Collective Impact in Neighborhood Revitalization Part 3: Residents as the “Engagers”


Collective impact is critical to neighborhood revitalization. Neighborhoods are complex environments where many systems operate. Systems such as: commerce, health care, education, criminal justice and so on usually operate in their own “silo” disconnected from all other systems operating in this place.

Neighborhood revitalization that produces a quality of life for those who live there cannot be accomplished without a collective impact approach. The U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development’s Choice neighborhoods program, possibly the most significant neighborhood revitalization initiative occurring today, is designed to positively transform public and low-income housing communities across the country. In the HUD Choice Neighborhood Initiative Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for Planning Grants (on page 2) it states:

“Experience shows that to successfully develop and implement the Transformation Plan, broad civic engagement will be needed. Applicants will need to work with public and private agencies, organizations (including philanthropic and civic organizations), and individuals to gather and leverage the financial and human capital resources needed to support the sustainability of the plan. These efforts should build community support for and involvement in the development and implementation of the plan.”

In the previous section where we discuss “residents as the engaged,” residents are the subject of engagement and act as influencers of the revitalization work as it is practiced by others. It is important that residents become the agents of engagement actively engaging others. It is in this role, as active agents of engagement that residents can directly contribute to the quality of life outcomes that most neighborhood revitalization initiatives seek to produce.

When residents become “agents of engagement” actively engaging with each other and collectively engaging with agencies, organizations, institutions, businesses, government and philanthropy, new possibilities appear:

  • Local indigenous social networks, which residents self-select to affiliate with are acknowledged, respected, and strengthened. They become a base of human capital that can be deployed toward solutions through volunteering and advocacy.
  • Traditional conflicts and barriers such as:
    • race,
    • public housing tenants vs. homeowners and/or private housing tenants
    • ethnic diversity
    • economic class and class diversity
    • geography
    • immigrants vs. citizens

Or any combination of the above, diminish as residents build individual relationships with each other across these boundaries.

Engagement enables Collective Impact

. . . Tweet from Brian Solis, Author of Engage!, John Wiley & Sons, 2010

Once engaged, residents can come together as a powerful collective force:

  • When the above barriers are surmounted, a path to true “community” visioning is available
  • This common community vision can be a very powerful coalescing device. This is especially true when care has been taken to build an infrastructure of engaged residents through their indigenous, self-created organizations, thereby enabling boundary transcending relationships–boundary transcending relationships that are developed first among individuals and then among their organizations
  • As a “pluralistic engaging force” local residents, collectively, become a strong asset that can be deployed toward achieving neighborhood revitalization goals.
  • This collective force can attract and engage partners among the private sector, government and philanthropy who are vital to the successful neighborhood revitalization
  • Opportunities stem from relationships. When common vision fuels the collective resident force to engage new partners it results in new opportunities that ultimately open up new possibilities
  • This allows residents to move beyond being “consumers” of the neighborhood revitalization initiative outcomes to acting as “producers” of those outcomes.
  • As producers residents both own and are accountable for a portion of the success, vesting the residents with both equity and responsibility.

People in communities will always come together to make their neighborhood better. They bring their aspirations and invest their talents, skills, time, and energy to collectively imagine and produce a better future. This is, I believe, the best part of being American. It’s called governing (note the lower case “g”). Some of our least heralded but most effective “outcomes” are produced in this manner. Think of scout troops, little leagues and soccer leagues, “Parent as Mentor” elementary & high school voluntary teacher aids, to name few.

Community transformation efforts work better when they respect and provide active roles for residents as “producers” of transformation. Chief among these roles is acting, alongside their partners, as advocates on their own behalf. From testifying at School Board hearings to imploring a retail establishment to open a new location in their community, this advocacy is a powerful asset.

Acting as “producers” residents experience personal growth. Individuals develop new leadership skills. Collectively they become a reliable force. Acting as “engagers” they can attract support from a wider array of actors and resources.

In doing so they come to own the process and this ownership realizes equity and its incumbent responsibility.

What about you? How has your experience been with engaging the community with your collective impact efforts?

Posts in this Series

Read Part 1 – Engagement and Building Trust

Read Part 2 – The Problem with “Community Outreach”

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


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