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Engaging

While the ideas listed here can each stand alone, they also be employed in a sequential process.  For instance, after exploring community stories, conditions and changes, a next step might be engaging with people and resources.  Sometimes local residents or community organizations overemphasize the deficits, or negative aspects, of an area.  By focusing on engaging, residents and change leaders are asked to view their community differently, through an assets-focused lens:

“Communities can only be built by focusing on the strengths and capacities of the citizens who call that community home. Those who have escaped the lures of deficiency, therefore, have been drawing up a new map based on old truths, an “Assets Map”… At the center of the map, and of the community building process, lie the “gifts” of individual residents, their knowledge, skills, resources, values, and commitments.” (John Kretzmann, 1997).

Assets can be individuals or institutions, and can even be part of the built (such as a vacant building that could be repurposed) or natural (such as the river or creek that could be a location for outdoors activities or educational programming) environment.  This also offers another way to think about development:  as Kretzmann and McKnight, founding voices of the asset based development approach, stated, “anytime two or more assets are connected in a new way, development happens.”

Other research suggests the value of providing more opportunities for residents to connect with each other.   The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Soul of Community Project interviewed 43,000 people in 26 communities.  The study found a strong correlation between residents’ connection to place and overall economic vitality.  In other words, the communities in which more of their inhabitants felt a strong place attachment, tended to be doing better in terms of jobs and other economic measures.   Researchers identified three primary  qualities that helped strengthen an individual’s attachment to place:

  • Social offerings (the perception that there were many events and activities to engage in)
  • Openness (the feeling that the community was welcoming and open to all)
  • Aesthetics (the beauty and physical appearance of the community)

By providing opportunities for residents to engage with each other, and helping people feel welcome, change leaders contribute to strengthening resident place attachment, and over time, to economic sustainability.

Many of the ideas here entail engaging the community in discussion and allowing people to voice their thoughts.  These efforts help provide a more comprehensive perspective on what kinds of changes are necessary and desired.  During this process, community assets and networks should also be included to help identify who should be included in any further actions.

Ideas for how to Engage with your Community