Bringing people together to make things better

in community engagement, Organizing

15th in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Brian Fier is involved in community building and development. He is interested in information dissemination, collaboration, and improving communities. Additionally, he is developing tools for connecting people to each other and to information with the intention of helping improve communities and people’s lives. One such project is Campus Dakota (@CampusDakota) where he is the President and Community Developer. Brian has a master’s and bachelor’s degree from North Dakota State University; his coursework was focused on the social sciences. He is also a Firefighter and Paramedic Specialist with Bettendorf Fire Rescue, and Flotilla Staff Officer in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.

[Brian is the latest Blockhead to sign up to run this site, and this is his first post. Welcome aboard, Officer Fier. - Eds]

Do you want to bring people together to make things better, but don’t know how to go about it? The Community Tool Box offers detailed resources related to creating and maintaining coalitions and partnerships. The resource is divided into the six areas listed below. Each section provides easy to follow information and tools for getting started on tackling an issue.

Outline for Creating and Maintaining Coalitions and Partnerships

This section provides a broad overview on creating and maintaining coalitions and partnerships. It provides questions to consider, steps to take, ideas to ponder, and more. If you do not know where to start, start with this section and continue from there.

Outline with links to tools

Expanding beyond the outline from the previous section, this section provides many links to other resources that will help you consider different things as you work to build and maintain coalitions and partnerships.

How-to Information on Creating and Maintaining Coalitions and Partnerships

If you are looking for a direct how-to this is the place for you.

Examples of Creating and Maintaining Coalitions and Partnerships

Take a look at the following four examples of how real people and organizations went about building and maintaining coalitions and partnerships:

Quick Tips and Tools for doing this work

Do you want some quick tips and tools? Check out:

Links to other online resources for Creating and Maintaining Coalitions and Partnerships

Want more resources? Check out these links.

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.


Your turn to share resources for building community in neighborhoods

in community engagement, Organizing

Intermission in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

We’re gobsmacked by how much we’d already learned through this three-week experiment:

  1. There’s A BUNCH (technical term) of great stuff out there that we didn’t even know existed. And to think we thought we’d been paying attention.
  2. When you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s good to seek help from people who do.
  3. Good people who know stuff will share stuff they know.
  4. When people we trust give us advice, we pay attention.

So we’ve decided to take this experiment a little bit further. We’ve asked our friends to ask their friends. And we’re asking you, dear reader (Hi Mom!):

If someone came up to you and said: “I’d like to throw a block party (or launch a local website, or build a community garden, or start a social enterprise, or improve safety, or make an asset map, or whatever) what are the best 3 to 5 resources I should check out?”

What would you say?

To make it easier for you to make recommendations (and for us to publish them), we’ve developed this simple form (see the image below; you can either read it sideways, or click on it to go to the survey).


Next up: Kevin Harris of Neighbourhoods

KaBOOM! Playground Build in West Oakland

in community engagement, Organizing

Some of my pictures, videos and tweets from the KaBOOM! Playground Build Day at Wade Johnson Park and the Oakland School Police HQ, Acorn & Lower Bottoms neighborhoods, West Oakland.

From an introduction by Carletta Starks, one of the principal organizers of the event:  Why Wade Johnson Park: OUSD Police Services Chief, Pete Sarna, recognized that the children in the area did not have a playground or other activities to keep them busy, and identified Wade Johnson as a Park that could be developed for the children in the area. Chief Sarna contacted KaBOOM! and worked with the City of Oakland Redevelopment Agency to get accepted as a site for a KaBOOM! Project. The site was approved, and KaBOOM! and its funding partner, Foresters, began the process that led up to Build Day.

Who is KaBOOM!: KaBOOM! is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving play and fighting the Play Deficit by ensuring that every child has a great place to play within walking distance.

Live tweets with pics here: scroll down to April 30, from 8AM to 3PM

Some Photos

Some Video

See also: KaBOOM! – Empowering Neighborhoods and Restoring Play; Foresters post-event press release; More photos, from Yuan Zhu.

“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: