Products 2: Current Community Conditions

In our last post we explored working with the community to decide which Long-Term Community Goal the community wanted to accomplish. We defined long-term goals as “ideal conditions” the community wanted to have in place in various areas or dimensions. A long-term goal in the “employment” dimension might be: “All community members will have access to permanent, living wage jobs.”

Through community surveys, meetings, focus groups and key informant interviews (and with the assistance of your steering committee), this long-term goal emerged as a priority which the community wanted to achieve. The goal may have been chosen by the community from an existing Comprehensive Plan, or it may have been identified through a recent community planning process. The key here is the community involvement in its selection or creation.

Our next task is to work with the community to define what conditions or barriers in the community prevent the community from achieving its long-term goal. Make use of your steering committee members who can meet with their constituents, gather information on barriers, and work with community members to define the conditions they face.  Additionally, steering committee members can review the information collected through surveys, meetings and focus group work to both prepare for their outreach efforts as well as identify conditions being faced.

Meet with your steering committee members before they conduct outreach and tell them about the “NEED FOR/LACK OF” Syndrome. This syndrome refers to how community members might phrase their concerns. The community may use statements like “we have NEED FOR more jobs in our community” or “we have a LACK OF jobs”. But using “need for/lack of” statements do not really tell us what the problem is. Rather, they simply describe what we want instead of the reason(s) why it’s not currently available. For example, if we have a NEED FOR jobs, then we want jobs… but, so what? Why don’t we already have jobs? What barrier is currently preventing us from having jobs?

Well… let’s dig a little deeper to answer that “So what?”

  1. Perhaps jobs are available, but community members can’t access them because they aren’t qualified for those positions. If so, then an education/training project might be called for.
  2. Or, maybe jobs are available, but community members can’t access them because of transportation or childcare. If so, then a supportive services project will better address this specific barrier.
  3. Or, maybe there are no jobs available at all. If so, then a self-employment/micro-business project that generates jobs is a more appropriate strategy.

You won’t know which project to build unless you have this level of detail in defining barriers. “Need for” and “lack of” statements aren’t enough.

Once the community describes the condition they face and want to address, you’ll need to collect supporting documentation. Here is an example from start to finish:

The community agreed upon this long-term community: “All community members will live in decent, affordable housing.”

The conditions preventing this goal that the community indicated (through surveys and steering committee outreach efforts) are:

  • Existing available housing is substandard
  • Existing available housing is overcrowded
  • Safe, code-compliant housing in the vicinity is unaffordable.

Now, take off your community outreach hat and put on your researcher hat. Gather data and information that substantiates those conditions identified by the community. What data is available from within your organization to document the barriers? What information can you find from other organizations or jurisdictions?

  • Substandard, unsafe and overcrowded housing may be documented in the Indian Housing Plan or Annual Performance Report of your Tribal Housing Authority.
  • If your community is Native people living outside of a tribal jurisdiction, the housing authority serving your area or local community action agency may have that information.
  • Or, check with your “State Data Center” (a partnership with the US Census often located in a public university that provides updated census data) for documentation of substandard housing and affordable housing conditions impacting your community.

Collect and analyze secondary data sources ONLY AFTER you collect and analyze data from your primary source: the community itself. This secondary information is used ONLY TO SUBSTANTIATE barriers identified by the community. Do not use third party data or information as the primary or sole source of evidence in describing the community condition. Always start with the community’s findings first.

Homework

  1. Describe how will you involve the community in defining the conditions/barriers to realizing a Long-Term Goal.
    1. Make use of the Process tools we described in previous blog posts to facilitate this community involvement!
  2. Detail how you will involve a steering committee in that identification process?
  3. Then, once you have community input; identify the data sources to corroborate their definition of the barrier or current conditions they face.
  4. Ensure that you avoid the “need for” or “lack of” trap!
    1. Remember if you NEED something, that is just your goal.
    2. Be sure to explain WHY you need it (aka the barrier preventing you from having it already).
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