Volume XVI | Issue 2 | Fall 2016
Authors answer: What leads to successful community building, and what distinguishes efforts that succeed from those that fail?

What leads to success?

Authors identify keys that help build community efficiently and effectively

Community building is a complex process with a lot of moving parts. It helps to know what has worked. Many people start by doing extensive research into what has worked in similar towns, but doing the research that identifies these successful strategies can be a daunting task. 

Fortunately, it’s not a task you need to take on. In the eminently readable Community Building: What Makes It Work, Paul Mattessich and Barbara Monsey have done the research for readers, identifying 28 “keys” that help build community efficiently and effectively. “The thousands of hours of preparation required for this book … is the nitty-gritty homework that all of us who are interested in community building rarely have the time to do,” write the authors. 

In their search for critical factors, Mattessich and Monsey kept two questions in mind: What leads to successful community building, and what distinguishes efforts that succeed from those that fail? The answers to those questions led to the identification of the 28 factors, which are divided into three categories: characteristics of the community, characteristics of the community building process, and characteristics of community building organizers.

For example, a community characteristic identified as essential to success is the community awareness of an issue. Successful efforts more likely occur in communities where residents recognize the need for some type of action, the authors say. “A community building effort must address an issue that is important enough to warrant attention, and which affects enough residents of a community to spark self-interest in participation.”

Product and process

A success factor in the community building process is focusing on product and process at the same time. “Initiatives are more likely to succeed when efforts to build relationships (the process focus) include tangible events and accomplishments (the product focus),” the authors write.

And in the third category, characteristics of successful organizers, understanding of community is essential. “Successful community building efforts more likely occur when organized by individuals who convey a sincere commitment for the community’s well-being,” say the authors.

Community Building also devotes a chapter to instruction on how to use the information in the book. Its appendices are meaty, with one offering comprehensive definitions of terms such as “community,” “capacity building,” and “community competence.” Another provides questions for each community building success factor that enables organizers to assess the work they are doing. For example, in the community awareness factor, organizers are encouraged to ask questions such as: Are the objectives for our community building project based on the immediate concerns of the neighborhood? Can we broaden them later into a more comprehensive effort? Do community members understand and are they aware of how the issues affect them?

This book is available for free to residents of Oregon and Siskiyou County, California, through Select Books. 

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