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Learn how to create inclusive and participatory systems and processes that bring people together to work on a common problem or goal.


Suppose the quality of life in your community is declining. The major employer has packed up and moved to a place where labor and utilities are cheaper. Without steady paychecks, a lot of people in town don't have the money to keep up their houses and yards, or to support charitable organizations. Many people have found other jobs, but have to commute long distances to get to them. In some of the worst situations, individuals and families have become homeless, and are living in shelters or in their cars. Violence has increased, partially because those long commuting times leave many youth unsupervised during off-school hours, partially because of increasing substance use brought on by people's difficult circumstances. The community has turned into a depressed and depressing place, and most citizens feel powerless to do anything about it. How can you change this situation so that people start to take action to improve their lives?

One answer is to convince people that they can make a difference and get them to work together in thinking out what they can do, and then doing it. But what if there are serious divisions in the community, or what if most people don't see themselves as able to change anything? Perhaps some groups are shut out of the political process or discriminated against economically or socially. Perhaps the many diverse groups in the community have little contact with or knowledge of one another. Before you can get people working together, you have to help them make contact with and begin to trust one another.

This is a situation when locality development is desperately needed. If community members can learn to communicate across class, ethnic, and racial lines, and to set up organizations, systems, and policies to take advantage of their resources and address their problems, they can make life better for everyone. In this section (and the two that follow) we'll discuss three different but overlapping approaches to community organization and community change. In this section, we'll discuss how to lay the groundwork and create a foundation for such a community-wide cooperative effort.

What is locality development?

As we stated in the first section of this chapter, community or locality development is community building through improving the process by which things get done. This can be an end in itself, but it can also be seen as the beginning of a larger process.

While locality development can be defined as improving process, it, like all community organizing, must be focused on action and results. You can't get people involved in a process, or in creating a process, unless there's some goal at the end, whether that's persuading the city to install a new traffic light or ending poverty. That's why, when we discuss how to engage in and use locality development, we include choosing issues that speak to felt community needs. Only by focusing on taking action to achieve outcomes that address those issues are you likely to get citizens involved.

The four types of community organizing:

  1. Locality development creates an infrastructure for community activism and action.
  2. Social planning and policy change uses the political and other systems to create policies that work toward improving the quality of life for all citizens.
  3. Social action and systems advocacy engage citizens in understanding and building power, and using it to advocate and negotiate for the interests of the community.
  4. Coalition building constructs community-wide groups of organizations and individuals, either to work on specific issues or to address more general community needs.

These four aspects of community organization are usually viewed as separate, but it might be more useful to consider them as overlapping parts of a whole. If you do a good job at locality development, you'll have a secure base of people with the capacity to act in any of several ways. True community organization works to create a community that's ready for anything. Locality development is the building of an inclusive, community-based infrastructure that can then respond in whatever way is necessary to meet challenges, take advantage of resources, and create positive social change.

Earlier conceptions of the separation of the field into three models - locality development, social planning, and social action - have given way to a more comprehensive view that defines the three as interrelated and overlapping.

The Community Tool Box accepts and extends this latter view. It defines the three models as a continuum -- one where the distinctions among models is not always distinct -- best served by an inclusive, participatory stance that involves many sectors of the locality or community. Any of the three can be a base for community empowerment and learning, but each is oriented toward a different kind of situation and result.

  • Locality development serves as a base for other organizing, and, in itself, is often aimed at community-wide issues that affect everyone: economic development, public health, etc.. Its goal is the building of community capacity to deal with whatever needs or issues arise. It also shows itself in smaller community projects -- neighborhood clean-ups, the building of a community playground, etc. -- that help to define and build a sense of community among diverse residents of a locality.
  • Social planning and policy change is oriented toward policy solutions -- changing or passing laws or regulations to address problems or conditions -- particularly those initiated by officials or other leaders from inside or outside the community. These policies should be determined through a participatory process that involves everyone they benefit or otherwise affect. This model often involves people with expertise from outside the community working with community members on strategy and planning.
  • Social action is based on the assumption that there is strength in numbers. By banding together and taking action, ordinary people gain the political or economic power to create change. Social action is often necessary -- and often used -- where serious inequity exists and there is no will on the part of those in power to correct it. The group disadvantaged by this situation, through collective action, can gain and exercise power, and bring about a more equitable distribution of official attention and resources.

Common to our interpretation of all of these models is the assumption that the community has, or can develop, the capacity to solve many or most of its own problems, and to determine the direction that health and community development should take. That means that it has -- or can gain, with help and experience -- the people, the institutions, the knowledge, the intelligence, and the political and economic know-how to tackle the issues it faces.

The terms "community development" and "locality development" are sometimes used interchangeably, but a community and a locality are not the same, and working with each may require its own approach. (For convenience, in this section we'll use the term locality development to refer to working in a particular way with both localities and self-defined communities.)

A locality is a place -- a town, a city neighborhood, a housing project, a rural area -- and locality development looks on that place as a community.

The word "community" is commonly used to refer to a locality where people live, as well as to all the people who live there. A community can also refer to a group of people that identifies itself as a community because of shared experiences, backgrounds, values, religion, or culture. The mayor of a city may call his town a community, but most cities have a number of self-defined communities within them -- an Italian-American community, a gay community, a Jewish community, a Black community, a business community, etc. While not all members of these communities share the same points of view or act in the same ways, they do see themselves as having something important in common with fellow community members.

The difference here comes in attempting to organize a locality that isn't a self-defined community, but merely a collection of people who happen to live in the same place. Members of a self-defined community start with some trust in one another, and with the assumption of at least one major shared idea or experience or value. Citizens of a locality may feel that they have very little in common with one another, or even that their interests conflict. Thus, development in a self-defined community may be able to start relatively easily once community members have accepted the fact that it's a good idea. In a locality, nothing may be able to happen until residents are able to make connections, identify common interests, and start to see themselves as a community. . . and that may take a long time.

A locality can be a community in the same way. Many small towns, especially those largely populated by families that have lived there for generations, have strong community identities.

The small New England town that the writer lives in has its conflicts and divisions, but when a dairy farmer's barn burned down, townspeople of all stripes donated money, materials, and labor to rebuild it. The same had been true in prior years for a lumber mill and a timber framer's workshop, even though the timber framer was a "new person," someone who had only moved to the town in recent decades. The fact that he lived in and participated in the life of the town made him a member of the community, even though native-born residents hadn't known his grandparents.

So what does locality development actually consist of? What kind of infrastructure does it refer to? In brief -- we'll go into more detail later when we discuss how to engage in locality development -- it's a matter of creating inclusive and participatory systems and processes that bring everyone in the community together to work on a common problem or toward common goals. It also entails encouraging leadership from within the community, developing communication networks that span all sectors, and establishing the process as an accepted part of community life.

Locality development -- often, but not always, in contrast to social action -- emphasizes positive action on the part of a whole community, rather than assuming the necessity of conflict. The purpose might be to gain economic stability, to improve social and/or political conditions, to protect the community against a threat -- the demolition of a neighborhood to make way for a highway or for expensive housing -- or to preserve its historic, cultural, environmental character.

Whatever form it takes, the process is meant to build the community and make it stronger, to help its members see that they need to work together toward common purposes, and to motivate them to create ways to make that happen.

Social action, more fully explained in Section 4 of this chapter, is generally aimed at the members of a community who are in some way disadvantaged, disenfranchised, ignored, or treated unfairly. Its purpose is almost always to gain power and to use that power to erase inequities and/or change unfair or damaging policies and practices that have been used against that community. It is, at least at the beginning, generally an adversary process based on building and consolidating political power.

Locality development is a cooperative process that includes all sectors of the community and is based on finding common ground and defining and pursuing a common vision. (It can, in fact, overlap with social action when a whole community is disadvantaged or discriminated against and must gain the power to negotiate with the state or with other communities.)

Both of these are necessary aspects of community organizing, depending on the circumstances in a particular community. The deeper the divides and the greater the inequity, the more likely that social action -- what is often seen as classic community organizing -- will be the appropriate course to take. Once an organized community has earned a seat at the table by demonstrating its ability to stand firm and win political battles, social action may eventually turn into locality development. (Or, if other methods of achieving results fail, locality development may turn into social action.)

Why engage in locality development?

  • Locality development can break down barriers within the community by encouraging and improving communication among diverse individuals and groups in the population. When citizens from many sectors of the community work together to assess assets and needs, they get to know one another as human beings, rather than as abstractions (e.g., "youth," "the poor," "business people"). This interaction not only makes it possible for people from different backgrounds and circumstances to work together, but also fosters mutual respect and empathy.
  • Locality development can bring together people who normally have no contact, and define the community as including all of them. Just as it breaks down barriers, locality development binds community members together, and allows them to see everyone as part of a unit that only functions well when all its parts have what they need.
  • Locality development can lay a solid foundation for community support of activism around issues of importance. When a community has a process by which to include everyone in the discussion of strategy about how to deal with issues, the resulting action plans belong to the community. When they feel that the plans are theirs, community members will work hard to see them carried out.
  • Locality development can help individuals and groups acquire new skills and knowledge.
    • Leadership and administrative skills.
    • A better understanding of, and ability to communicate with, people from a variety of backgrounds.
    • Interpersonal skills.
    • Facilitation skills.
    • Analytical skills.
    • An overview of how systems interact to influence the life of the community.
    • An understanding of how economics, on both the large and small scales, affects people's lives.
  • Locality development can bring forth the natural leaders from within the community. This happens both naturally, as the result of the locality development process, and through the encouragement of current leaders.
  • Locality development can encourage the community to identify its own resources and understand its own strengths. Once people have a clear sense of what they have available and what they themselves can do, they can use their resources to their best advantage.
  • Locality development can make the community self-sufficient and able to identify and solve its own problems. The advantages of being in this position include:
    • An increase in community confidence and self-esteem, motivating citizens to tackle and solve tough problems.
    • The reduction or elimination of the need for the community to be dependent on outside sources for help, and thus not having "experts" determine what is good for the community.
    • An increase in the speed with which the community can respond to problems and mobilize resources.
    • Assurance that the problems the community addresses are those that really concern it.
  • Locality development can give voice to everyone, and make participatory democracy the normal method of community decision-making. Building an inclusive, participatory infrastructure ensures that everyone's opinions and needs are heard, and leads to the establishment of community systems that involve all sectors.
  • Locality development can build a foundation for real community and equity, leading to a healthy community and long-term, positive social change. When people work together as a community, it's much harder to write off particular groups, or to ignore their needs, and much easier to envision and work toward a community in which all the necessary underpinnings of health are available to everyone.

When and where should you engage in locality development?

In most sections of the Community Tool Box, the answer to the "when?" question begins with a sentence similar to "While this activity is almost always appropriate, there are certain times when it's especially useful." In this instance, however, we'll make an exception to that practice. While locality development usually starts because of a specific need or difficult conditions, it is, in fact, called for at virtually any time and in any place where there are inequities in the social system, where the quality of life for at least some members of the community is unacceptable, where systems or resources are inadequate to meet all the community's needs, or where the community is threatened from within or without. It's even appropriate when things are going well, since this may be a good time to make positive changes that would be harder in difficult times (improvements in environmental conditions, for instance, or a push for pedestrian-friendly areas). In other words, locality development is needed at almost any time in almost any community or locality.

In some communities, the need may be immediately obvious: major employers have left, housing stock is deteriorating, Main Street storefronts are empty and decaying, violence is on the rise or already at frightening levels, etc.. There may be racial or ethnic tensions, many homeless people on the streets, or major problems relating to the public schools, the environment, or corruption in local government. Whatever the situation, it will be apparent that the community needs to do something before things get even worse.

In many cases, however, problems are hidden, or are unacknowledged. There may be an unspoken agreement that widespread alcohol abuse and domestic violence are accepted parts of community life, for instance. Community members may turn their heads and fail to notice the hunger and poverty that exist in isolated pockets, or simply not realize that a large number of their fellow citizens have no access to health care. Until there's a crisis, many communities can't or won't see the problems they face. It may take a disaster -- as in the case of the flooding and devastation of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 -- for a community (or a nation) to face up to its realities.

An ongoing locality development process can not only lead to a healthier community, it can help a community weather bad times, and even prepare for calamity, and take advantage of good times to make things even better. For that reason, locality development is appropriate in any community at any time.

Who should be involved in locality development?

To be most effective, a locality development process should be inclusive and participatory. That means it should include all sectors of the community (and give all an equal voice) and that their role should not be to act as advisors or consultants, but as full participants in all phases of addressing community issues and working toward their resolution and a better quality of life.

It's important not to think about self-identified communities as all of a piece. The "Black community" in any U.S. city is not made up of people who all think alike, or who are all of the same income or education level. It may have leaders, but they don't necessarily speak for all members of that community, any more than any other individual does. It may have institutions or organizations that occupy important places in the community, but they don't represent everyone. Diversity refers to more than skin color or background: it encompasses opinions, political stances, income, attitudes, and a multitude of other factors, and as many of those as possible should be included when you're recruiting people to take part in locality development.

Some of the factors that a locality development effort might consider in putting together a grassroots group are:

  • Interest in the effort
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Geography. This may mean including people from a variety of neighborhoods, from several rural areas, or even from different city blocks. Geography is especially important when people from different areas have different interests because of differences in outlook, income, culture, etc..
  • Income. This is purely an economic measure.
  • Class identification. Class identification may or may not be tied to income. Some industrial workers may have higher incomes than most middle managers, but still identify themselves as working class, rather than middle class. Those middle managers, as well as teachers and other professionals and "white collar" workers with similar incomes, on the other hand, may be more likely to think of themselves as middle class. A woman on welfare who's been to college may think of herself very differently from a woman in similar circumstances who's a high school dropout. Class identification is as much a matter of attitude, personal history, and other factors as it is of income.
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Culture. This may be linked to ethnic or racial background (the factors that usually come to mind when culture is mentioned), age, religion, etc.. Teenagers have their own language, norms, and styles, for instance, as do many immigrant groups and faith communities. Each is a culture unto itself, and needs to be considered when engaging in locality development.
  • Language
  • Organizations and institutions. Service clubs, fraternal organizations, community-based organizations, hospitals, universities, libraries, and other bodies need to be involved. They can bring valuable resources and constituencies with them.
  • Local government and government agencies. Not only elected and appointed officials, but police and firefighters, welfare workers, and others in similar positions should be drawn in. As policies and systems change, they'll bear much of the burden, and should share in ownership of the development process from the beginning.

How do you engage in locality development?

The "Iron Rule" of community organizing is to never do for people what they can do for themselves. Thus, the process is participatory by definition.

The participatory nature of organizing is crucial, regardless of the type of organizing it is. The inclusive process we've been describing may ultimately depend on direct action and the exercise of political power for success, but it may also depend on collaboration. Locality development can also be an exercise in bringing together all the sectors of a community -- even those that normally wield the power -- in an effort to improve conditions and the quality of life for everyone.

Who is included in the definition of "community" depends on the situation that exists to begin with. If the purpose of organizing is to gain equal footing or fair treatment for a group that has had neither, then that group is the community in question. If the aim is to revive a town whose economy has all but died, or to improve health conditions across the board, then all citizens are the constituency.

The ideal situation is one in which everyone in the locality can be persuaded to work together, and in which everyone's interests are attended to. In reality, this situation may be rare, but it's something worth striving for. Building a community and developing an infrastructure that makes it possible for people to work together are necessary regardless of the aim of organizing.

There are a number of basic steps to locality development that we'll discuss, more or less in the order in which they should be taken."More or less" because each community and situation is unique. In some cases, you may need to work on several things at once, or to take a particular step out of order, or even skip it entirely. It's important to respond to the circumstances that exist.

Get to know the community. The term "get to know" really means three things here:

  • Learn about the history, relationships, issues, factions, and other aspects of the community or locality you're working with before you start.
  • Get acquainted with the people in the community. Develop relationships, so that they know who you are, what you're doing there, and why they should talk to and trust you.
  • Understand how people in the community view themselves and others.

We'll briefly examine what each of these means in practice.

Community history
Knowing some community history is absolutely necessary. If you don't understand the alliances, rivalries, conflicts, and successes of the community, particularly those of the recent past, you're apt to make huge blunders. The time spent cleaning up after yourself will be far greater than the time you spend making sure you don't make a mess in the first place.

To learn community history, you have to talk to those who've experienced it or heard about it directly from the source. Conversations with community elders or long-time residents can yield a great deal of information (of course, not all of it necessarily objective or accurate). If you make contact with a broad range of people, you can at least sort out where stories agree or disagree. Some research in newspaper archives or on the Web could also be helpful here.

Getting acquainted and building trust
In many communities -- whether defined by geography or by class, ethnicity, or some other criterion -- it's difficult for an outsider to make any inroads. Especially if you're obviously different from community members, they may be reserved about spending time with you or listening to what you have to say. Even if you're already a member of the community, or come from a background or culture similar to that of the community with which you're working, you won't automatically gain their trust. You'll have to do that by proving your commitment and staying strong.

You have to spend time in the community and meet people where they live -- in the streets, at community events, in stores and bars and restaurants, in people's houses. There's a reason that the Peace Corps and similar organizations insist that volunteers live in the communities in which they work. Familiarity breeds familiarity. If community members actually know and have a relationship with you -- have had conversations with you about your family, your likes and dislikes, your values and ideals -- they're far more likely to trust you and listen when you ask them to join in a development effort.

Understanding how community members view themselves and others
Understanding how community members view themselves and others both inside and outside the community will help you understand where you and the community need to start. Some of the factors you might explore:

  • How much do community members interact with one another? How well do they know one another? Is there a sense of community solidarity, or are there deep divisions between natives and newcomers, or between people of different races or ethnicity? Are there existing mechanisms in the community that serve to bring people together or keep them apart?
  • Do community members see themselves as a community? Do they see themselves as part of multiple communities? Do people identify with the community as you've defined it, or with any community? Or is their world bounded instead by family or friendships or work?
  • How do community members view change and their own ability to effect change? Do they want changes? Do they feel that change is possible? Are they angry? Afraid? Apathetic?
  • Does the community have a sense of pride, or a sense of inferiority? Does it feel put upon by outside forces?

How community members view change and their sense of the strength of their community are extremely important factors to understand. If people feel that they can't influence events, or have no skills to use in improving their lives and communities, they won't try. Convincing citizens that they can make a difference is often the first -- and the hardest -- task that community organizers and community builders face.

It can be harder still when some community members do see themselves as able to effect change, and others see it as a lost cause ("'They' are too powerful," "we have no knowledge of how things work," "everything gets decided behind the scenes anyway," etc.). Keeping the confident group from dominating or taking over -- which will only reinforce the others' sense of powerlessness -- while still keeping them engaged is a difficult but necessary balancing act.

  • What kinds of current or potential connections do community members have to policymakers or other influential people or groups? Do they see those connections as possible or useful?

Identify the reasons that the community is likely to be willing to organize.

The reason that Saul Alinsky, commonly seen as the father of modern community organizing, was able, in 1930s Chicago, to bring together neighborhood groups that had been hostile to one another is that they all shared a common interest in improving working conditions in the stockyards, and a common resentment of the bosses who were exploiting them. If a community is to come together, it has to have good reasons for doing so, and those reasons have to be determined by the community itself, not by an authority or expert or outside organizer, no matter how well-intentioned.

Those reasons may be small specific issues (the deterioration of a neighborhood park, the need for more streetlights) or larger concerns (the fear that the community is dying economically or socially; feelings of resentment and powerlessness; a sense that opportunities are being missed; widespread discrimination and inequity; hostility from without; etc.). Furthermore, the reasons may not be understood or shared by everyone. It's crucial to find out what community members are concerned about, and to determine what might move them to unite and take action to address their concerns.

Determine who are the opinion leaders and trusted individuals and groups in the community.

Opinion leaders are those whose opinions are valued and whose advice is followed by a majority of community members. They may be leaders because of their position (CEOs, clergy, college presidents, government officials), because of their assumed intelligence (doctors, professors), or simply because they have demonstrated level-headedness and fairness in the past. Often, they are average citizens who have gained their neighbors' respect through their exercise of common sense, compassion, and strong values.

Find those people and start with them. They'll know how to attract others, and who among those others can bring still others with them. Their support will lend credibility to a locality development effort. In addition, they're likely to be able to identify and help in negotiating the personality and group conflicts and other pitfalls of locality development.

Alinsky's organizing efforts in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago were successful at least partially because he was able to gain the support of the two groups most important to residents -- the unions and the Catholic church.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to treat everyone with respect. If you can develop a reputation as someone who's straightforward and honest, and who respects everyone, people will be more than willing to hear what you have to say. If you're condescending, or present yourself as knowing more than community members, you might as well leave and find another use for your time.

Recruit community members to the effort.

First and foremost, locality development relies on personal contact. Meetings in people's living rooms, door to door canvassing, outreach to organizations and institutions and agencies -- all of these and other methods are the base of an organizing effort. It's difficult to convince anyone of anything without direct communication.

Recruitment can and should go on continuously. It doesn't matter where you are in the locality development process -- you can always use more participants.

Recruitment is really inseparable from building trust and becoming part of the community. Many organizers believe that they have to actually live in the community to establish any credibility, and, in at least some communities, that may be true. Having the support of opinion leaders and other trusted community members and groups can sometimes serve the same purpose, but it's not a substitute for doing the core work of any organizing: making personal contact with as many people as possible, and maintaining contacts day in and day out.

Build a communication system.

The first of the system improvements necessary to locality development is a communication network that makes it possible for anyone to reach anyone else. Not only can such a system make working together a great deal easier, but it also helps to squelch rumors and head off trouble before it happens.

The ability to make direct contact with someone and to find out exactly what she meant in that newspaper quote, or whether she's actually planning what you've heard she is, can make all the difference. She may not have meant her remark to be offensive (or may not have made it at all); she may not have meant to release her plan until she'd discussed it with you and others first. On the other hand, if there's actually a problem, it's better to deal with it straightforwardly and resolve it than to complain and wait until it's too late before protesting.

One of the great miracles of the 20th century is that, since the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no one has again used a nuclear bomb against human beings. One possible reason that that disaster has been avoided is the existence of the red phones on the desks of the President of the U.S. and the Premier of the Soviet Union. This communication system, initiated by Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960s, was used several times to inform the President or Premier of actions that could have been taken as hostile if they hadn't been explained promptly. Those explanations may have actually prevented nuclear war.

A communication system, in this sense, doesn't refer to hardware -- a complicated phone system, for instance, or a computer network -- but, rather, to people knowing whom to call on for what, and making sure that everyone has access to everyone else. This may be as simple as circulating a list of names, mail and email addresses, and phone numbers, or as complicated as setting up communication trees (and allowing for the fact that many low-income people don't have their own computers or phones).

Encourage leadership from the community from the beginning.

Identify, train, and mentor natural leaders, so that they can take on increasing responsibility and ultimately direct the effort. One of the key pieces of infrastructure that locality development is meant to create is local leadership, making it possible for the effort to be sustained indefinitely by the community.

Some community members may have very little experience in attending meetings, speaking in public, or even in sorting out their own opinions from what they've been told. They'll need support and training in learning those skills.

Create a structure to help the community accomplish its goals.

In order to solidify and coordinate the development effort, it is generally necessary to create an organization of some sort, or even more than one, to provide structure for and coordinate your action. The exception to this rule is a situation in which an organization already exists that has credibility and can take on the work of locality development.

There are a number of reasons for establishing an organization or other structure:

  • It makes the work easier. An organization gives the effort an identity that can then be used to seek out resources, devise and carry out actions, gain official status, and state positions. It makes it easier to operate in the world of government regulations and fundraising, it's easier to explain than a still-formless locality development process, and it can attract members more easily as well.
  • It makes the work more efficient and more effective. A structure makes it easier to divide and delegate tasks efficiently, to contact people when things need to be done, and to keep track of everything.
  • It gives the effort standing in the community. An organization legitimizes the development effort, and shows that it's serious and well-supported.
  • It lends form to the development effort. An organization is something community members can point to as a result of their coming together. It has substance and purpose, rather than simply being a group of people talking about doing something. It has a name, and people are associated with it. It's real.
  • It creates a focus for community work. An organization can act as a coordinating body for whatever comes next. It provides both a physical focus -- an office, a phone, a computer, even if they're in someone's kitchen -- and a social and political one. People belong to it, or work with it or for it. They care about what it stands for, because it stands for them.
  • It unites those involved in locality development. An organization gives community members something formal to belong to and participate in. It both brings people together physically -- for meetings and other activities -- and identifies them with the organization, and with other members of or participants in the organization.
  • It gives the community an entity that it created and owns. If the development effort has been conducted well, the organization will grow out of the participation and ideas of the community. Because they own it, they'll work hard to make it successful.

To this point, the steps for engaging in locality development apply equally well to social action or policy change. The next few steps are specifically aimed at an effort that seeks to unite the whole community in a drive to improve conditions for everyone, rather than an effort to gain equity or power for a group that's been treated unfairly, or a drive to change policies and laws.

Define the most important issues that relate to the community's overall concerns.

Just as when your group came together, the issues to be worked on must come from the community itself and reflect community members' concerns and needs. Some of these issues may be the same reasons you cited for coming together; others may be stepping stones to a larger goal. In either case, people won't find them compelling unless they generate them themselves.

Develop a strategic plan.

Once you've determined where you're going -- i.e., the issues or problems to be addressed -- the next step is to figure out how to get there. The way to do that is by developing a strategic plan -- a step-by-step blueprint for accomplishing your goals. This means embarking on a participatory process to establish a vision for the community, a mission for your effort, objectives to be reached, a strategy by which to reach them, and actions that will carry out the strategy (VMOSA).

An important part of planning is considering what's possible and what will help to keep the development process going. It's wise, for instance, not to try to reach your ultimate goals all at once, but to work in stages. Aim first for something that's achievable, so that the effort will have an initial success to build on. When that goal is met, strategize again and set your next, somewhat more difficult, goal. With each stage of the effort, people will become more confident and more committed to reaching the ambitious goals set out in the strategic plan.

Implement your plan.

Here's where all your organizing and hard work pay off. The community takes action to achieve the results it wants, based on the plan that's been developed.

Continually monitor and evaluate your work.

The Community Tool Box considers these functions so important to any effort that it devotes four chapters (36-39) to evaluating community organizations and initiatives. Monitoring and regularly evaluating your work gives you the opportunity to change what's not working and to respond to changes in the community. It also tells you what you're doing well, and may give you ideas about how to build on your successes.

You should be looking at both the process and the results of what you're doing. How successfully have you brought in all sectors of the community? How invested are they in making or causing changes that will improve people's lives? How well is your organization running, and does it meet the community's needs? Is the action you're involved in effective at keeping you moving toward your goals? Are you achieving the outcomes you're aiming for?

Make the locality development effort self-sustaining and community-run, so that it's established as a permanent fixture.

The Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council (BYNC) that Saul Alinsky helped establish in 1939 still exists as an organization, even though most of those originally involved are long dead, and the neighborhood has gone from being virtually all White and Eastern European to mostly Hispanic and Black. You may not be interested in that level of longevity, but locality development is an ongoing process. Individuals and groups move, and others that know nothing of your effort take their places. If you build a strong community and a strong organization that belongs to and is run by community members, it will continue as long as it's needed.

In Summary

Locality development is the facet of community organizing that concentrates on building an infrastructure of relationships, processes, and systems that makes it possible for the community to solve its own problems and respond to its own needs through planning, action, and advocacy. The development process should be inclusive of all sectors and participatory, and leadership should be encouraged and nurtured from within.

Locality development is the basis for any organizing effort. It is the process by which community members are recruited to the effort and asked to identify and address community needs and problems by using community resources and the clout that comes from many people speaking with one voice. That may mean that all members of a large community unite to address such major community issues as economic development or public health, or it may mean that members of a more closely-defined community (Hispanics, workers in a particular trade or plant, Muslims, welfare recipients, tenants of a housing project) unite to address more specific concerns, or to demand fair treatment.

Whatever the situation, locality development starts with understanding the community and its history, and building relationships one by one. Relationships with key individuals can help greatly in attracting others to the effort and in identifying potential pitfalls and paths to success. As recruitment proceeds, potential or actual leaders from within the community are identified and nurtured with support and training. At some point, the effort will probably form an organization or other formal structure to act as a focus. The organization -- community-run, inclusive, and participatory, as the effort should be from the beginning -- engages in identifying issues, strategic planning and action, and evaluation. The organization also finds resources to sustain the effort, and becomes the vehicle that carries the work forward for the long term.

Locality development is useful in practically any community. It can address inequities, systemic problems or inadequacies, policy development or change, or serious community problems. Conducted well, it can lead to long-term, positive, social change and a healthier community.

Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resources

Community Organizing - a description of, and links to more information on, Saul Alinsky and organizing.  This page is part of a much larger website that looks at many different methods of development and organization in the service of xplaining and exploring Transorganizational Development.

The Community Organizing Toolbox. A resource of the Neighborhood Funders Group.  Information on community organization, with some examples.

City of Calgary Community Assessment Handbook – Locality Development model.

Print Resources

Rothman, J. Erlich, J.L., & Tropman, J.E. (2001). Approaches to community intervention. Strategies of Community Intervention (6th edn.). Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock, pp. 27-64.