Voices from the Field LEARNING

Getting Started: Findings from CCI Practice
Developing Programmatic Strategies

Although CCIs have a comprehensive mandate, it is important to get started somewhere and not feel compelled to start with a fully fleshed-out implementation plan. A short-term focus at the beginning helps to avoid getting "stuck" in discussions about the broad long-term vision at the expense of action. The challenge is to maintain the balance between attention to short- and long-term objectives.

There is general agreement that there is no one right place for a CCI to start. The choice should be made based on the neighborhood context and the particular goals of the initiative planners. The starting point can be at the individual, neighborhood, or systems level or in any domain of importance to the neighborhood. Participants suggest that some combination of the following criteria constitute the most effective way to identify a starting point:

One approach that has gained popularity among initiatives is to build on individual and neighborhood "assets." In the past, strategies at the individual level have focused on reducing or eliminating deficits or problems that present barriers to change. For example, illiteracy and lack of marketable skills, poor work habits, substance abuse and health problems, and family violence have all been the subject of numerous, usually categorical, change efforts. Similarly, community needs assessments have focused on defining and prioritizing the problems facing the neighborhood. More recently, there has been a movement to identify resident and neighborhood assets and to design the CCI strategy to build on them. This does not imply that more traditional service strategies are excluded, only that taking advantage of strengths confers important additional strategic benefits. Several participants speak, for example, to the important role that racial pride and cultural tradition can play in community development. Moreover, since an asset-based approach identifies neighborhood leadership, it can provide guidance in involving those leaders in the early development of the initiative.

Perhaps the most important element of a comprehensive approach-even more important than the choice of a starting point-is the capacity to establish links across projects, to build gradually from a focus on the chosen starting point to a broad range of work. The notion is that specific, necessarily limited, change activities must "catalyze" action in other areas, create "synergy" across actions, and lead to a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Given limited resources, every action must serve a number of functions if change of significant scope and scale is to occur. Some participants talked about creating a "snowball effect" or building a "momentum for change." One evaluator described this process as follows:

An initiative is successful not because the people get together and make comprehensive change, but because the changes they make and the process that is entailed somehow provoke an across-the-board response, so that the police start doing their job, and the fire department starts coming to the fires, and the streets start to get paved, and the services start to get delivered, and the schools start to get better.... If you're solely reliant on what the initiative does alone, then you never realize the vision.
It is critical for CCIs to be strategic about their choices regarding deployment of staff and resources. Therefore, the most strategic point of entry is one from which a progressively more comprehensive and synergistic approach can best be developed.

Small successes at the neighborhood level can serve to help the initiative gain momentum and give those already involved a sense of accomplishment. Several participants gave examples of short-term accomplishments in their initiatives that have served to mobilize support: getting drug dealers out of a park, preventing a school from being built next to a prison, closing a bar, and putting in a four-way stop sign. They note that the key to using these accomplishments to maximum advantage is to make sure that they are part of a larger plan that links the specific action to the broader vision and that identifies related areas of activity that could be catalyzed by early successes in the initial area. Articulating and working to exploit these linkages among areas helps to reduce the danger of discrete activities becoming ends in themselves and diverting energy and resources away from implementation of the initiative's comprehensive agenda. This approach requires an entrepreneurial and opportunistic stance, with a keen eye to the catalytic potential of a single activity to contribute to the initiative's longer term objectives.

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