-friendly economic policies are those that help assure that all community members have their basic needs met; improve the economic situation of low-, moderate-, and middle-income individuals and families, allowing them greater economic freedom and more choices; or improve the economic situation of the community as a whole, providing taxes, employment, and opportunity, as well as access to goods and services.

Examples of community-friendly economic policies:

  • Enterprise zones and Business Improvement Districts. Enterprise zones are low-income districts in both urban and rural areas that receive funding from the federal or state government to revitalize themselves. Business Improvement Districts are areas where local businesses make voluntary contributions to support the economic and other development of their district.
  • Hiring practices. Local governments often try to engage in fair hiring practices, so that the racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural mix of city employees reflects the general population. City governments also can, and often do, require that any city employees - teachers, firefighters, police, etc. - live within the city. This both works to keep the city a community of families, and ensures decent jobs for a large number of residents.

This latter policy, unfortunately, can be a double-edged sword. Boston, for instance, which requires residence for city employees, is one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. It is often very difficult for, say, a firefighter, especially if he has a number of children, to find affordable housing. Many leave, and many others settle for homes that are far smaller than they need because they can't afford anything bigger.

  • Tax incentives. Governments at all levels can offer tax breaks to businesses in return for such practices as setting up shop in distressed or disadvantaged areas, adopting environmentally-friendly procedures and equipment, and hiring members of disadvantaged groups (welfare recipients, people with disabilities).
  • Education. State governments may subsidize the building of new schools, for instance. State university systems in the U.S. provide inexpensive education to students whose families might not otherwise be able to afford college, and universities in some countries are free to all who are eligible to enroll.
  • Community Development Block Grants. These federal grants are funneled through the states to communities, specifically for the improvement of infrastructure and public services in low-to-moderate income areas.
  • Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). In 1977, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring banks to develop community-friendly lending and investment policies in the communities in which they do business. Over the years, the CRA has made it possible for many low- and moderate-income families to become homeowners, and has supported community development efforts in thousands of communities.

Many individual banks do far more than the law requires, and work closely with the community and community groups to design creative initiatives that encourage the establishment of small businesses and allow community development that both fosters economic growth and maintains the environmental and social character that makes a community a good place to live.

  • Hiring and personnel practices. Like government, a business or industry may give hiring preference to local applicants or disadvantaged groups, and may even, like Company B in our example, set up training programs to prepare those people to be hired. They may also promote from within, so that someone starting out as a janitor or laborer has the opportunity to end his working life as a foreman or manager.

In some cases, employers may offer courses or skills training in areas that would be useful to employees outside of work.

  • Employee buy-in. Many companies offer employees the chance to buy shares in the business, making them part-owners. This can be risky - many employees of Enron who invested heavily in the company lost their life savings when it went under - but it also means that workers have a say in how the company is run, and a stake in making it successful.
  • Support for other local businesses. A business that's willing to try to find materials and supplies locally, even if it means paying slightly more, is carrying out a community-friendly policy. Restaurants often try to support local agriculture and buy directly from farmers in their area, for instance.
  • Small loans to individuals. In some areas of the developing world, a few banks have found that making small loans to villagers can be a good investment. Especially in places where a non-governmental organization (NGO) or individual has organized borrowers into an organization, as small a loan as $25.00 can pull a whole family - and sometimes a whole village - out of poverty.

With loans as small as $10.00, women in India have built weaving cooperatives, bought dairy animals, and started cell phone services. Similar stories can be found across South Asia and Africa. In addition to the proceeds from the small businesses they start with the loans, many borrowers' groups also become literacy classes, which allows them to step up to another rung of their society, and to make better lives for their children.

Community-friendly health policies.

In a sense, all community-friendly policies are health-related. The World Health Organization (WHO) sees health as a community issue, and finds nine prerequisites for health and a healthy community: peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable ecosystem, sustainable resources, social justice, and equity. These include all the areas that community-friendly policy is likely to touch on. There are, however, policies that aim specifically at the physical health of citizens.

Examples of community-friendly health policies:

  • The establishment of greenways, bike lanes, urban and rural walking and bike trails, etc. These car-free paths encourage people to exercise, granting them not only pleasure, but the health benefits of regular physical activity, and may reduce pollution as well.
  • No-smoking laws. While many smokers would perhaps not regard these laws as community-friendly, there is no longer any question that smoking is a health hazard, and that second-hand smoke - smoke breathed by non-smokers in the presence of people smoking - is nearly as harmful as smoking itself. Anti-smoking ordinances protect the health of non-smokers, and may help to change smokers' behavior.
  • The construction of public sports facilities. Building sports facilities - skate parks, tennis courts, soccer fields, pools - for community use encourages exercise, particularly for children and youth. There is a good deal of evidence that habits of physical activity gained in childhood stay with you for the rest of your life, and help to prevent heart disease, strokes, and other ailments that were once considered the inevitable companions of aging.
  • Health care and health insurance. In most of the developed world, with the notable exception of the U.S., governments use tax money to provide health care for everyone, either by employing medical professionals directly or by acting as insurer.

This short list doesn't even scratch the surface of government programs that promote health or otherwise address health issues. Federal, state, and local governments in most countries variously conduct or fund mental health counseling, substance abuse prevention and treatment, community clinics, nutrition programs, disease (e.g., malaria) eradication...the list goes on and on. Not all these programs are community-friendly: many, although well-meaning, fail to take into account the cultural norms of the population they're aimed at, or the real needs of the community. They are all aimed, however, at improving the health and lifespan of the population.

  • Encouragement of exercise. Many businesses maintain an on-site exercise facility, (gym, workout room, outdoor jogging track, etc.), sponsor walking or jogging clubs or lunchtime sports, or subsidize health club memberships for employees.
  • Healthy food in company cafeterias and restaurants. Businesses can choose to serve only healthy food in on-site cafeterias. Healthy food can help employees manage weight and avoid heart disease, many cancers, and diabetes, among other conditions.

Even fast food restaurant chains are changing the ingredients they use. Their food is still generally very high in calories, but most now is fried in poly-unsaturated oil rather than beef fat or lard, and most chains offer salads, which - if you skip the dressing and the deep-fried chicken on top - are reasonably healthy.

  • Managing emissions into the air and water. By "scrubbing" or otherwise treating whatever comes out of their factory chimneys and waste pipes, businesses can maintain or improve the community's air and water quality, thus reducing the risk of respiratory illness, certain cancers, and other conditions.
  • Employee assistance programs. Mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, stress management, and other health-related services are offered, either on- or off-site, by many businesses as part of their employee benefit package.
  • Preventive health screenings. Some employers conduct annual or semiannual screenings for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and other easily-detectable conditions at no cost to employees.

These screenings work to the employer's benefit as well, as do other health-promotion activities. The less time employees lose to illness, the more productive - and profitable - the business will be.

Community-friendly environmental policies.

The environment of a community can be divided into the natural environment - the areas of land, air, and water that haven't been shaped by human interference, and the plants and animals that flourish there - and the built environment - the buildings, streets and roads, bridges, and other constructions that people make in order to mold their environment to their comfort and convenience. Falling somewhere between are the "natural" areas that aren't really natural - parks, farms, and other man-made landscapes, as well as the areas that were once used by people, but have been intentionally or unintentionally left to go "back to nature."

The ultimate goals of community-friendly environmental policies are to create as comfortable and people-friendly a built environment as possible, preserving open space and other features of the natural environment, conserving natural resources, and maintaining healthy air and water quality. In government and business alike, these ends demand attention to both the built and natural environments.

Examples of community-friendly environmental policies:

  • Establishment of wildlife refuges, urban wilderness, and other protected areas. Most national, state or provincial, and many local governments set aside areas of natural beauty or particular interest to be protected from development.
  • Environmental requirements for development. Following on the landmark U.S. National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, many countries, as well as individual states and provinces, have instituted laws requiring assessments of the environmental impact of any government or government-funded project. This makes it possible to minimize the environmental consequences of such a project to the community, and to protect natural areas and resources.
  • Environmental laws and regulations. In the U.S. and many other countries, laws regulating air and water quality, mandating environmental clean-up, and setting vehicle emissions standards protect both the community and the environment.
  • Conservation easements and farmland protection policies. Conservation easements and the Farmland Protection Program make it possible to sell the development rights to land at a fair market rate (or to donate the rights and take a tax credit) to the government or a land trust, while keeping ownership. This protects the land from development, while allowing owners who may have few other assets to realize its value.
  • Recycling. Many communities establish recycling centers where paper, plastic, glass, metal, and other materials are sold to recyclers and reused. While there is occasional debate about whether this actually saves energy (recycling materials, by some measures, uses as much energy as manufacturing new materials), it obviously saves bulk. Glass and plastic, in particular, don't break down in landfills - they'll still be there in a thousand years - so the more times they can be recycled, the better for the community environment.
  • Building or refitting buildings to conserve energy. Businesses can use renewable-energy heating, water recirculation, and other energy-conservation schemes.

Many communities and businesses now try to build or adapt buildings to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. Some communities give tax breaks or other incentives to developments or businesses whose structures meet LEED standards.

  • Adopt-a-highway programs. Here, a business takes responsibility for keeping a mile or two of local roadway clear of trash and debris by sending out a crew of employees on a regular basis to clean up the roadside.
  • Tree-planting and other similar activities. Many businesses engage in beautification efforts - planting trees and flowers, cleaning up their lots, etc. - that have environmental benefits as well. Trees, for instance, provide shade in summer and windbreaks in winter, and absorb carbon dioxide while giving off oxygen.
  • Voluntarily developing or buying technology to make operations cleaner. "Scrubbers" for chimney emissions, improved water filters, computerized meters for use of water and chemicals - these are only a tiny fraction of the devices available that can improve or protect environmental quality and conserve energy.

One example of this practice is that of corporations or branches of government buying fleets of hybrid or other low-emission, high-mileage vehicles (trucks that run on biodiesel, for instance), in order to cut down on pollution and conserve fuel.

The range of community-friendly policies is limited only by the creativity of people in government, business, and the community.

As is so often the case, the issue of community-friendly policy is not always simple. Sometimes, one community-friendly policy has to be weighed against another. The preservation of a particular piece of open land may compete with the possibility of a commercial development that will provide many jobs. Environmental clean-up laws may target the current owners of property that needs to be restored, rather than those who did the polluting. Constructing new pedestrian zones or burying a highway to rationalize traffic and create a greenway may cost billions and cause huge disruptions for a long period of time: ask any Bostonian who lived through the Big Dig, which took about 15 years to complete.

The point here is that you have to consider carefully what's actually "community-friendly." In many cases, a temporary disruption is worth the cost; in others, it may not be. In the case of competing positive outcomes, there may need to be some compromise, or some way of deciding which is in fact the greater good. It may not be easy, but the discussion, if it's conducted with the best interests of the community in mind, may bring new solutions to light, or may clarify the issue so that everyone agrees on the best path. If everyone - government, business, activists, and citizens - keeps an open mind and focuses on what's good for the community, real community-friendly policies can result.

Why promote community-friendly policies?

The value of community-friendly policies may seem obvious, but if it were, there would be no need for policy change. It's important to think about what the advantages of real community-friendly policies are, and to champion them at every opportunity.

  • Community-friendly policies can help everyone in the community. They make the community a more pleasant place to live, and improve its overall quality of life. Many policies - a commitment to excellent schools, for instance - not only attract new residents and businesses (thereby providing tax revenue and jobs), but can change the future for the next generation.
  • Community-friendly policies can promote equity. Such policies ease the burdens of those on the bottom of the economic ladder by providing them with the possibility of decent jobs and housing, and the tools to find and keep them.
  • Community-friendly policies can promote diversity. By respecting cultural and other differences, they make possible a community in which everyone feels valued.
  • Community-friendly policies can be good for business. By helping to make the community an attractive place to live, firms increase their ability to recruit the best employees, and also increase their local support. Furthermore, many community-friendly policies - pedestrian spaces, for instance - specifically promote business and increase commercial activity.
  • Community-friendly policies can help politicians get elected or reelected. All good politicians know this, but many have to be reminded about what's actually community-friendly, as opposed to merely self-serving.
  • Community-friendly policies promote community health, environmental quality, financial stability, and social justice. That's their purpose.

So what are the barriers to community-friendly policies?

Given this list of positives, it would seem impossible to be opposed to most community-friendly policies. Not everyone sees things in that light, however. Self-interest, politics, economics, short-sightedness, wishful thinking, and other factors often get in the way.

Many people believe that economic arguments are more important than any others, for instance, and that anything that fosters economic growth should be encouraged. When those arguments conflict with environmental concerns or social issues, these people would say, they must win. Others may feel the same way about environmental or social issues. When there are multiple interests within the community that see themselves as competing, it becomes difficult to recognize community-friendly policies unless they benefit the specific interest you support.

That's why involving as many sectors as possible in planning community-friendly initiatives is so important. The more interests that are represented, the easier it is to reconcile conflicts and to point out the advantages to them that a particular policy can bring. People are often stubborn, but they're seldom stupid: if they understand that something will benefit them, they'll get on board.

When would you promote community-friendly policies?

The obvious - and correct - answer here is all the time, but there are some crucial points when the opportunity for promoting community-friendly policies is greatest.

  • When policy is specifically being debated. Whether there's a crisis, or whether a particular area of policy has simply come up for a regularly-scheduled review, this is an excellent time to describe community-friendly policies, and to point out their advantages.
  • When there's an election. Politicians can be more easily convinced to take community-friendly positions when they know that those positions will gain them votes. If you can bring enough people together to convince candidates that there's support for community-friendly policy, they'll probably be willing to support it as well.
  • When something new - a development, a construction project, a highway, a park, an initiative of some sort - is about to be started. Getting in on the ground floor will give the community negotiating power. It may be possible to convince a developer to add "green" elements to buildings or landscape (energy conserving systems, low-water sprinklers, elimination of toxic fertilizers and pesticides), or to persuade the city's anti-drug initiative to add substance-abuse treatment to the stricter enforcement it's planning.
  • When there's a crisis in the making. If a historic building that could be turned to other uses is about to be destroyed, or still more subsidies for affordable housing are about to be cut, it's time to intervene and explain why the proposed policy isn't community-friendly, and why community-friendly policy would better serve everyone.
  • When there's a public groundswell for community-friendly policy in a specific area. Whether because of an event, a widely-publicized study or article, or simply a growing public perception of a need, community members sometimes come together to demand solutions in the form of community-friendly policy. There's no better time to approach policy makers than when you have the weight of public opinion on your side.
  • When the community is invited to the table. When you're asked to be part of a planning or policy-making process, it's up to you to make the most of the opportunity, and to make clear what makes the most sense for the community both from its own current perspective, and from looking at the long term.

Who should promote community-friendly policies?

Perhaps the real question here is "Who decides what are community-friendly policies?" The ideal answer is that it's a collaborative decision among all sectors of the community, policy makers, and perhaps researchers (who may also be community members) as well. That ideal, however, is seldom met, and even when it is, it may involve a great deal of patience and negotiation on all sides.

The town of Greenfield, Massachusetts, voted down, by referendum, Wal-Mart's application for a building permit, fearing that the presence of a Wal-Mart would kill the still-vital downtown. Many in town favored the store, however, and thought that granting the permit was the more community-friendly policy. There is still some bad feeling over the matter more than a decade later, and still controversy over whether it was the right decision for the community.

If a participatory, collaborative process isn't possible - because of lack of time, lack of structure, lack of interest, or the nature of the divisions within the community - among those who might be involved are:

  • Stakeholders (i.e. those most directly affected by the policy).
  • Community activists.
  • Particular populations or groups who may have an interest (language minorities, public housing tenants, parents of children in the schools, the business community, low-income workers, etc.)
  • Public officials, both elected and appointed.
  • Public employees (who may be asked to carry out or administer policy).
  • Community-based organizations and community coalitions.
  • Educational institutions.

How do you promote community-friendly policies?

This last part of the section may look familiar if you've read Section 11 of this chapter. It's adapted from that section, Promoting Family-Friendly Policies in Business and Government. The two issues are in fact quite similar, and there's a great deal of overlap.

In many cases, for either business or government, the adoption of community-friendly policies is more than a simple decision to do things one way as opposed to another. It involves a change in perception about the nature of a community, and about what's important for businesses and society. For that reason, promoting community-friendly policies may take time and careful thought. The following series of steps takes that into account.

Decide where to start.

Your success may depend on the issue you choose to address first. You're not going to change a community overnight, and you're not going to persuade it to change everything at once. What's a good first step toward a totally community-friendly set of policies?

The very first step, as we implied in the box about barriers to community-friendly policies, is to enlist people from as many sectors of the community as possible to work on the issue together. A broad-based coalition or participatory effort can make all the difference.

If the homeless advocate and the corporate vice-president are sitting at the same table working on the same problem, it is likely that they can find some common ground, and devise a policy - or at least an outcome - that pleases both of them, and benefits the community as a whole. (If the corporation invests in affordable housing and in programs to help homeless people learn the skills - or take the meds, or both - necessary to keep a roof over their heads and stay employed, and convinces other corporations to do the same, there will be fewer homeless people on the streets, a bigger potential employee pool, and more customers for their products and services.)

One possibility is to poll community members to see what's most important to them. You might find different preferences for different folks: business people may be largely concerned with economic issues, while parents may be focused on education. Still others may be most interested in the environment or in social issues. You should aim for fairness in what you propose: what's the greatest benefit for everyone?

The ideal is to start with something that will have a real impact, but that isn't so ambitious that it's impossible - or too impossibly expensive - to achieve. It's unlikely, for instance, that a community will, at your urging, decide to revamp its whole public transportation system, but it might be persuaded to put in a new bus route. That's a start, and it may mean a great deal to the people it serves.

This can be a foot in the door for that new transportation system. You can use the discussion about bus routes to point to other communities that have gone through a planning process, raised money, and are now reaping the benefits. In general, though, the way to profound social change - and that's what we're talking about here - is one reachable, sustainable goal at a time. Trying to cross the bridge in one leap can actually slow you down over the long term.

Do your homework.

Especially if there is to be a public debate about the issue of community-friendly policies, you need to have not only facts, but also ideas at the tip of your tongue. Some of the areas you should research:

  • Businesses or communities, especially nearby ones, where community-friendly policies have been adopted.
  • Policies that have been implemented elsewhere, and their results.
  • Best practices, as determined by research and/or results.
  • Particular needs in your community.
  • Alternatives to what you're initially proposing.
  • Potential costs, and ways to defray them.
  • Potential benefits for everyone involved.

Your research might include searching libraries and the Internet, talking to people who've had direct experience with the issue - local officials, business leaders, community activists, environmentalists, consumer advocates, etc. - conferring with researchers or other experts, and talking with health and human service organizations that have worked with businesses or communities as partners in implementing community-friendly policies.

Your effort is far more likely to be successful if you know what you're talking about, and have answers to the objections of opponents or skeptics. The more information and ideas you have, the more people will take your arguments seriously.

Offer to help find solutions that work.

As explained above, part of your research should be aimed at generating some alternative community-friendly scenarios. These can be used as starting points in a discussion of what kinds of community-friendly practices or policies might work in your community or business. Alternatively, you can offer to participate in a coalition or on a committee set up to look at possible community-friendly innovations. Some ways to make community-friendly policies work:

  • Public-private cost sharing. Workplace education programs themselves are often paid for by public funds (taxes), while employers encourage workers to take advantage of them by providing paid release time for education.
  • Volunteerism. Once a skate park is established and built by the community, it could be maintained by the "Friends of the Skate Park," many of whom are likely to be drawn from among its users.
  • Pilot programs. You can test a small, inexpensive version of a possible program or initiative, in order to examine its effectiveness, and to adjust and improve it before committing to a large-scale effort.
  • Incentives. Businesses that conserve water, for instance, might pay lower meter rates in addition to saving by using less.
  • Fees. Government-supported community-friendly facilities can charge an admission fee to help cover costs, or might be supported by higher taxes.
  • Recognition. A "Community-Friendly" designation might be granted by local government, the Chamber of Commerce, or some other body to businesses that have implemented community-friendly policies.

Frame the debate as a win-win situation.

Try to avoid assuming an adversary position here. Emphasize the fact that community-friendly policies are good for everyone involved - employers, government, the society as a whole. No one loses, and everyone benefits. Use the available research to make the case that community-friendly policies improve the business climate and the quality of life in a community.
It's hard to argue against a change that confers universal benefits.

Point to and reward those businesses and government agencies who support and engage in community-friendly practices.

A "community hero" or "best business" award, with lots of publicity, could both raise the profile of community-friendliness and identify it as something that others might aspire to.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Get your message out to policy makers in business and government, to activists, and to the public. The best arguments in the world are worthless if no one hears them. Use all the channels available to you, particularly:

  • The media
  • Labor unions.
  • Chambers of Commerce and other business associations.
  • Community activists.
  • Professional associations.
  • Direct contact with policy makers.
  • Direct contact with the appropriate people in businesses. These might be CEO's, Human Service Directors, owners of small businesses, or influential employees.

An element to consider here is that a good part of an effort to promote community-friendly policies is changing the perceptions of business people, government officials, and/or the public about what's normal. Some of the policies you advocate for may be innovative or unusual. One aim of your publicity might be to place them firmly in the mainstream, things that should be of obvious concern to everyone. (This might be accomplished through participation in a community strategic planning process, where the need for such policies might be included or implied in a community vision statement.)

That kind of placement could lead to a whole new way of thinking. What if state and national political conventions - or town boards, for that matter - provided child care so that single parents could attend? What if businesses and schools coordinated around the teaching of science, with high-tech and other businesses providing funding for labs and employees to demonstrate practical applications? What if the community provided day care or home health care for frail elders as a matter of course? The world could look different, and better. Perhaps your effort can contribute to that end.

Marshal support.

Put together a coalition, if you can, or work for the support of a large number of influential people. It would be great if your support could come from all segments of the community, but some particularly important groups and individuals include:

  • Unions and other trade associations.
  • Working families.
  • Community activists.
  • Community organizations and institutions (fraternal organizations, churches, hospitals, universities, etc.)
  • Businesses and business associations.
  • Policy makers.
  • Influential individuals, particularly in business and government.

Advocate for community-friendly policies in whatever ways are appropriate to the situation.

You'll have to decide what "appropriate" means for you here. The more confrontational you choose to be, the harder it is to restore good will afterwards. You'd probably only use direct action, for instance, in a situation that's patently unfair and not likely to improve in any other way. Your goal, after all, is one that's typified by policy makers in business and government being genuinely concerned about people, and feeling, at the same time, that any community-friendly changes they make will benefit them as well - hardly an adversary situation.

Some possible ways you might advocate for community-friendly policies:

  • Direct advocacy with businesses. If you have powerful arguments to make, making them face to face can sometimes be your best strategy.
  • Union negotiations.
  • Persuading business, professional, or trade associations (the Chamber of Commerce, for example) to issue policy statements supporting community-friendly practices and policies.
  • Legislative advocacy. This might entail personal contact with legislators and aides, a full-scale legislative campaign, or both.
  • Electoral campaigns and ballot initiatives. A candidate who adopts your ideas can bring them enormous publicity (and can help turn them into policy if she's elected). Alternatively, in many states you can, by gathering enough voters' signatures, put a policy change on the ballot as a referendum question to be decided by the voters. If they approve, the community-friendly policy you proposed becomes law.
  • A media campaign.
  • Direct action. Again, this would probably be a last resort, and could range, in increasing order of seriousness from filing a grievance or complaint, to holding a public demonstration, to calling a strike or boycott, to a lawsuit.

There are essentially three ways to promote community-friendly policies: They are, in order of preference, partnership, persuasion, and pressure. Partnership - working collaboratively with all sectors of the community to define and institute community-friendly policy - is by far the best and most effective when it's possible. Next best is persuasion; there's nothing wrong with it, but it's dependent on the power of policy makers, rather than a joint effort. Finally, there's pressure, what you resort to when policy makers seem determined to take an adversary position and leave no room for negotiation.

It's always better to work with people than against them, and it's always better to be a partner than a petitioner. Thus, the ideal situation is to have a seat at the table when policy is discussed. If that's not possible, then research, persuasion and public relations may help. And when none of those work, it's time to use direct action tactics to try to force policy makers to pay attention.

Continue promoting community-friendly policies in business and government indefinitely.

The long-term goal here is a different view of community, and the consideration of what's community-friendly whenever policy is formulated. In order to reach that goal, you have to keep working at it indefinitely. Each gain is a step in that direction...but if you stop walking, you'll find yourself not standing still, but going backward. As with almost any other activity described in the Community Tool Box, you have to keep moving forward to reach your goal.

In Summary

Community-friendly policies are those social, economic, health, and environmental policies that improve life for particular groups or the community as a whole, while harming or detracting from no one, respecting cultural and other differences, fostering environmental responsibility, encouraging diversity, and making the community a better place to live. In a perfect world, community would always be the context for any discussion of policy, and the uniqueness of each community would be considered when policy was made. Since the world is not yet perfect, it is the responsibility of community builders and activists - and anyone who's affected by or interested in policy decisions - to promote that view, and to advocate or plan for community-friendly policy.

The best-case scenario is to get seats for all sectors of the community at the policy-making table, so that policy decisions are collaborative and take differing and sometimes conflicting needs into account. When, as is usually the case, that's not possible, persuasion - or, when all else has failed, confrontation - may be needed to convince the powers that be of the necessity of community-friendly decisions.

Whatever the case, the long term goal here is to make the consideration of community-friendliness a given in any policy discussion, and to create a view of community that encompasses everyone and makes every policy decision community-friendly.

Contributor 
Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resources

Center for Rural Affairs.Advocates for community friendly policies that support family farm operations and rural entrepreneurship for small business

Forum of Private Business, a British industry organization.
Short piece about business use of CSR (corporate and social responsibility) guidelines.

Institute for Public Policy Research. The Communities Initiative of IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) a progressive think tank in UK. Work toward looking for community-friendly policies in any policy - community as a base for all thinking about social and economic policy

Milbank Memorial Fund report: "Health Policies for the 21st Century: Challenges and Recommendations for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services." By Jo Ivey Boufford and Phillip R. Lee.

A Neal Peirce column on the website of the National Academy of Public Administration, discussing rehabilitating existing buildings and infrastructure before thinking about building new ones.

This helpful Worksite CSA Toolkit, developed by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, shares practical guidance on how to start a Community Supported Agriculture program to make subscriptions to fresh, locally-grown produce available at your workplace. Read more about workplace CSA programs, or view related appendices.