WHY MAKE THE EFFORT TO UNDERSTAND AND DESCRIBE YOUR COMMUNITY?

You may at this point be thinking, “Can’t I work effectively within this community without gathering all this information?” Perhaps, if it’s a community you’re already familiar with, and really know it well. If you’re new to the community, or an outsider, however, it’s a different story. Not having the proper background information on your community may not seem like a big deal until you unintentionally find yourself on one side of a bitter divide, or get involved in an issue without knowing about its long and tangled history.

SOME ADVANTAGES TO TAKING THE TIME TO UNDERSTAND THE COMMUNITY AND CREATE A COMMUNITY DESCRIPTION INCLUDE:

  • Gaining a general idea, even before an assessment, of the community’s strengths and the challenges it faces.
  • Capturing unspoken, influential rules, and norms. For example, if people are divided and angry about a particular issue, your information might show you an event in the community’s history that explains their strong emotions on that subject.
  • Getting a feel for the attitudes and opinions of the community when you’re starting work on an initiative.
  • Ensuring the security of your organization’s staff and participants.  There may be neighborhoods where staff members or participants should be accompanied by others in order to be safe, at least at night. Knowing the character of various areas and the invisible borders that exist among various groups and neighborhoods can be extremely important for the physical safety of those working and living in the community.
  • Having enough familiarity with the community to allow you to converse intelligently with residents about community issues, personalities, and geography. Knowing that you’ve taken the time and effort to get to know them and their environment can help you to establish trust with community members.  That can make both a community assessment and any actions and activities that result from it easier to conduct.
  • Being able to talk convincingly with the media about the community.
  • Being able to share information with other organizations or coalitions that work in the community so that you can collaborate or so that everyone’s work can benefit.
  • Providing background and justification for grant proposals.
  • Knowing the context of the community so that you can tailor interventions and programs to its norms and culture, and increase your chances of success.

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