Comprehensive community initiative

Educing initiatives, whether on a national or neighborhood scale, necessitates a thoughtful and thorough methodology. The Comprehensive Community Initiative is defined by Caledon Institute of Social Policy as an offshoot of the ineffectiveness of existing community development approaches. It realigns the roles of the government and the community role in bringing about economic and social well-being. Schorr (1997) states that in tackling the common issues of poverty, welfare, youth and education, CCI recognizes the interrelatedness of these challenges, thus, works on a holistic solution that recognizes and addresses the complexity of the problem (cited in Torjman & Leviten-Reid, 2003). In a review of three cases which employed the CCI method and looking beyond the success of their initiatives, several annotations can be drawn out in the analysis of this model. Theses cases are The Neighborhood Improvement Initiative funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Neighborhood Partners Initiative by Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and the Neighborhood and Family Initiative by the Ford Foundation.

One basic, yet very critical requirement of CCI is the statement of objectives. All three cases had well defined goals that simplified and eased the articulation of their course of action. Also, clearly stated targets make evaluation and assessment easier by enumerating the points to be measured at the end of the program. Working by the principle that “what is measurable is manageable” gives even more emphasis in the importance of identifying the objectives as it serves as compass and stirs the program into the realizations of its goals. The idealist.org affirms that:

“Objectives allow participants to measure the success or failure of a project or program. Furthermore, the specific roles and responsibilities that determine an organization’s strategies are developed based on the objectives.”(Idealist on Campus)

Another positive facet of CCI is its strategy to tap community-based organizations to implement and oversee the program, thus making way for sustainability and continuity of the program even after the grant or support is done. A study conducted by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, United States Department of Health and Human Services holds that:

“…forming alliances between autonomous organizations was frequently cited as a key element of initiative survival. Alliances offer more provisional arrangements, based on mutual benefit, that do not formally limit an organization’s autonomy.” (Gray, Duran ; Segal, 1997)

This effort also empowers and strengthens the roles of CBOs to its respective communities. Given the proper experience and exposure through CCI, local groups can take on the task of carrying on with the program.

It adds that:

“The extent and quality of such training varied dramatically even among this small and selective sample of initiatives. Where valued, however, such training contributed greatly to staff morale and efficiency.” (Gray, Duran ; Segal, 1997)

Lastly, CCI draws out the kind of change they want to initiate from the neighborhood people themselves, thus giving them a sense of ownership of the program. The organization Finance Project suggests involving the community as stakeholders to harness support and participation in community-based initiatives.

“Initiatives can find new voices of support in the community by working in partnership with other community organizations that serve the same population. Working in partnership with these organizations not only increases a program’s visibility in the community, but also demonstrates how it effectively collaborates with organizations that share its vision.” (Sustaining Comprehensive Community Initiatives, 2002)

            Comprehensive Community Initiatives had proven their success in many programs. However, there are several challenges in its practice. For one, it is context-based; every initiative is distinct as the community they operate in.  Although this can be an asset, it can also post a problem in terms of not having a comprehensive template in conducting CCI. Still from the study Revisiting the Critical Elements of Comprehensive Community Initiatives, it recognizes that:

“Context largely dictated the decisions and actions of each initiative. Consequently, the lessons learned from the projects profiled in (this) report may not be applicable to other communities.” (Gray, Duran ; Segal, 1997)

The vagueness of the framework should be dealt with caution for it can make or break the project implementation.

The cross sectional approach of CCI which solicits support from various sectors of the society on different levels is indeed laudable. It cuts across the entire spectrum of the community to garner as much insights and inputs from the people. However, the influx of ideas may be overwhelming. The Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago reports:

            “…collaboratives for the most part were unable to organize these activities in ways that created clear synergies or helped to make further strategic decisions, and were unable to sustain support for much of what they started.” (Chaskin, 2000)

Since efforts are coming in from various groups, there should be a mechanism on how to organize and manipulate data in such a way that it would truly reflect and represent the general sentiments of the people.

            Evaluation for CCI is very crucial. Its advocates propose designing the evaluation program simultaneously with the policies and principles. Brown, Chavis et al., Madison, Mertens and Patton stated that:

“Integrating evaluation into a program can increase the utility of findings and program and cost-effectiveness; increase program implementers’ and community participants’ interest in the evaluation activities; and reduce the traditional distance between the evaluator, program implementers, and community participants.” (cited in Principles for Evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives, 2001)

However, and integrated evaluation may derail other aspects of the program as organizers and participants may focus much on getting a positive evaluation and not work on the initiatives themselves. With this, due prudence must be observed so that the integrity of the program will not be jeopardized.

The above raised challenges are not presented in a negative light. Rather, they pivotal points that are decisive of the program outcome. Forewarned of these hurdles will lead to a more effective and efficient implementation of CCI.

CCI has a number of good aspects by itself as well as responds to many loopholes that previous methods were unable to attend. It is adequate to cater the social scientific research needs of the present in addition to being innovative in answering the arising challenges as it progresses. It is, in fact, the unique characteristic of CCI – to constantly evolve and improve its components. Thus, it cannot be outdated and obsolete.

            There may be several points of difficulties in its use; nevertheless, the actuality that these difficulties are acknowledged means they can be addressed. CCI adapts to varied situations making it applicable to almost every case it may be deemed suited. Its implementation requirements are basic and fundamental, and practitioners are given a free hand on the rest of its aspects. There is no limit on how it can be maneuvered, the possibilities in its practice is endless.

Using CCI is also a learning process for everyone involved.  The interconnectedness of its system brings forth an atmosphere of understanding and appreciation of one another’s ideas and perceptions. It calls for a harmonious working relationship, thus, cradling professional work ethics. Both the staff and the community learn to be receptive and tolerant of contrasting views, at the same time learn to build on common outlooks to accommodate the welfare of all.

Above all, it delivers positive results. The combination of solid core requirements of its theoretical framework (e.g. statement of objectives, policy-making, and evaluation) and the flexibility of its approaches depending on the context of the community make up for an effective Comprehensive Community Initiative.

Comprehensive Community Initiative is original, creative and productive.

References:

Association for the Study and Development of Community. (2001). Principles for Evaluation Comprehensive Community Initiatives. Retrieved March 19, 2008 from http://www.capablecommunity.com/pubs/NFCVP062001.pdf

Chaskin R. (2000). Lessons Learned from the Implementation of NFI: A Summary of Findings. Retrieved March 24, 2008 from the The Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago Website: http://www.chapinhall.org/article_abstract.aspx?ar=1295

Finance Project. (2002). Sustaining Comprehensive Community Initiatives Key Elements of Success. Retrieved March 18, 2008 from http://www.financeproject.org/Publications/sustaining.pdf

Gray B., Duran A. ; Segal A. (1997). Revisiting the Critical Elements of Comprehensive Community Initiatives. Retrieved March 19, 2008 from Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation Website: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/cci.htm

Idealist on Campus. Cool and Idealist Civic Engagement Curriculum. Retrieved March 18, 2008 from Actions Without Borders- Idealist Website: http://www.idealist.org/ioc/learn/curriculum/pdf/Setting-Objectives.pdf

Torjman S. ; Leviten-Reid E. (2003). Comprehensive Community Initiatives. Retrieved March 18, 2008 from Caledon Institute of Social Policy Website: http://www.caledoninst.org/PDF/55382041X.pdf

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