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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?

___Elected officials

___Community planners and development officers

___Chiefs of police

___School superintendents, principals, and teachers

___Directors or staff of health and human service organizations

___Health professionals


___Community activists

___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
  • Surveys
  • 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.

Chris Hampton
Catie Heaven