What is a community?
___A community can be any group sharing something in common
What do we mean by understanding and describing the community?
___You must understand the community's physical and geographic contexts -- the setting in which the community exists
___You must understand the community's people, culture, and web of relationships
___Explore all dimensions of the community -- physical/geographical, demographic, social, cultural, political, and economic
___A community description puts together the information you've gathered in a form that creates a picture of the community that you can use to provide a context for your community assessment and to see the results of whatever actions you take to bring about change
Why make the effort to understand and describe your community?
___It will give you a general idea, even before an assessment, of the community's strengths and the challenges it faces
___It will capture unspoken, influential rules and norms
___It will give you a feel for the attitudes and opinions of the community when you're starting work on an initiative
___It will help to ensure the security of your organization's staff and participants
___It will give you enough familiarity with the community to allow you to converse intelligently with residents about community issues, personalities and geography
___It will enable you to talk convincingly with the media about the community
___It will allow you to share information with other organizations or coalitions that work in the community so that you can collaborate or so that everyone's work can benefit
___It will provide background and justification for grant proposals
___It will give you insight into the context of the community so that you can tailor interventions and programs to its norms and culture, and increase your chances of success
When should you make an effort to understand and describe the community?
___When you're new to a community and want to be well informed before beginning your work
___When you've been working in a community for any length of time and want to take stock
___When you're feeling like you're stuck in a rut and need a fresh perspective
___When you're considering introducing a new initiative or program and want to assess its possible success
___When a funder asks you to, often as part of a funding proposal
Whom should you contact to gather information?
___Community planners and development officers
___Chiefs of police
___School superintendents, principals, and teachers
___Directors or staff of health and human service organizations
___Real estate agents, housing advocates, and others knowledgeable about the real estate situation in the community
___Presidents or chairs of civic or service clubs -- Chamber of Commerce, veterans' organizations, Lions, Rotary, etc.
___People without titles, but identified by others as "community leaders" or "natural helpers"
___Owners or CEO's of large businesses (these may be local or may be large corporations with local branches)
How do you go about understanding and describing the community?
___Be prepared to learn from the community
___Be aware that people's speech, thoughts, and actions are not always rational
___Don't assume that the information people give you is necessarily accurate
___Beware of activities that may change people's behavior
___Take advantage of the information and facilities that help shape the world of those who have lived in the community for a long time
___Network, network, network
___Gather information using:
- Public and other records and archives
- Individual and group interviews and conversations
- Direct and participant observation
- The community's physical and geographical characteristics, including infrastructure
- Community demographics
- Community history
- Community government and politics
- Community institutions
- Community groups and organizations
- Economics and employment
- Social structure
___Create a community description that you can use as a reference.
___The description can take a number of forms, and can include, drawings, photos, maps, charts, video, audio, animation, or any other feature that you're capable of including and that helps paint an accurate and compelling picture of the community.
___Continue over time to gather information and update your community description as the community changes and develops.