Resources for building & empowering communities – Rebecca Sanborn Stone

in community engagement, Organizing

14th in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Rebecca Sanborn Stone is Senior Associate for Communications at Orton Family Foundation and CommunityMatters. She holds a BA in Biology and English from Williams College, where she helped found the Williams Social Choice Fund for socially responsible investing. She got her MESc from Yale. You can also find Rebecca on Twitter (@rsstone) and Facebook.

On the practice of hoarding or sharing best practices, Rebecca says: I’ve historically seen a fair bit of hoarding, including in my own organization, though not always intentionally. I think a lot of organizations intend to share and collaborate and grow a common set of best practices, but it breaks down because we all want control over what our case studies and resources look like, how we build and share them. I think I see a shift in that trend, though – I’ve recently learned of a number of newer organizations (mostly either run by millennials or at least operating with a millennial mindset) that are bucking this trend and abandoning the ego in favor of true collaboration. It makes organizations like mine stop and take notice and, I hope, will be enough to help us change our ways.

These are Rebecca’s recommended resources:

Changemakers Competitions – Community empowerment for me always starts with inspiration and examples, and I can’t think of a better resource for that than Changemakers. Their competition winners offer so many inspiring stories of people taking control of their communities and coming up with innovative solutions to both local and global challenges. The competition entrants who don’t win are perhaps an even richer resource – the site doubles as a database of creative ideas for community change.

CommunityMatters blog – CommunityMatters helps local leaders and changemakers find collaborative, innovative grassroots solutions to community challenges. The CommunityMatters blog includes information-rich posts and podcasts of conference calls on topics ranging from local foods to placemaking to economic development.

NCDD Resource Center – The NCDD Resource Center is home to more than 2,500 resources for dialogue and deliberation, including dialogue guides, case studies, tools, and evaluation methods. Dialogue and democratic participation are at the heart of all community empowerment, and NCDD is at the heart of this movement.

Cause Communications Toolkit – Cause Communications publishes a Non-profit Communications Toolkit, as well as other resources related to networks, online outreach tools, and print and presentation design. It might seem only peripherally related to community empowerment, but we find that so many community initiatives stall because they fail to communicate with or reach citizens. The Cause Communications guides are some of the best resources around for improving effectiveness in communications.

Deep Economy (Bill McKibben) – It’s not free, and not an obvious choice, but I have to list it. I see so many aspects of community empowerment leading back to the “local” movement today – buy local / grow local / eat local / work local / etc. Bill McKibben’s book was at the forefront of the local movement, and is one of the best articulation’s I’ve seen for why local economies and community empowerment have to go hand in hand. [Check a library near you]

Building community in neighborhoods

The following resources on Rebecca’s list are more focused on building community in neighborhoods. As Rebecca notes: There are several great databases and resources out there with examples of community initiatives, and instructions on how to do it, but I wouldn’t limit myself to the neighborhood level. Lessons from small town and rural planning would apply very well to neighborhood community building, and the resources I’d recommend would point people in that direction. – The Community Planning Handbook by Nick Wates is one of the best publications, with ideas for planning-related tools to engage citizens, identify what matters to communities, and plan for the future – especially in an international context. is a free online database listing most of the resources from his book.

Planning Tool Exchange – The Planning Tool Exchange is an online hub for tools, resources, and organizations in community planning and civic engagement. We invite all users to find and contribute resources and help grow an information bank for communities.

Heart & Soul Community Planning Handbook – The Heart & Soul Community Planning Handbook helps communities engage citizens and take control of their future. Chapters include network analysis and stakeholder identification, outreach and communications, storytelling, and engaging youth. I recommend this because it’s at the heart of our work and it’s one of the resources I know best; neighborhoods looking to engage citizens would learn a lot from the small town planning examples included here.

Animating Democracy database – This database focuses on projects that use the arts to build dialogue, engage citizens, and work through difficult civic issues. Many of the projects are replicable, but even if they’re not a perfect fit for other communities and neighborhoods, they inspire creative thinking about unorthodox community tools.

PPS Placemaking 101 Articles – PPS’s resource collection includes how-tos, articles, principles, tools, and just about everything else a community would need to understand how placemaking can help and how to get started.


How to be an urban change agent – Favorite guides of Shareable readers

in community engagement, Organizing

by Kelly McCartney, reposted from How to Be an Urban Change Agent, Shareable Style, published 05.18.11 by Shareable

Subscribe to Kelly’s blog, thekelword, and to the Shareable rss feed. See more links below.

The John Lennon tribute in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields. Credit: Kerry Kehoe.

There’s a movement – or two, or many – under foot. It goes by myriad names and comes in an array colors. The common thread, though, involves citizens stepping up to better their surroundings, to create safer, more livable, and more environmentally sound urban environments. According to the folks at Pattern Cities, some popular monikers include “guerilla urbanism,” “pop-up urbanism,” “new urbanism,” “changescaping,” or “D.I.Y. urbanism.” They, however, prefer the “tactical urbanism” approach which is defined with five specific criteria:

  • A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;
  • The offering of local solutions for local planning challenges;
  • Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;
  • Low-risks, with a possibly a high reward; and
  • The development of social capital between citizens and the building of organizational capacity between public-private institutions, non-profits, and their constituents.

Such a strategy employs an incremental approach in order to test real-world solutions to real-world problems in the urban environment. Like any good incubator project, small-scale experimentation demands fewer resources, be they time, funds, or man hours. The hope here is that positive results are scalable. The definition of true tactical urbanism hinges on the institutional involvement and long-term vision.

In contrast, so-called D.I.Y. or guerilla urbanism affects temporary change in a more localized setting and is instigated from the bottom up without, necessarily, an eye toward the bigger picture. These actions amount to social interventions in the name of bettering a community or furthering a cause.

In a shareable world, there is room for both of these divergent, albeit similar, strategies, and everything in between. Indeed, intiatives from many camps are proving successful in cities around the world. Here at Shareable, we’ve written numerous guides for shaping your urban environment and community. Below are our readers’ favorite ideas.

How to Be an Urban Change Agent

A good first step to begin your urban experiments is to start a neighborhood work group to get your community’s support, input, and resources from which to draw. After that, the sky is really the limit for what a group of committed people can do.


Best Practice resources from Richard Layman

in community engagement, Organizing

This is the second installment in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Richard Layman, author of  Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, is an urban/commercial district revitalization & transportation/mobility advocate and consultant, based in Washington, DC.

On the practice of hoarding/sharing best practices, Richard says: Most people think their communities are unique. Of course every place is unique. But for the most part, as systems, neighborhoods and cities operate similarly, regardless of location, although specifics vary depending on their place within their own metropolitan region, and whether or not the region is a strong or weak real estate market. By working with the ideas and best practices from other places, we can significantly reduce the time we need to improve our own places, and in turn we can contribute our learnings outward, to others in similar situations.

These are the Top 5 resources Richard recommends, and why:

Project for Public Spaces – PPS’s “How to Turn A Place Around” workshop and their “Place Game” (pdf) are great tools for improving the quality of life in communities, working from the ground up. Their monthly e-letter always has good articles.

Asset Based Community Development Institute – They publish a wide variety of workbooks (in print and online) about ground up community development that are focused on empowering people and harvesting social and organizational capital, not just money.

Community Economic Development Handbook by Mihalio Temali – Step by step guide to commercial district revitalization and local business development.

Smart Transportation Guidebook – Integrating land use and transportation planning is key to successful communities.  This guidebook provides a new framework for thinking about transportation (roads) in terms of land use context, whether the road serves the community or is important regionally, and roadside, roadway, and operating speed characteristics.

Bringing Buildings Back by Alan Mallach – This book focuses in a practical way on rebuilding value in neighborhoods and buildings, to counter disinvestment and abandonment.

This is a very short list of Richard’s favorite resources. He also sent me this link to a longer list he put together for a presentation he made last week for a workshop in Baltimore on placemaking and transit at the neighborhood level. Also check out all those links to great resources in his blog.

Next up: Diane Dyson

Best practice malpractice

in community engagement, Organizing

I’d been asked to prepare a presentation for the “Someone’s Done That Already: the Best Practice of Using Best Practices” session of the June 2 Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp on Empowering Communities. So I reached out to a few friends who know far more about best practices in community empowerment than I do.

I told them my plan was to create a slide for each one who filled in an online questionnaire, and talk about the Top 3 to 5 resources that they’d recommend. Preferably, I said, the resources are available free online, but they could list resources in any medium.

I knew this little exercise was going to be fun when the first submission I got came from Kevin Harris, principal of Local Level, author of the Neighborhoods blog, with 20+ years working with residents and community development professionals, including years as an advisor to the UK government.

Here are the questions Kevin chose to answer:

1a: Name/Title/Author of Resource: Local people

1b: Link to resource (please include http://): Really quite close to where you are now

1c: Brief description of this resource. If you want to say why you recommend it, please do so.

Local people are quite capable of doing stuff if only those who have power that they shouldn’t have would get out of the way. This doesn’t mean that people don’t need services, run in a professional way, for which they rightly pay taxes. It means that those in positions of power need to address their own behaviour that disempowers ordinary people. This tends to be effected through bureaucratic procedures, references to regulations and health and safety conditions, excessive formalities in grant applications, inappropriate use of formal language, attention to their own work targets not community benefit, conveying a (completely false) sense of superiority, and a painful inability to see things from others’ point of view.

This box is for anything else you want to say.

Conceivably, perpetuating discussion about best practices might simply perpetuate the over-bureaucratisation (and unnecessary professionalisation) of community action. It could help to reflect on worst practices. The best community development role is sometimes to remove barriers, remain silent and/or just get out of the way.

Gee thanks, Kevin. And off we go! Next up: Richard Layman

“Solutions Salon” Brings West Oakland Community Together

in community engagement, Organizing

OAKLAND, CA, March 11, 2011 – Lyn Hikida – More than 40 people participated in a solutions-oriented community meeting hosted in West Oakland last Thursday by the Acorn Residents Council, BRIDGE Housing, and The John Stewart Company.

The “Solutions Salon” attracted representatives from 20 nonprofit organizations and the Oakland City Council, Oakland Housing Authority, the Oakland Police Department and the Oakland Unified School District. Attendees divided into small groups to discuss 2011 plans, the challenges they face, and ways they can work together to overcome those challenges.

“The response was fantastic,” said Janet Patterson, Chairman of the Acorn Residents Council. “People networked, shared resources and began to build better connections within the community.”

Many of the conversations centered on a theme of encouraging and maintaining stronger involvement by people who live in West Oakland, including the residents of the Town Center & Courtyards at Acorn.

Participant and longtime West Oakland resident Nakia Linzie-Shavers is a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates, which serves foster children in Alameda County. “It was useful to learn about the range of services in the area,” she said.

“For me, the event opened up more avenues for other types of programs that we can support for residents,” added Damita Barbee, President of St. Paul Economic Empowerment Development Corp., “which, hopefully, will result in increasing the number of lives we can empower and enrich.”

Shaun Tai, Executive Director of Oakland Digital Arts & Literacy Center, was struck by the diversity of participants, leadership and resources. “What I gained was a sense of hope that with more events like the Solutions Salon, there will be things that we can act upon together as a cohesive community,” he said. “We can’t just keep talking; there needs to be action.”

One of the next steps, according to Patterson, will be the creation of a resource directory to facilitate access to programs and strengthen connections between the organizations that provide services.

To view photos from the event, visit: