Collective Impact in Neighborhood Revitalization Part 1: Engagement and Building Trust


There are many urban neighborhoods and small rural communities whose “better days” are a distant memory. Revitalizing these locations would have a positive impact on the region in which they exist while providing better opportunities for local residents. In countless settings, across the country, governments, philanthropy, the private sector, and non-profit actors are working hard to re-invigorate these places. To be successful a “collective impact” approach is absolutely necessary.

These efforts are usually the province of local government, professional architects, urban planners, and private developers. While this is true, “Resident Engagement” is also important to this work.

Why Engagement?

“Nothing about us, without us”  . . . time honored community organizing slogan

As professionals envision, design, and seek to implement the investment and physical changes necessary to revitalize a neighborhood it is important that residents become engaged; and, in the best situations resident leaders assume a leadership role in the process.

Why is engaging residents critically important?

  • It allows direct communication so that they may influence plans and processes in a way that best meets their individual and communal needs.
  • It harvests and deploys their “wisdom” as professionals seek solutions that will catalyze neighborhood transformation.
  • Bestows a degree of influence over the design and process upon people that will actually be living there in the future.
  • Maximizes transparency, assuring that valuable resources actually benefit the neighborhood, and those who live there.
  • It creates a dense network of relationships. Relationships are the currency of collective impact, without relationships there would be no collective. And complexity science teaches us that all new possibilities, all new opportunities stem from relationships. A denser network of relationships produces a wider array of possibilities, a more robust set of potential opportunities, and broader “collective” to create a deeper and more abiding “impact”.


An indicator of the level of genuine engagement achieved is the establishment of “trust”. Trust amid many diverse stakeholders:

  • Trust among and across different community constituencies.
  • Trust between community leaders/members and local government
  • Trust between community leaders/members and development professionals
  • Trust between community leaders/members, developers (non-profit and for profit), social service providers and others such as schools, police, etc., who will have a role in both the development and the continued enactment of programs, projects, and services designed to increase the Collective Impact on the local Quality of Life.

“The Cornerstone: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships . . .When residents are genuinely at the center of community building a different process unfolds. Relationships become the centerpiece of the work. This is because for residents’ community building is personal – it’s about their children, their families, their homes, their neighbors and their streets. It is about making their day-to-day lives better in real time.”

– Resident –Centered Community Building – What makes it different? Connecting Communities Learning Exchange – June 2012 Aspen Institute, JACOBS Center for Neighborhood Innovation

Trust is first (and best) established between individuals.

Trust is not first generated between organizations, agencies, institutions, constituencies, or sectors. Trust emanates from relationships between individual people. It is only through individual relationships that trust among and across organizations and sectors can be achieved.

Individual relationships are founded upon:

  • Listening to each other to achieve an understanding of what is meaningful and important to each other.
  • Respecting what you learn, and demonstrating that respect.
  • Being mindful that the “solutions”, the “changes”, or the “results” that you might pursue must be relevant to what you’ve learned, and therefore, meaningful to your counterpart in this new relationship.

For relationship creation the most important skill to practice is LISTENING. It is through listening that we can achieve an understanding of what is truly meaningful and important to another individual. It is only after listening that we can begin to demonstrate respect for what we have learned about their aspirations, hopes and needs. And, listening will allow us to conceive and create solutions that are mindful of these aspirations hopes and needs.

Before solutions are conceived we need to listen to local leaders to understand their priorities and concerns.  It’s through listening and appreciating local priorities and considering them when solutions are conceived that trust is established.

If the goal of listening is to lead to a trust relationship and it is best done through “one to one” conversations. We call these “one to one” relational meetings. There are three reasons to hold these individual conversations:

  1. To establish important relationships that lead to trust.
  2. To listen and discover what is meaningful to the subject of the conversation.
  3. To seek and find leadership talent that exists within the community.

It is possible to learn what is meaningful to community members through other means such as conducting surveys, focus groups and or other forms of research. While these methods do generate learning, they do not easily generate relationships that lead to trust. However, they may assist in trust creation if those conducting relational meetings have learned of their findings before participating in “one to one” relational meetings.

Stay tuned for the next post coming next week focusing on “The Problem with ‘Community Outreach’.”

What methods have you used to build trust within your community and collective impact efforts?

Posts in this Series

Read Part 2: The Problem with “Community Outreach”

Read Part 3: Residents as the “Engagers”

Read Part 4: So, What Does It Look Like When It Works?


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