Voices from the Field LEARNING
EARLY WORK OF
Dynamic Tensions in Early CCI Practice:
The Inside-Outside Tension
Comprehensive community initiatives bring together a wide range of actors, including funders, staff, neighborhood stakeholders, technical assistance providers, and evaluators. In bringing these groups together, CCI architects and planners aim deliberately to provide the initiatives with a diversity of experiences, resources, skills, and viewpoints. Given their diversity, it is not surprising that interactions among the various groups are often marked by tension, as actors promote differing perspectives on the goals, principles, and operations of CCIs. Moreover, other dividing lines, such as those between professionals and non-professionals, between residents and non-residents, and between racial and ethnic groups, frequently cross-cut the functional categories and can heighten the intrinsic tension.
When negotiated and balanced, tension of this kind can strengthen and enrich CCIs, as partners draw on each other's backgrounds and capabilities. For example, funders, with their contacts, prestige, and resources, collaborate with neighborhoods to leverage new sources of support, or project directors glean insights from evaluators' perspectives to resolve administrative dilemmas. But this tension can also generate misunderstanding and conflict, as each group tries to assert its particular views about the aims and strategies of the initiative.
Much of the tension generated by these differing perspectives can be understood as the tension between "inside" and "outside," a geographically based metaphor that reflects an "us" and "them" distinction. Connection to the neighborhood is usually the standard for insider status, with the phrase characterizing a perceived conjunction of initiative staff, participants, and other residents and stakeholders. The phrase opposes these insiders to those outside the neighborhood, particularly the funder but sometimes also technical assistance providers, evaluators, and others.
In CCIs, there are various configurations of inside and outside, and the dividing line is porous. For example, in hiring staff, initiatives may grapple with whether insider status refers only to neighborhood residency or whether similarities to residents in terms of background, race/ethnicity, and so on also qualify. Comparable definitional questions also arise in developing governance boards, as communities try to pull together an effective mix of members that might include residents, non-residents, professionals, local power brokers, "pillars of the community," and others.
Moreover, the delineations may shift during the course of an initiative or change meaning depending on context. Residents, for example, may differ among themselves but coalesce in opposition to outside technical assistance providers. And there may be differing opinions within groups or crossovers where, for example, a funder's view on an issue coincides more closely with that of residents than with other funders. Still, the metaphor of inside-outside tensions provides a widely recognized, sharply defined, and frequently applicable framework.
Initiative and Funder:
The Paradigmatic Inside-Outside Relationship
The tension in the inside-outside relationship of CCIs and their funders revolves around basic issues of authority, control, responsibility, and accountability. Who holds the balance of power, resources, and leverage to make decisions that are fundamental to the initiative? These issues are especially relevant to CCIs because of their emphasis on concepts such as "empowerment" and "capacity building." After all, who empowers and whose capacity is being built? As one evaluator puts it, "[it] simply reduces down to who the 'we' is."
CCIs are attempting to create a new and different kind of relationship between funders and initiatives: they aim not simply to move control from one side of the relationship to the other, but to draw on the strengths and richness of their diversity, to find ways to achieve collective action, and to work together to effect meaningful change. Yet both sides are acting within a complex set of constraints that emerge from their different constituencies and accountability structures, from their established ways of operating, and from their historical relationships with the actors in the initiative.
As a starting point, most CCIs are initiated and defined, at least in their broad parameters, by their funders, while the role of local initiative staff and participants is to develop the means for enacting the overall vision. The funder usually makes the first move, "inviting" a relationship with the neighborhood through a request for proposals (as in the case of the federal empowerment zones) or through less formal interactions with a particular neighborhood (as in the case of many foundation-funded efforts). But, from the first contact, the relationship can take many forms. As one person describes:On the one hand, the funder comes in and says, "We've got a bunch of money, this is the model, this is what we want you to do, you really aren't important, we are going to pass it through you to accomplish our end, we're going to send technical assistance people in to do it for you, but you don't really matter." That's the one extreme. The other extreme is to throw the money out there, put the money in their hands and say, "Go do it."Most residents believe that the initiative should focus on creating the community that the people want, and not the one that the funder envisions. At an extreme, some residents and governance members argue that funder expectations must be clearly stated so the community can decide whether to accept or refuse funding. This view arises out of the sense among some residents that funders can preempt their right to develop their own goals for the community. For example, a resident who also directs the initiative in her neighborhood explains:If someone other than those in the neighborhood brings the vision, then it's not the neighborhood's vision. I think the most valuable thing that a convenor could bring...is money. [But,] the money has to be unfettered by a vision.... There's an assumption that some leader, convenor, like a foundation or a community foundation, has to bring the vision, otherwise it won't be there. Then that would feel to me like manipulation.... Part of me is the resident who feels [like saying], "Quit coming in here and telling us what the vision is. Stop doing it. I don't care how much money you have."For their part, funders are increasingly aware of the potential tensions in their relationships with the initiatives, and some are making concerted efforts to work out new roles for themselves in the CCI context. They agree that CCIs must be able to operate with independence, but views on the extent of that independence can vary. Some funders, for example, recognize a need to cede control over local initiatives to governance structures, but argue this must happen within certain bounds or with certain "strings attached." For example, a funder says, "On the decision making...the funder has to back off from control, but...within the framework of principles and expectations." Some initiative staff are sympathetic to this perspective. A project director is realistic about the fact that initiatives must work within the constraints of funders:The fact of the matter is funders in particular are not going to just put some money out and walk away. And so we found ourselves [in a state of] creative tension, negotiating back and forth about what this means, and what is success, and what does the community want. It's really a negotiating process of give-and-take.One funder describes trying to evolve a leadership style that is "distinctly not command and control, but sort of call and response and respecting the process above all else and believing in your partners."
Yet despite this self-conscious consideration of their roles, shifting expectations make it difficult for funders to find the right balance in their relationships with initiatives. For example, while the purpose of empowerment is to transform decision-making authority, issues of leadership and responsibility remain for the funders:I think we are abdicating our responsibility if we just say any decision that is made is ipso facto correct just because we believe in empowerment. I think that isn't being fair. It's applying a very different standard than we apply to anybody else in this world, and we have an obligation to hold the collaboratives to very high standards.Another funder says that he believes he made a mistake in ceding too much authority in the interest of empowerment, later finding that he had to backtrack and reintroduce the very real constraints under which he was operating. He believes that, for a new kind of partnership to work, funders need to learn how to be up-front about their own goals and limits, and to be clear about the power dynamics in the relationship:There's a tension between being a patron, being in partnership, and having the neighborhood as your client. It's a mistake veering too far into being their patron.... What I mean by that is not being honest enough, frank enough, direct enough about what my expectations were, what they were really accountable for, what were the constraints in the real world...coddling them.A variety of stakeholders concur that funders are often unwilling to acknowledge their position of power and the responsibility that accompanies it. In the CCI context, some funders seem to underestimate how much they dominate the action, either explicitly or behind the scenes, and ignore opportunities to exert influence in a constructive way. Even residents and governance members sometimes express frustration when funders do not live up to their responsibility to ensure accountability, to make sure that funds are being spent according to initiative guidelines and that activities are actually being implemented. In the view of some, funder demands or "strings" may, as an evaluator says, be "consistently positive in their impact" on the initiative. At the same time, requirements are only as good as their constructive enforcement. The evaluator continues, "An important place where the program has gotten off track...has been because the funders didn't hold up their end of the job in insisting that the conditions actually be met."
Funders must think through their own expectations, and then communicate them clearly to the initiative, governance board, community, and others involved in the project. Again, an evaluator comments:A common problem is that the people holding the strings, whether it's the funders or the leader of a major institution, are not clear enough in their own minds what the strings are, what the limitations are.... And so inevitably they don't communicate the limitations clearly to the residents or other people. And when the residents bump up against the limitations, both parties are surprised. The residents feel betrayed, and their trust tends to dissolve rather quickly.Overall, however, there is a sense that relinquishing power is more difficult for funders than they admit and that it requires an "enormous mind set change...to really transfer authority to residents and citizens." The central issue, according to many, is whether the most important source of power-control over funding decisions-is to be devolved: "Who controls the money is a very significant factor." This sentiment is echoed by a program director who says, "Let's be real. It's money driving the stuff that we're talking about." Evaluators report that funder ambivalence is common: a funder may state that community empowerment is an objective but then "when the community decides to do something, the funder says, 'No, not that. You're empowered to do the other stuff.'" Initiative staff describe the same dilemma. For example, a project director reports, "One of the issues that we struggle with and we argue about a lot is: you told us this is about empowerment and this was our process, and now you're telling us what to do, and we don't want that."
Initiatives recognize and value the access to resources and the legitimacy that funders can bring. But, at the same time, they are increasingly alert to the tensions that are raised when their definitions, goals, and needs diverge from those of the funder. Moreover, initiatives are increasingly willing and able to point out such tensions as they look for ways to take greater control of what happens in their neighborhoods, essentially looking to renegotiate roles and influence in their relationships with funders. It may be that a shift in the funder-initiative relationship can happen only through the push-and-pull of actors as they try to find effective balance points in the ongoing negotiations over power.
The Inside-Outside Tension
in CCI Operations
The inside-outside framework provides a useful lens on how the initiative and the funder engage in ongoing interaction to meet planning and implementation challenges. This section explores inside-outside tensions through three pivotal operational dimensions: technical assistance, evaluation, and governance. These activities, like implementation overall, largely occur within the structural framework of the funder-initiative relationship, with all of its built-in tensions, but other groups of actors are introduced here. This new configuration is more fluid than the funder-initiative relationship: the line dividing insiders and outsiders may shift in the course of implementation processes, changing definitions of who is in and who is out, and actors sometimes share perspectives across group boundaries.
Technical assistance: Expert skills vs. local empowerment. Technical assistance (TA) brings to the fore basic issues of decision-making responsibility and authority. Who should decide who receives TA, at what times, in what ways, and with what content? These issues and their attendant tensions tend to revolve around the relationship of the funder to the rest of the initiative.
A first issue focuses on how technical assistance is provided rather than the substantive areas of assistance. When a community feels that technical assistance is imposed by the funder, there are tensions that community members explicitly and clearly articulate. For example, a governance group member recalls such a situation:[The] hard part was that the community felt that the person was being pushed on them, so they pushed back and said, "No!" And so that caused a problem. The TA wasn't weaned into the community...and so there was a push.... It was a rebellion by the community.A funder characterizes the imposition of technical assistance on initiatives as "forced marriages," and comments that even when such a marriage works, "it was still forced on them by a funder and it just is an endless uphill climb." Resistance to imposed technical assistance reflects the desire of initiatives for autonomy and their vigilance against encroachments by their stronger partners. This resistance is intensified when an initiative interprets the introduction of a consultant as a means for the funder to meet its own needs, and not necessarily those of the initiative in the community.
Questions also arise concerning the appropriate use of technical assistance in community-empowering initiatives and about the ways in which technical assistance is practiced. For example, a governance member describes the reaction of some residents to technical assistance:[If] TA comes in and facilitates everything...people don't contribute, they don't share their ideas. And what happens...is that when the funding dries up or shifts, people drop out of it because there was no ownership at the neighborhood-based level.One funder notes the conflict of aims when funders bring "highly skilled technical people from outside into a process that is at the same time empowering local residents." An observer points to the same conflict, arguing that technical assistance providers are likely to want to take over and perform the task at hand. "If you're a technical assistance provider, you end up wanting to do stuff. That's what technical assistant people, consultants, do. They do stuff." Funders can reinforce the TA provider's impulse to "do stuff" when, as contracting agents, they define task completion as a measure of TA success.
This is not to argue that technical assistance has no place in an initiative. Certainly, both initiative participants and funders recognize the need for communities to broaden their horizons, deepen local capacity, and have recourse to technical expertise. However, many agree that the process of decision making concerning technical assistance must change. At the least, CCI actors agree that funders and communities must work together in technical assistance ventures. A responsible funder can, for example, help the community think through the logistics for technical assistance, including criteria for selecting a provider, ways to use a consultant, benchmarks for performance, and appropriate fee levels. As a governance member says, "We needed a way to know what we needed." But many emphasize that such help should not include selecting the provider or deciding what needs to be done. Their view is that the more control the initiative has over the process, the better it will use the TA.
Evaluation: Imported standards vs. local goals. Evaluation is an area that is particularly ripe for inside-outside tensions between funders and initiatives. Evaluators often feel caught in these tensions as they try simultaneously to meet the demands of funders and to walk the fine line in the neighborhood between evaluation and technical assistance provision. Many of the tensions in evaluation relate not so much to the technical aspects of developing new methodologies, but to the social and political meanings of evaluations, and, not surprisingly, to the different ways in which stakeholders define initiative success. These different agendas have the potential to create a sense of frustration and distrust, not only between the funder and the initiatives, but between evaluators and both funders and initiatives. As a staff member says:One of the things that we are learning is that evaluation is a double-edged sword. While they provide you with phenomenal management information...they can slit your throat with funders,...[because] the funding community is not very lenient when it comes to mistakes....No one has yet figured out the formula for success in community transformation and development, so we've got to have this margin of error where we can make some mistakes. We don't know how to do it right yet, folks, and we need to be able to have the luxury of learning how to do that. The evaluations are not going to be valuable if we pay for them with the foundation funding and then slide them into a drawer because they don't say what we want them to say. They're only valuable if you take what's told to you and you do something about it. And you can't do that if you don't get any more money.Defining success: Demonstrable impact vs. intimate benefits. In part, the mistrust between local initiative actors and funders is rooted in differing perspectives on the meaning of "real change." Outside support often carries with it funder expectations for success for the initiative, and the exercise of assumed decision-making prerogatives on this front. Ironically, the innovative nature of CCIs may be leading some funders to place more emphasis on controlling how CCI success should be defined. As one evaluator comments, "The more experimental and the riskier the investment, the hungrier [funders] are for clear and concise accomplishments." An observer notes that, because CCIs have long-term perspectives and seek new ways of doing business, there is a need to "demonstrate that what we're all about is making a difference, is having a positive impact."
But initiative success means different things to different people, and is another flash point for tensions in the inside-outside relationship. A funder explains that one of the main criteria he faces when he makes a funding decision revolves around showing his board and others that their dollars were well spent:The real test is how we explain and support that this is about good investment. I have faith, I do have faith, that it ultimately can be done, but I think that it is a very, very difficult challenge. And, can it can be done in a way that is acceptable to outside skeptical policy makers who are going to say, "Show me"?In part, the role of foundations and, by extension, of individual funders is to make things happen, to catalyze change. Some warn that this can lead to a personalization of the initiative, saying, "The sad reality is ...funders are very insecure. Each one of them wants to put a label on their accomplishments of something." They point to the fact that new program officers tend to set new priorities and redefine success for an initiative. Some push for funders to admit explicitly that they are not simply providing funds, but looking for their own rewards as well. For example, a resident involved in governance says, "The funder is a customer. He's getting something for giving you a certain amount of money.... Let's be honest,...[he wants] a feather in [his] cap." Others believe that funders simply want to be associated with success, pointing, for example, to the wish of sponsors to join an initiative once it has been deemed effective. Interwoven throughout is the competitiveness among foundations to support initiatives that are perceived as groundbreaking and consequential.
Funders, therefore, look for change that has policy-level resonance. Such an aim may lead funders to a focus on substantive areas or abstracted goals, such as comprehensiveness, that may not be perceived as matching the needs of communities. For example, an evaluator, in discussing how uninspiring the notion of comprehensiveness is to many, says: "I think poor people struggling to put something together in a community have a shorter tolerance for generalization [i.e., comprehensiveness] than paid professionals," but they cannot follow their own inclinations "because it's the paid professionals who are setting the terms."
The aim to show success may also lead to large-scale expectations that residents feel are impossible to meet. A resident and community activist argues, "You can't expect to put a couple of hundred thousand dollars into a community like my community for a one-year period or an 18-month period and...create this utopia." But such expectations may become part of the "rhetoric" or "hype" about the program. And, in fact, this rhetoric may be used not only by funders to trumpet the foundation's intentions, but also in the neighborhood to arouse the interest of residents, often a difficult process. A challenge may arise if the initiative does not meet these lofty expectations within the time frame. Who will be held accountable? The community that did not achieve the goals or the funder who over-promised?
Some funders, however, disagree with the contention that they focus only on evaluation numbers. They concur that it is inappropriate to look for outcomes in the early years of an initiative, when participants are building infrastructure and laying the groundwork for future development. Others argue that they are careful to admit the limits of their knowledge and to curb expectations:We're very clear about the fact that this is a big experiment. And we're putting money into a whole lot of new things, many of which probably won't work or probably won't work in achieving the desired outcomes, and we're learning and we're experimenting.... We've said, "Let's get this down to real common sense, plain talk, honest expectation-setting about what we can and can't do. And the fact that this is an experiment."For their part, neighborhood-based CCI actors often have a working definition of success that differs both in substance and in contextual roots from that of funders. They argue that when evaluations focus on long-term outcomes, they neglect changes that are very real, but are not easily measured, such as declines in the level of social isolation, growing social integration, or changing attitudes toward the community. Similarly, although community-based neighborhood initiative actors may argue that capacity-building and other types of learning should be seen as a critical outcome, they believe that funders do not want to hear about such lessons. Rather, according to some local staff, funders take a narrow view:[Funders want] to know whether you met the numbers or didn't meet the numbers. And I think we learn a lot, but nobody wants to learn from us in the neighborhoods. They just want to see-" Okay, you said you were going to build 24 houses. Did you build 24 houses?" They don't want to know that we're now experts in soil remediation.Resident definitions of success also have a more personal impetus where the difficulty of life in the neighborhood and the suffering of residents becomes a touchstone and point of authority for those in the neighborhood. This also becomes the basis for arguing that residents, who will be most affected by the initiative, know best what needs to be done and how to do it. For example, when describing the governance process in one initiative, a resident says, "A lot of times we find when you bring people in who don't live there, who don't go through the aches and pains like we do as residents, [they] aren't as sensitive...as we are." Such experiential knowledge cannot, of course, be fully shared by outsiders, but initiative staff and participants in the neighborhood increasingly demand that it be respected by funders and other outsiders, such as technical assistance providers and evaluators, for whom the ability to work well with neighborhood people is increasingly important.
At the same time, this experiential knowledge leads to different measures and meanings for initiative success. A governance member says:People in my neighborhood are...gaining some personal, very intimate kinds of benefits. They don't care whether it's on paper; they don't care whether you can count it or whether you can touch it. It's more of an emotional thing that they feel that change has taken place on that level, and that's equally valuable.The notion of intimacy of benefits is pivotal in grasping differences among definitions of success, and must be taken into account in efforts to reconcile these meanings. A funder reiterates how the degree of closeness to the initiative gives rise to different perspectives on whether change has occurred, and therefore on the question of success. The farther people are from the neighborhood, he says, the less convinced they are that something has happened: the initiatives are "convinced that they're making a huge difference in the neighborhood" and funders are the least convinced. "It might be that unless you're close enough to the action to see, feel, and touch what's going on, you aren't going to be convinced and you never will be, because there aren't going to be these wonderful quantifiable things that are going on."
The evaluator's role: Serving the funder vs. engaging local participants. Tensions over the focus of evaluation efforts can give rise to pressure on evaluators. Within the initiative-funder relationship, such pressure may place evaluators on the boundary between insider and outsider status. On the one hand, as discussed above, funders frequently rely on evaluators for assessment of the progress of initiatives, justification of the investment of resources, and ammunition in broader policy deliberations. This reliance, and especially perceived evaluator responsiveness to it, can place evaluators clearly outside the community. Thus, for example, local initiative actors and residents may see evaluations as giving "the foundations what they want to hear. That's their return on their investment." Underscoring this perception of at least some evaluation efforts, an observer points out that at times the evaluator's job is to provide a favorable report on the funding manager's performance: "There are a lot of hired guns out there who practice from that perspective." Somewhat less cynically, an evaluator describes the demands of his role and, in doing so, sums up many of the difficulties of an intermediary caught in inside-outside tensions:As an evaluator...[I find that funders are] pressing you to one degree or another to say things that don't exist in reality. They then sometimes turn to you as a TA provider and say, "I know you couldn't say this and evaluate it. Could you make it happen as a TA provider? You know, I want to be 70 percent of the way there. Why don't you give me some TA, then we'll be 70 percent there. Then you can tell me we are." And so, you have to find two different ways...from two different roles for telling them the fantasy and the reality.Some participants defend the funders' emphasis on wanting to show real change. They argue that foundation program officers are committed to improving lives and promoting community well-being and feel that their role is to help press all the players on. One evaluator describes how this plays out for him:The degree of suffering that we look at, and...that our funders look at, and think about, and care about when they look at these communities is almost more than anyone can think about. And what we have to tell them about what happens in the alleviation of that suffering is unacceptable in some way. Not enough, obviously. And so, we can never give the right news.Some suggest that these divergent definitions of real change and of valid measures could be reconciled if funders incorporated initiative perspectives into the evaluation design. In fact, if a participatory process for defining evaluation methods and measures is used, it could reduce the various tensions within an initiative, especially the "us" vs. "them" nature of the evaluation enterprise. One governance member tells of his CCI's experience, where the evaluator held training sessions for board members and steering committee members to talk about evaluation and "the resentment and ambivalence or whatever kind of died down because we understood what he was doing." The group turned to discussions of how they could use the evaluator's "impartial, detached view of the way things are going" to the ongoing benefit of the initiative. One longtime observer of the field suggests that a collaborative's ability to perceive evaluation in this constructive and non-threatening way may be, in itself, an evaluation point, and one of the best measures of collaborative functioning.
In these cases, evaluations are "learning instruments" and are useful for feedback and for ongoing program development. Here an evaluator can play a pivotal role in the relationship of the initiative and funder, providing an effective and constructive intermediary ground between inside and outside. For example, a director says:Some of my experiences with evaluators, both local and national, that I value the most are when I can just sit and have another person to brainstorm with. Often, you know, I find myself without a real peer in town to talk to. Either they're a collaborative member, a committee member, a grantee, a funder, a board member, or an employee. So to be able to sit and talk with someone else who is looking at the big picture has been incredibly helpful.Here, as at other critical inside-outside junctures in the practice of CCIs, there is a need to balance the tensions of multiple perceptions and multiple claims to initiative ownership. In terms of evaluation, this seems to call for weighing and negotiating a need for outcomes with a willingness to allow initiatives room to rethink strategies based on evaluation findings.
Governance: Representativeness vs. effectiveness. There is consensus among all CCI stakeholders about the need to include neighborhood residents on governance boards. The vision and perspectives that residents can bring "really reflect the needs of the neighborhood." This view is strongly espoused by neighborhood residents participating in CCIs. They view their involvement in all aspects of the decision-making and management processes as critical to a CCI's quest to become a legitimate actor in the neighborhood and to achieve sustainable change.
Some argue the case in historical terms: given the fact that many initiatives in the past have disenfranchised neighborhood people, CCIs have to fight skepticism by working explicitly to engage residents and other stakeholders:When you constantly come and bring issues and bring programs and bring plans without involving people, you don't get the kind of excitement or you don't get the kind of feedback you need to get. People have become so apathetic in the community, you could come in with a truck of gold and put it down there and say "this is going to be for this community," and people are not going to budge, because they were not involved in the process.Yet, some raise issues around who actually constitutes and represents the community. For example, a governance participant says:Non-profits tend to think they are the community, because their boards are made up of community people, or their staff. But really, as a whole, non-profits are not the community. They may be the keepers of the vision...but their decisions aren't necessarily the right decisions unless they're community driven.... You need to look at the people who are living there [in the neighborhood] every single day. They're the ones who are the community.Therefore, CCIs place emphasis on ensuring that a range of different organizational and individual interests are represented, and that deliberate efforts are made to ensure that residents' perspectives are included.There are...three levels of players in a lot of [CCIs]. There are the neighborhood residents or parents, sort of the grassroots level, on the one end. At the other end, there's the systems level, represented by perhaps the medical center, or school district, or county. And then in the middle there are all those non-profit providers, whether they're CDCs or social service agencies. And increasingly it's become clear...[that the] provider level and the systems level have to get out of the way...and let the community or the parents..."find their own voice." If they can't do that without being pushed around or intimidated by the other two levels, then nothing happens.Within a single geographic community there are usually several subcommunities, each with its own interests and needs, and a CCI board might be made up of representatives of all of them. The self-interest that they inevitably bring to their positions as board members can create problems. But several initiatives can point to times when the governance structure has proven to be an effective vehicle for working successfully through these differences.We decided that self-interest is not a bad thing. It's there, it's what drives a lot of us to do what we do. But let's just put it out on the table and talk about what our self-interest is, why we're in this, and then begin to find ways in which [our separate interests] connect.Racial and ethnic diversity in a neighborhood adds yet another level of complexity to the challenge of creating a working governance structure in neighborhoods. Almost all CCIs are located in neighborhoods made up predominantly of people of color. In neighborhoods where there is a second or third significant minority group, residents and governance members have generally made efforts to ensure that all racial/ethnic groups participate in the governance of the initiative with varying degrees of success. One director describes how her initiative adopted a mechanistic strategy for dealing with the problem:There's also a danger when we talk about residents [that we're] somehow assuming homogeneity there. There's tremendous variation. In [our city], we literally establish quotas of representation by different cultural communities, not based on percentage of the population but just on existence.... We found [that] we need such compensatory measures to keep the normally dominant group from just sort of taking over.In addition to the consensus about including neighborhood residents, there is strong consensus about aiming for diversity among governance board members. This may begin with the simple extension of governance boards to include non-residents. For example, a governance member argues that "a neighborhood is part of a larger community" and any group composed only of neighborhood people will have a difficult time running a CCI. Relevant "outsiders" may include people with "political clout," representatives of local government, outsiders who can contribute a perspective "from a distance," technical assistance providers, and others. The critical issue may be, in the end, a shared stance toward change. But this does not come naturally. It generally requires a lot of hard work to break down barriers and build a common vision. For example, initial differences in experience, styles of self-presentation, and knowledge of bureaucratic niceties and strategies may make it difficult for resident voices to be expressed, listened to, and heeded.
While the value of resident participation is widely stressed, there is some concern about the possible costs associated with emphasizing resident involvement. Some CCI participants, including some who might be viewed as on the "outside," argue that outsiders will not fully attend to the views of residents until initiatives either prepare them to sit at the governance table or structure the board in such a way that residents are deliberately over-represented. An observer sums up this sentiment: "What we haven't done is enhance the capacity of people in the neighborhood...to be able to come to the table as equals to leverage their particular [perspective]." In a statement that brings together issues of representativeness and effectiveness, a governance member underlines the desirability for diversity in counterpoint to a funder's sole focus on grassroots participation:Another problem that we had in the beginning was the fact that our funders pretty much mandated that the board be totally grassroots people from the neighborhood.... And what we ran into is...we had board members who had no earthly idea what it meant to actually sit on a board and make those kinds of decisions.Such difficulties involving residents, especially those without governance experience, also crop up in comments of those responsible for managing initiatives. Directors and staff cite instances, for example, when board members do not "know the difference between policy decisions and management decisions," or "want to be the administrator as well as the policy maker." Here, training of neighborhood people for participation on governance boards goes beyond issues of style to include clarity about the role of the board and how it functions.
At the same time, some residents and staff point out that learning has to occur on the other side of the table as well. As a staff member argues, "We have a lot of opinions, but they don't listen to us. They don't care whether we're sitting in the room or not. They expect us to just nod, because they don't think that we have anything to say." A resident describes the difficult coming together of residents and outsiders:Bringing people who live in...[middle-class neighborhoods] to come in and sit at the table with neighborhood people when they've never done it before, you've got a credibility issue there. "What do these people know even though that's their neighborhood? They don't know anything because they don't have the education to understand, to know what they need." So, it took a long time for even respect to come across the table.A staff person underscores the need for work on both sides of the table if CCI actors are to overcome inside-outside tensions and work effectively as a team: "[It's] not just preparing residents to be able to sit in there and fight, you know, but you have to reform the boards and the agencies themselves in terms of whether they respect people and think that they have something to say."
Over time, as the initiative itself creates-or at least appears to create-differential access to influence and opportunity, membership in the governance structure may cause the lines defining inside and outside to shift. CCIs aim to develop local capacity and encourage local leadership. Yet, in an ironic twist, some residents may perceive emerging local leaders in a different light, redefining them as outsiders. A resident comments, for example, "If you put on a coat and tie, you may no longer be perceived as 'one of us.'" Another resident and project director describes an approach he hopes can counteract such changing perceptions:If you're grounded, there's that respect that's accorded to you throughout the community, even though they might see you one day on TV with your shirt and tie on standing next to the mayor. The next day, they see you with your tennis shoes and your jogging suit on standing down there.... They see you walking through the neighborhood. They see you carrying your groceries home.... But if they don't see you, then you disconnect yourself from the folks you purport to work with and for.Finally, having invested in the process and developed a strong neighborhood identity, initiative participants believe that they have a stronger base from which to deal with the outside community. Traditional organizers have long promoted the notion that an organized neighborhood is a more powerful neighborhood, and the community building dimension of CCIs is based in part on that philosophy. Some of the proudest moments of CCIs have come when the neighborhood has had an impact on an outside event or the actions of an outside entity. Examples include getting the city to respond to the problem of illegal dumping in the neighborhood, voting in record numbers for Hispanic public officials, co-investing with a development company in the creation of an industrial park at the edge of the neighborhood, and encouraging a major bank to locate a branch in a neighborhood. As one governance member explained:It's not a bunch of professionals and reformers changing the local school. It's the parents and the seniors in that community taking on the principal in that school, and building with another school, [and so on].Despite complications and difficulties, local governance provides CCIs with a potential means for meeting a complex challenge that is intrinsic to CCIs: to negotiate authority, control, responsibility, and accountability across a range of actors who come together to effect deep, meaningful, and lasting change. In some ways, the tensions inherent in the dynamics of CCIs reflect tensions in any bureaucratic undertaking, but they may be intensified by CCIs' deliberate aim to shift and reshape decision-making processes. It is in this endeavor that governance boards, with their emphases on collaboration, representativeness, and inclusion, may be pivotal in providing what one observer describes as "the choreography of effective leadership and management."
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