National Night Out resources and ideas

in community engagement, Place-based communities, Psychology

These are some resources you can use to plan community-building activities in your neighborhood around National Night Out.

The National Night Out website. From the About page: NNO is designed to Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness; Generate support for, and participation in, local anticrime programs; Strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and Send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back. “Last year’s National Night Out campaign involved citizens, law enforcement agencies, civic groups, businesses, neighborhood organizations and local officials from over 15,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases worldwide. In all, over 36 million people participated.”

Click here for National Night Out Party Ideas. Excerpts:

  • Serve food, but keep it simple: Watermelon, Lemonade, Coffee, tea and dessert, Ice cream cones, Pretzels and chips, Fruit and cheese plates, Pizza, Cookies, Hamburgers, Hot dogs, Corn on the cob, Salads.
  • Facilitate conversations: Design a mixer: “Find a person who…” – with prizes, Block history stories, National Night Out stories, Photos from past block parties and NNO events, Oldest resident award, Longest resident award, Newest resident award.
  • Do something for the community: Collect for a food bank, Beautify a common area, Plan a fall clean-up or bulb planting, Recruit additional Neighborhood Watch leaders and block captains, Discuss neighborhood problems & opportunities, Distribute neighborhood block list.
  • Have fun: Bike parade, Board games, Skits, Make a mural or banner, Coloring Contest, Pony rides, 3-legged race, Football, baseball, basketball, street hockey, Roller blade, Youth parade with a theme, Jump rope, Chalk art, Face painting, Bubbles, Sack races, Magic show, Sing-alongs, Water balloons, Frisbee competition, Piñata, Clowns, Bike Safety, Child ID Kits, Block party, Cookout, Parade, Jump rope contest, Hula hoop contest, Barbecue, Street dance, Volleyball, Storytelling (truth or fiction), Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, Scavenger hunt, Take lots of pictures, Karaoke, Rummage sale, Music and DJ, Dunk tank, Movies, Sandy beach party, Street carnival, Disposable camera distribution/photo contest, Self-defense demonstration, Jail & Bail, K-9 demonstration, Funniest hat contest, Welcome new neighbors, Live music, Horseshoes

There’s always something: Read the Trademark Fact Sheet (“Violators will be subject to legal action”). For instance, if your group needs to raise funds for your NNO, and you want to hit up a local business, you need to let it know that it “may not have its participation/association with NNO publicly advertised, displayed or promoted, unless it is registered as an official NNO sponsor with NATW’s national office, or unless NATW extends advance written approval.”

Other resources:

Have you organized NNO activities in the past? We’re helping organize some communities around NNO this year, and hope you can help by sharing stories, tips, do’s and don’ts. Particularly interested in how you kept the community going after NNO. – Thanks

Wrap-up: Coverage of Pew Research Center’s “Neighbors Online”

in community engagement, Place-based communities, Psychology

Pew’s Neighbors Online report, published Wednesday, provides baseline data on neighborhood communications. Join the Q&A with author Aaron Smith, over at’s Locals Online. Several media outlets reported on the report, and here are a few that did more than reprint the overview:

  • Chicago Sun-Times: Folks use digital tools to take role in community – “Leonard’s experience mirrors the findings of a study released Wednesday. Contrary to assumptions that people who go online hole up in their basements, the study showed the opposite: Internet users are more likely than non-users to talk face to face with their neighbors about local and community issues.”
  • CivSource: More going online to go local – “Steven Clift, director of – a nonprofit organization that works to develop civic engagement and online community building strategies – called the report an “excellent start,” in an interview yesterday. The report puts numbers to what we’ve instinctively thought about neighborhood activity online and I think it will certainly move the field of discussion along.”
  • Christian Science Monitor: The Internet probably won’t turn you into a hermit, study finds – “Far from being more reclusive, Internet users are more likely to meet their neighbors face-to-face and engage in community issues, a new study reveals. The findings suggests that talking in person or over the telephone remain the top two ways that people living close to one another keep up on community developments, even in an increasingly digital world.”
  • e-democracy: Neighbors Online – What have 27% of Internet Users Discovered? Women Lead the Way. Need More Inclusion – “So now we have numbers on the digital participation divide we must close: Only 2% of those with household incomes under $30,000 are on a neighborhood e-mail list; only 3% of Hispanics; only 2% of rural residents.”
  • New York Times: Friends, Neighbors and Facebook – “There’s no need to pine for a return to the pre-Facebook, cardigan-swaddled idealism of Mister Rogers and his charming “neighbors” and “friends,” but it is important for us to remember that tangible, meaningful engagement with those around us builds better selves and stronger communities.”
  • ReadWriteWeb: Neighbors Rely On Word of Mouth, But Online Gains – “The biggest effect that online tools have had on neighborhood interactions is in providing an avenue for learning about and interacting on local issues to individuals who might not engage in these issues through more traditional means.”

Although all of Pew’s survey respondents are from the United States, the report has global implications. See this analysis by UK-based Kevin Harris, author of the Neighbourhoods blog, reprinted here in its entirety with Kevin’s permission (thanks Kevin):

Online communication in neighbourhoods: not just people we know

The latest Pew Internet Project report has just been published, on the topic of ‘neighbors online’.

It’s based on telephone interviews with 2,258 Americans, and while I didn’t read anything that hit the wow-box it certainly helps us think about communication at neighbourhood level. The questions asked about face-to-face interaction with neighbours, telephone contact, and a range of local online resources.

Unsurprisingly (and as last year’s Pew Internet study demonstrated) internet users are just as likely as non-users to discuss local issues face-to-face. People in higher income households and with higher educational attainment are more likely to talk face-to-face with neighbours about local issues.

Between 4% and 11% of all those surveyed exchange email with their neighbours about local issues, read a blog dealing with local issues, or are signed up to a locally-focussed online forum or social network. This is baseline data, hopefully Pew will repeat the questions every now and then.

For me the most interesting finding was this: (more…)

Locals Online – For hosts of neighborhood e-lists, placeblogs, and community social nets

in community engagement, Place-based communities, Psychology

Ashoka Fellow Steven Clift recently created the Locals Online forum on, to bring together people round the world who are working to connect neighbors with one another.

In his April 21 post, he noted: “From neighborhood e-mail lists to social networks, placeblogs to block-level Facebook groups, thousands of people are doing what we are doing in isolation. The challenge with this online group is to get enough of us gathered to begin sharing tips, lessons, and ideas on a regular basis.”

He invited hosts of neighborhood e-mail lists, place blogs, community web forums, building or block-level social networking groups, hyper-local online communities, and online journalism sites designed for active community participation. Dozens of local leaders signed up, and on May 5, Steve asked them to start introducing themselves to one another. As of this morning, 17 people did. Links to their intros, and excerpts:

Online interactions have positive effects for real-life communities

in community engagement, Place-based communities, Psychology

Caroline Haythornthwaite

According to Caroline Haythornthwaite and Lori Kendall, professors in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois, online interactions not only have positive outcomes for real-life, place-based communities, but the intersection between online communication and the offline world also forms two halves of a support mechanism for communities.

As information and communication technologies have become increasingly intertwined with everyday life, the Internet and social media have combined to create a vibrant and indispensable communication and information platform and infrastructure for today’s world.

From social networking, to civic participation, to community support during emergencies, to providing on-the-ground information in disaster areas, the professors say that the rapid development and widespread use of online technologies – for communicating and networking, for contributing and distributing content, and for storing, sharing and retrieving files – are creating ties that bind for offline communities.

“Research on who people communicate with online shows a lot of local activity,” Haythornthwaite said. “So online communication always reinforces local relationships and local identities that build networks of interacting individuals who are mutually aware of each other. Together, this demonstrates a continuous change in how we maintain local community, while also emphasizing the importance and significance of our attachments to local places and spaces.”

Lori Kendall

“While people can go to a site for information and personal support, they have also formed some long-term relationships with others they’ve met there and communicated with,” Kendall said. “So both things are happening, but I would say there’s probably more contact online with locals, and more searches for local information.”

“What has been growing over the years is a stronger, Internet-enabled connection to the geographically-based community,” Haythornthwaite said. “We’ve evolved from one-to-one or small group communication to whole ‘community’ communication.”

“It’s very possible for people to ignore opinions they don’t like and talk only to people they agree with online,” Kendall said. “Offline is often messier. To the extent that you’re going to get involved with your local community and your neighbors, you’re going to have to hash out disagreements and deal with a wide range of identities, experiences, and opinions.

Emerging and evolving uses of information and communication technologies only serve to reinforce and regenerate geographically-based community identities, the professors say. With the ubiquity of Internet-enabled cell phones with cameras, the mobile Internet provides a low effort, just-in-time, virtual printing press, making anyone a writer, editor and publisher of hyperlocal news.

“I think the use of cell phones to access the Web is a bigger factor in connecting the Internet to a local geographical community than the World Wide Web has been,” Kendall said.

Haythornthwaite and Kendall’s article, “Internet and Community,” is published in the April 2010 issue of American Behavioral Scientist.

Excerpted from Online interactions have positive effects for real-life communities, by Phil Ciciora, News Editor, University of Illinois News Bureau

Found via @idealist

The Craigslist Foundation San Francisco Gathering, Part 2

in community engagement, Place-based communities, Psychology

Toward the end of 2009, the Craigslist Foundation began a series of discussions around their plans to focus the foundation’s efforts on strengthening communities, with some emphasis on neighborhood-based communities. This began with a meeting at The Case Foundation in Washington DC, which included Michael Smith, Kari Dunn, Cindy Gallop, Jessica Kirkwood, Marsha Semmel, Michael Karpman, Rhonda Taylor, Ron Carlee, and Siobhan Canty. They “chatted about the need of organizations with libraries of unpublished case studies and ideas, connecting local changemakers with the big picture of systemic change, bringing essential info to people at exactly the time they need it most, and using storytellers to communicate long (or boring) case studies in more entertaining and inspiring ways.” (see How Can We Build On One Another’s Successes?)

In the second meeting, at end of January 2010, they gathered twelve more friends in San Francisco “for a different take on the conversation: Beth Kanter, Chris Gates, Craig Newmark, Frank Schulenburg, Gwyneth Borden, John Lyman, Kate Stahnke, Matt Garcia, Pamela Wheelock, Peggy Duvette, Rob Miller, and making it all amazingly fun was our facilitator Allen Gunn. Here, we talked a lot about the importance of people over information, how to reach those who aren’t online, what motivates people to tell their success stories, which organizations have already been doing work in this area, and what audiences might be most in need of improved information flow.”

A week later, they posted their “theory of change”: that “that place-based communities and neighborhoods must be strengthened if our society is to flourish and our democracy advance — and that Craigslist Foundation can play a catalytic role in assembling the talents of key partners and collaborators capable of offering people in communities the tools and resources they need to take greater responsibility for where they live, work, and play.” (see Catalyst for Community Vitality)

In this article, they also said “this translates into a role for us in convening successful organizations and people across all sectors — nonprofit, government, business, philanthropy — to work intentionally and together toward building stronger local communities and economies.” A month later, on  March 9, Craigslist Foundation announced that it was going on the road to learn more about “how people build stronger neighborhoods and what prevents others from joining in the fun.” They hosted small group discussions in Washington DC, New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Austin, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon in March and April.

I was part of the seventh and last of these meetings, posted photos of participants and their ideas, and transcribed their post-it notes below. Also in this meeting: Aaron Goodman, Ali Williams, Amelia Kolokihakaufisi , Anne Marie Engel, Bruce Richard, Clint Mitchell, Ka Yun Cheng, Karen Kwok, Kathie Lowry, Kristarae Flynn, Terri Forman, Maura Mccarthy, Nick McClintock,  Patrick Flanagan, Peggy Simmons, Toby Leavitt, and Winston Dong.

To keep track of the discussions and to create “a place to listen to the community, share some of our ideas, highlight cool projects we encounter, and generally keep the community up to date as our programs are developed”, CLF created the lab at craigslist foundation, and a uservoice forum that asks people to submit and vote on answers to the questions: What stops you from impacting your community? What has worked well for you?

Things I know that I wish I could share with leaders in other communities

Can't read the one on the top left

  • I didn’t get a good snap of this, sorry (see pic), so the way it reads to me is this: How do you break down barriers to regorible thaking? (i.e. minimize appepridics of competrif nit & cissided resources)
  • Illegible/illegible mentoring
  • I don’t wish, I share
  • The adventure of education abroad
  • How many options there are for raising money
  • How to create concepts that are large scale, inventive, and sizzling in getting people in cohesion faster
  • I know good ways of getting people of very different backgrounds together, as equals, so everyone walks away changed
  • How to facilitate community action/impact of people averse to talking to institutions and developers (more…)

Neighborhood-based community building handbooks recommended by Jim Diers

in community engagement, Place-based communities, Psychology

“Few people in this country know as much about community building as Jim Diers,” said  Fred Kent, President of Project for Public Spaces (PPS). From 1988 to 2002, Jim led Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods which is “widely known as the most innovative effort in the U.S. to empower local residents” (John P. Kretzmann, Co-director or the Asset-Based Community Development Institute).

Jim’s been dragged all over the world by people and orgs keen to learn from his real-world experience as a community builder. He’s currently on a tour through Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, and the US. (It’s not really a book tour, but a lot of the discussions revolve around the ideas and practices detailed in his must-read book Neighbor Power.) Yet he somehow found time to answer my request.

In my own experience as a community organizer, I’ve found that it’s so much easier to get things moving when people don’t have to first invent the wheel. So I like workbooks. Our Blocks recently featured one workbook,which I thought was the best I’d seen so far. I asked Jim if others came to mind. He said he’d give it more thought when he had more time, but off the top of his head:

  1. The Organizer’s Workbook, published by the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center -  a roadmap to discovering, organizing and engaging your neighborhood. (This is the workbook we’d previously featured, as noted above. Incidentally, I corresponded this week with INRC Executive Director Anne-Marie Taylor, who said she’d “love to hear how folks outside of Indianapolis are utilizing this Workbook”.)
  2. The Great Neighborhood Book, by Jay Walljasper, published by PPS. (In the Great Minds Think Alike category, this book was also recommended to us by UMass Professor Emeritus Bill Berkowitz, Development Partner at the Community Tool Box.)

Not a workbook, but something Jim brought up in relation to my plans to do community-building work in the Philippines: From Clients to Citizens – Deepening the Practice of Asset-Based and Citizen-Led Development (pdf) – Conversations from the ABCD Forum, July 8 – 10, 2009. Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. Edited by Alison Mathie and Deborah Puntenney. December 2009. The Coady International Institute published this under a CC-ANSA license, very nice of them.

Thanks for your recommendations Jim.

Other recent articles on Jim Diers by friends of Our Blocks: Jim Diers on citizen action by Kevin Harris at Neighborhoods; Getting back to Government Is Us at Socialreporter (which includes a beer-powered interview by David Wilcox). You can also find Jim’s talks on The Youtubes, three of which (so far) we’ve added to our Videos collection. Not recent but still fresh, this hour-long conversation on KUOW (note: turns out there’s a difference between mating calls and meeting calls).

Where conservatives and liberals can work together

in community engagement, Place-based communities, Psychology

I almost tripped over myself this morning as I listened (via the NPR app) to David Brooks talk about the communitarian tradition in the Republican party, during yesterday’s All Things Considered (see transcript). First of all, I didn’t even know that such a tradition exists in the GOP (that’s how smart I am). And second of all (second of all?) when we started this site last year, we hoped that we could attract contributors from both the so-called left and right. Being a conservative liberal myself, I hoped that here in this space we could bring together people who cared about their neighborhoods, and who wanted to do some good where they live, regardless of the color of their beliefs. It’s encouraging to know that maybe that dream might have some basis in fact.

Mr Brooks noted that the moderates in the party have so far been unable to put their communitarian and Hamiltonian ideas together coherently. We hope we can help.

NORRIS: Well, let me turn to our sunny conservative that’s here in the studio. David, are we at a point where we see precious few examples of politicians who move ahead and make gains because they happen to be moderates?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I wish I had that megawatt smile. It’s more like 50 watts. But, you know…

Mr. DIONNE: It’s better than that, David.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you. I have a friend who’s a Republican, a moderate member of Congress and he wanted to propose what he was going to call a moderate agenda and he wanted people to sign on so there could be Republican moderates. He found out that for his colleagues in the House, you can’t use the word moderate. So he called it a suburban agenda because the word moderate is no good.

And so, it’s just a bad word. And it’s a bad word for a whole bunch of reasons having to do with redistricting where the money is in the party, where the energy. But to me, fundamentally, it’s a problem of intellect. The centrists in this country, both in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, just have not put together the sort of coherent body of ideas, the left to the right.

There are two great moderate traditions in the party, a communitarian tradition which believes in community and social groups and then a sort of a Hamiltonian group of limited government to enhance social mobility. Those ideas haven’t been put together coherently. And as a result, the people on either end are just dominating.

Also on Our Blocks: Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives

Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives