Voices from the Field LEARNING

Getting Started: Findings from CCI Practice
Goals for Change

As the previous chapter suggests, few of the lessons that are being learned about CCIs are one-dimensional. They are difficult to pinpoint because they depend on the history and culture of the neighborhood, the context in which the initiative is being developed, the funder's priorities and constraints, the technical resources that are made available, and so on. CCIs are dynamic enterprises that strive to balance various agendas and resources in order to produce neighborhood change. The reader should bear in mind, therefore, that many lessons that are being learned about CCI goals, principles, and operational strategies are best understood within the context of the process-product and inside-outside tensions discussed in chapter 2.

In addition, because the CCI phenomenon is still young, lessons based on experience are necessarily limited to those that surround the earliest decisions made by CCI architects, planners and sponsors. This chapter highlights findings about CCI goals, principles, operations, and programs that appear to be emerging from this early experience. These findings should not be seen as seen as all that is to be learned about operations in the field of CCIs. Most of what there is to learn about CCIs remains to be unveiled as the field matures.

Goals for Change

The CCI phenomenon is still too young to support conclusions about whether the initiatives will achieve the magnitude of change to which they aspire at the individual/family, neighborhood, and system levels. Therefore, this report cannot shed light on whether the CCI intervention is powerful enough to deliver on its considerable promise. It can, however, highlight the fact that those who are currently engaged in CCIs believe strongly in their potential. This is true across the board, and includes funders, directors and staff, evaluators, governance members, neighborhood residents, and even skeptical outside observers of the field. They see the CCI movement as one that has learned from past mistakes about the importance of integrating programmatic efforts, linking individual and community change, engaging residents, creating partnership between communities and powerful forces beyond their borders, and building capacity at many levels to sustain positive change over the long run. They see the CCI as a vehicle that incorporates these lessons and applies them in new ways in order to determine "what works" for their neighborhoods.

At the same time, for CCIs, it appears that certain ways to approach change are more easily defined, planned for, and implemented. For example, strategies for improving individual- and family-level outcomes seem to be the most straightforward, probably because many of the institutions participating in the initiative process on the ground are experienced service providers. Individual change that pertains to less concrete outcomes, notably leadership development, is somewhat more complicated and is discussed in more detail below in the section on community building.

Each higher level of change appears to bring with it greater challenges. Most participants are keenly aware of the obstacles to achieving neighborhood transformation. At the same time, neighborhood-level change that revolves around physical revitalization and, to a somewhat lesser extent, economic development feels familiar to the CCI enterprise since the experience of the community development corporation movement feeds directly into CCIs. Neighborhood-level change that focuses on strengthening community capacity and associational ties, on the other hand, is an area where knowledge is only now being generated.

System-level change appears to be the most difficult agenda for CCIs to articulate programmatically. The difficulty may stem in part from inside-outside tensions around definitions and priorities. A number of insiders feel that systems change is "too much of a burden" for CCIs, and that they are being set up to fail if it becomes the major criterion for success. Systems change, in this view, should be the long-term consequence of neighborhood transformation, not its driving objective:

We can have systems change and planning and process at any level you choose, but ultimately, if you can't deliver it at the local level in the neighborhoods to individuals, all the rest is worthless. And so the emphasis to me, the focus has to be on building capacity at the neighborhood level, if it isn't there, and nurturing it, if it is there. And then the other levels will take care of themselves as that bubbles up. Systems and programs [will] change...incrementally over time in response to real issues and real programs and real people that are taking place at the local level. I think the effort to come in from above in an abstract way and say "we need to change the system" simply leads to meetings and papers and not much real change down at the local level.
Some observers of the field believe that systems change must be a primary focus for CCIs. They suggest that the generous and flexible foundation funding that CCIs have received may have protected them from having to deal directly with these larger issues thus far. But, they argue, if CCIs have ambitions to achieve large scale change, they cannot avoid policy and system reform. In the words of one observer, "Change insulated from the 'systems downtown' is nothing but therapy."

Reforming and integrating such systems as welfare, employment and training, and housing requires a particular timeline, the investment of specific players, and a certain amount of broad political will at the top. These characteristics may not be compatible with a neighborhood-level strategy that puts a high value on resident participation and ownership. Indeed, some system reform efforts present neighborhoods with a "reformed" system, treating the neighborhood more as an administrative entity, a place in which the reform will occur, than as a participant in the change process. In this case, the reforms play out in neighborhoods but they are not embraced-and are sometimes undermined-by the neighborhood residents and organizations who are the intended beneficiaries. According to this perspective, neighborhood-driven initiatives are not well positioned to lead a systems change effort, but they can be important partners in a broader change process:

These initiatives shouldn't do systems change but they should surface the key reforms that need to be done to the system, so that those who are placed to promote them have grounded information about what should be done.

Back to Voices from the Field index.

Copyright © 1999 by The Aspen Institute
Comments, questions or suggestions? E-mail webmaster@aspenroundtable.org
This page designed, hosted, and maintained by Change Communications.