“How do you know resident engagement work is successful?”
This question gets posed to all grantmakers and community benefit organizations that support community building and citizen participation work. It’s a tough one to answer. And, I know from experience that sometimes staff want to say to the board or donors, “Well, if you’d just attended the community meeting with me last night, you’d have seen the answer for yourself and been inspired.”
If that answer won’t work (it didn’t for me), then you’ll want to read and steal (umm…replicate) answers from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s recent report, “Sustaining Neighborhood Change: The Power of Resident Leadership, Social Networks, and Community Mobilization.”
The practical, 36-page guide makes the case for growing and tapping into Authentic Demand, “the individual and community capacity to define, articulate, and work for results.” The guide stresses that growing Authentic Demand requires supporting a blend of these approaches:
• Building leadership development skills, and expanding and diversifying the pool of leaders
• Building strong social networks
• Mobilizing community members toward action
• Increasing civic participation in local political and policymaking processes
The guide provides good examples, short case studies, and resource lists for growing these approaches based on the work of communities participating in the foundation’s Making Connections Initiative.
As importantly, the guide provides help in measuring Authentic Demand along a set of indicators for six outcomes for community members and community-based organizations: voice, accountability, identity, reciprocity, choice, and skills & capacity.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation presents the ideas within the context of their work to improve the lives of children and families living in tough neighborhoods. However, the ideas are easily translated to other organizations, whether your work is about resident engagement as an end unto itself, or as an important part of a strategy around health, arts, education, or other fields.
I found the guide an important addition to the growing set of ideas in the field on measuring community building and citizen participation work. It could also serve as a good overview reference for staff new to supporting and evaluating that work.
What other great guides have you seen? Would it be useful to have all of the ideas on indicators listed in one place?
In interest of transparency, one of my clients is the Annie E. Casey Foundation though the foundation did ask or pay me to write this post. The post is cross-posted at Big Thinking on Small Grants, a great blog by Janis Foster, the executive director of Grassroots Grantmakers.