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Community Development and Building Community

by | Oct 9, 2021 | Building Community, Community Development

Community Development

Community development and building community are the single most important jobs on earth.

We all want to live in places that are safe, vibrant, and inviting; to work in environments that are innovative, productive, and forward-thinking; and to socialize and recreate in settings that are trendy, convenient, and aesthetically pleasing. Sure, you could pick a myriad of different adjectives to describe the places in which we strive to fulfill the familiar live, work and play motif, but the truth remains this: Community development provides, promotes, and improves people’s overall quality of life. While this sentiment may not be new in and of itself, the way in which we go about it often deviates from the very reasons we build community in the first place. And it happens most often as the result of poor and improper planning.

As essential as insightful community development and building community might be, the one thing it almost certainly isn’t is simple. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be complicated. Whatever it is you’re setting out to achieve — be it growth, prosperity, a better reputation, or otherwise — putting time into aligning your resources, inspiration, and objectives will ensure your final outcome reflects your initial vision, and ultimately make the pursuit of progress and success much simpler and more effective.

Ensuring the Success of Your Community Development Efforts: Some Key Considerations

To simplify and help illustrate the importance of proper planning as it relates to community development and building community (and to help explain the necessity of ensuring synergy between the various components that comprise such planning), consider the following likely scenario: You want your community to [insert your verb of choice — grow, thrive, prosper — whatever it may be]. It sounds like a simple task, but you know it’s going to take a lot of work. And strategizing. And funding. And resources. Or at least it will if it’s going to achieve the vision you have in mind. And so that’s where your plan must start: With a vision.

1. Establish Your Vision

Establishing your vision will be the single most important task of your community development efforts. What do you want your community to be? Who (if anyone) do you want to try and attract? What will be your priorities? Growth and sustainability? Business and resident attraction? Tourism and economic development? Addressing these questions (and others like them) won’t just be key to establishing your identity and priorities; it’ll also communicate to your internal and external stakeholders where the future of your community lies.

A well-articulated community vision — as established and bolstered through clear and succinct vision and mission statements that can be easily recited and understood by everyone — will allow you to mobilize and engage your community members and other stakeholders alike, ultimately increasing your chances of bringing them along as participants (as opposed to recipients) and generating buy-in for the associated work that’ll eventually be undertaken.

Don’t Forget! Invite and encourage your community members and stakeholders (businesses, service groups, etc.) to participate in your vision’s development. Doing so will provide an effective means of generating awareness and excitement in your community development progress while at the same time creating a sense of ownership in and among those participating in the process. It’s worth noting some jurisdictions actually mandate such public participation as a legislative requirement. Be sure to check with your province, state, or municipality if you’re unsure what (if any) such requirements exist in your own town or city.

2. Build Your Plan

Now that you have a vision, ask yourself: What do we now need in order to make it a reality? Consider the many resources you’ll need — around staffing, capacity, skillsets, funding, and more — and then ask yourself a second question: Do our goals align with our current ability to achieve them? If the answer to the latter question is no, consider what it might take to in fact make it so.

One of the biggest reasons communities fail in their attempts at building community is because their goals are lofty and ambitious (as they should be) while their available resources are comparatively scarce. There could be any number of reasons for this disparity. It could be that their initial vision was simply unrealistic, or that it wasn’t adequately supported or budgeted for. More than likely, however, it’s because they grossly underestimated exactly how much work, time, and money* it takes in order to position one’s community for success (*also add: collaboration, cooperation, innovation, inventiveness, perseverance, etc., etc., etc.).

Inadequately planning and preparing is akin to not having a plan at all — and potentially worse. Creating hopes and expectations that you simply can’t meet won’t just set yourself up for failure; it’ll do so at the expense of trust and credibility with your stakeholders. Be real about what it’ll take to achieve success and stay true to the vision you’ve established.

Don’t Forget! Increased capacity, budget, or staffing doesn’t always require new money, additional resources, or external hirings. Consider what’s possible within your existing means and ask yourself: Are our existing systems, structures, and processes being maximized and leveraged to their full potential? If not, can they be adjusted to better enable, empower, and equip staff to more effectively and efficiently work toward the community vision? Can budgets be readjusted with certain monies reallocated? Can organizational structures be amended to more accurately reflect and align with the needs of the new vision?

3. Develop Your Budget

With your plan now firmly in place (having been developed to reflect your vision), it’s time to develop a budget that will both support it and put it into motion. In the absence of adequate funding, achieving your vision will be nearly impossible. In order to both solicit and secure funding — be it from council, through private-sector investment, or by way of corporate sponsorship and donations — you may need to sell and communicate your vision as a means of generating buy-in (both literally and figuratively).

First, however, you’ll need to determine your exact budgetary needs, and in doing so consider the various aspects of the plan you’ll have developed in Step 2. Think about what costs might be associated with any of the following considerations:

·      Do existing staff have the capacity/skillset/ability to implement the new vision?

·      If not, will new staff need to be hired? How many? At what cost?

·      Will third-party external assistance (i.e., a consultant) be required? For the purpose of either capacity or expertise?

·      Are adequate resources in place to communicate the new vision (both internally and externally)? 

Ultimately, a sound community development plan will require strong budgetary consideration not just with respect to the plan’s development, but also around its implementation. The vision and overall direction ultimately landed upon — and any action items associated with each — must be both realistic and attainable from a fiscal perspective. In other words, any commitments and promises presented in such a plan will be totally and utterly futile in the absence of the ability to adequately pursue and achieve them. This ability, more often than not, will be determined by the level of financial support that’s available.

Don’t Forget! Your vision should be both realistic and attainable (and meet all the other criteria of a SMART objective); however, make every effort to ensure it’s not defined by any budgetary limitations or constraints you may be facing. Don’t let a lack of money hold you back from ‘dreaming big’, and instead establish your vision based on what you perceive as your greatest challenges and/or opportunities. Then, don’t hesitate to get creative when it comes time to deciding how to fund it. There are plenty of options that can be explored — from P3 collaboration to crowdfunding support, and everything in between. In alignment with the notion of ‘doing more with less’, don’t be afraid to explore and consider new and alternative sources of generating revenue.

4. Assemble Your Team

Community development and building community cannot be achieved by one entity alone. Community development is a team sport that requires the buy-in, participation, and collaboration of a variety of stakeholders — each of whom can and may contribute varying levels of funding, expertise, and general support to the vision being pursued. But participating parties must understand their role — and any specific responsibilities and expectations associated with it. With funding and a budget in place, you can now start to divide and assign tasks and responsibilities accordingly.

Don’t Forget! The more your stakeholders buy in to your vision and plan, the more likely they are to support it and participate in its implementation. Invest the time and effort required in order to effectively communicate it to them — and the value its ultimate implementation will present to them. Better yet, involve them in the process of developing the vision and plan in the first place.

5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Having a vision is effectively pointless if no one is aware of its existence. Your internal stakeholders (i.e., existing residents and businesses) must be aware of efforts that are being planned and undertaken to improve the community in which they respectively work and conduct their business. Your external stakeholders (i.e., prospective new residents and businesses) need to understand what value your community presents to them, and why they should consider relocating there. A well-articulated vision can achieve both of these essential requirements, but it needs to be communicated effectively. Thus, the provision of streamlined and timely communications over the course of all four preceding steps must be considered non-negotiable within your community development efforts. A sound, well-thought-out marketing strategy should similarly comprise a major component of your new vision’s ultimate implementation.

Don’t Forget! More and more often, municipalities are supplementing their internal communications function with a focus on stakeholder-led engagement. Accordingly, the somewhat traditional ‘deliver and receive’ mode of communicating is in many instances being relinquished in favour of a more participatory two-way dialogue. Citizens and stakeholders are being invited to collaborate and explore innovative solutions instead of simply being advised of what’s happening. Approach your communications with this ongoing shift in mind.

Building Community in the Midst of a Pandemic: A Few Other Factors to Consider

While the above steps represent just a few key components of a responsible-yet-ambitious community development plan, there are others that haven’t yet been presented or discussed. Nonetheless, they still merit further attention, and should be treated with equal importance once your new plan begins to unfold:

·      Establish targets and evaluate your success;

·      Track, and report on, your progress and milestones achieved; and

·      Retain agility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and realities.

A Final Word

All of the above steps and recommendations comprise only a few basic considerations to help lift your community development and building community efforts off the ground and propel them into motion. But it’s important to remember they’re not exclusive. There are plenty other key factors to consider — and which you won’t necessarily find written into or reflected in any operational or strategic plan. Words like attitude, character, passion, and perseverance can be as influential as any other factors in determining your ability to succeed. Do all you can to ensure they remain an integral component of your overall approach and the results will simply speak for themselves.