Building healthier cities and communities involves local people working together to transform the conditions and outcomes that matter to them. That civic work demands an array of core competencies, such as community assessment, planning, community mobilization, intervention, advocacy, evaluation, and marketing successful efforts. Supporting this local and global work requires widespread and easy access to these community-building skills. However, these skills are not always learned, nor are they commonly taught either in formal or informal education. The internet can provide an effective means for transmitting skill-building resources broadly and inexpensively. This section describes a free resource for building healthier communities called the Community Tool Box.
WHAT IS THE COMMUNITY TOOL BOX?
In the early days of the World Wide Web (1995), we began work on an Internet-based resource for community change and improvement, the “Community Tool Box” (CTB). Our mission is to promote community health and development by connecting people, ideas, and resources.
We focused on developing practical information for community building that both professionals and ordinary citizens could use in everyday practice — for example, leadership skills, program evaluation, and writing a grant application. The emphasis was on these core competencies of community building, transcending more categorical issues and concerns, such as promoting child health, reducing violence, or creating job opportunities.
We developed a broad and evolving Table of Contents and started writing, one section at a time. By mid-1999, there were over 160 how-to sections and over 3,500 pages of text available on the Community Tool Box. As of July 2000, there were over 200 sections online and more than 5,000 pages of text.
The audiences or end users for this site include:
- People doing the work of community change and improvement (community leaders and members)
- People supporting it (intermediary organizations such as public agencies or university-based centers)
- People funding it (governmental institutions, foundations, and others).
Use of the Community Tool Box grew nearly exponentially: over 100,000 hits in 1997, over 500,000 in 1998, and well over one million in 1999. Guestbook data confirm that users represent a wide variety of community-building settings and positions and come from all corners of the planet.
Building healthier communities is hard work, requiring frequent adjustments to emerging opportunities and barriers. To be a resource for community work, a “tool box” would exemplify the following attributes:
- Its content needs to be comprehensive. Since effective community members and practitioners need a variety of skills, sections of the Tool Box would have to reflect a broad array of core competencies (e.g., skills in conducting listening sessions, organizing focus groups, leading meetings, group facilitation and recording).
- The information needs to be easily available on demand, and in particular readable, printable, and downloadable from one location.
- The information must be useful, providing step-by-step guidance that the reader can apply directly in practice.
- The tone of the material should be friendly and supportive of users who may lack sufficient knowledge or feel uncertain about what to do.
- Forums or exchange mechanisms should be available to connect people who have relevant experience that can help facilitate applications and adjustments in diverse contexts and situations.
- An on-line resource should help reduce inequalities, or certainly not increase them. By being (nearly) universally available and free through the World Wide Web, our tools may help reduce inequities in local capacity for community change and improvement.
- Since there is such high turnover among people and projects, the tools should help build capacity for continuous learning among old, new, and emerging generations of those doing the work.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE CORE CONTENT.
A conceptual framework or model for building healthier communities guides choices for core content in the Community Tool Box. Based on earlier conceptual models, this framework outlines a dynamic and iterative process with six phases, and related competencies, associated with facilitating community change and improvement:
- Understanding Community Context (e.g., assessing community assets and needs)
- Collaborative Planning (e.g., developing a vision, mission, objectives, strategies, and action plans)
- Developing Leadership and Enhancing Participation (e.g., building relationships, recruiting participants)
- Community Action and Intervention (e.g., designing interventions, advocacy)
- Evaluating Community Initiatives (e.g., program evaluation, documentation of community and system change)
- Promoting and Sustaining the Initiative (e.g., social marketing, obtaining grants).
Both science-based practice and experiential knowledge inform choices for content development for the Community Tool Box. Ongoing research by members of the Tool Box team, and many others throughout the world, suggest key factors or components of successful efforts to bring about community change and improvement (e.g., leadership, having a targeted mission, action planning).
Promising practices from this emerging science base, and ongoing input from community leaders and practitioners, is used to focus content development on core competencies (e.g., building leadership skills, creating a vision and mission, developing an action plan). Similarly, research and practice in behavioral instruction helped identify structural elements of the how-to sections or learning modules (i.e., what, why, how-to steps, etc.).
FRAMEWORK FOR BUILDING HEALTHIER COMMUNITIES: A GATEWAY TO ILLUSTRATIVE TOOLS
Understanding Community Context
- Understanding and Describing the Community
- Developing a Plan for Assesing Local Needs and Resources
- Collecting Information About the Problem
- Analyzing Community Problem
- Analyzing Root Causes of Problems: The “But Why?” Technique
- VMOSA (Vision, Mission, Objectives, Strategies, Action Plans): An overview
- Proclaiming Your Dream: Developing Vision and Mission Statements
- Creating Objectives
- Developing Successful Strategies: Planning to Win
- Developing an Action Plan
- Identifying Strategies and Tactics for Reducing Risks
- Promoting Coordination, Cooperative Agreements, and Collaborative Agreements Among Agencies
- Developing Multi-sector Collaborations
Developing Leadership and Enhancing Participation
- Developing a Plan for Building Leadership
- Servant Leadership: Accepting and Maintaining the Call of Service
- Developing a Plan for Increasing Participation in Community Action
- Promoting Participation Among Diverse Groups
- Methods of Contacting Potential Participants
- Developing a Plan for Staff Hiring and Training
- Developing a Plan for Involving Volunteers
- Providing Supervision for Staff and Volunteers
- Conducting Effective Meetings
Community Action and Intervention
- Strategies for Community Change and Improvement: An Overview
- Designing Community Interventions
- Adapting Community Interventions for Different Cultures and Communities
- Developing a Plan for Advocacy
- Organizing Study Circles
- Registering Voters
- Organizing Public Demonstrations
Evaluating Community Initiatives
- Our Evaluation Model: Evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives
- A Framework for Program Evaluation: A Gateway to Tools
- Developing an Evaluation Plan
- Measuring Success: Evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives
- Gathering and Using Community-Level Indicators
Promoting and Sustaining the Initiative
- Understanding Social Marketing: Encouraging Adoption and Use of Valued Products and Practices
- Working with the Media
- Making Community Presentations
- Using Principles of Persuasion
- Creating a Website
- Achieving and Maintaining Quality Performance
- Developing a Plan for Financial Sustainability
- Strategies for Sustaining the Initiative
- Applying for a Grant: The General Approach
HOW DO YOU GET AROUND THE TOOL BOX?
Upon arrival at any desired section, the reader will find this list of choices:
Main Section — the text of the section with these components: What (a clear description of the skill), Why(rationales or descriptions of consequences for using or not using the skill), When (the conditions under which the skills should or should not be used), and How (descriptions of the discrete behaviors that constitute desired performance). Main Section also contains a Resources list that details sources of information, contacts, and related websites.
Examples — specific illustrations of real-world illustrations or stories of using the skill that reflect varied issues or concerns (e.g., substance abuse, child and youth development, urban community development) and places or contexts (e.g., urban, rural; specific ethnic or cultural communities)
Tools & Checklists — Tools provides training and technical assistance materials such as exercises and handouts; Checklists provides prompts or brief phrases to help you remember important considerations and steps.
PowerPoint — ready-to-use summaries of the section useful in providing training and technical assistance.
In addition, we use customized gateways to maximize efficient access to valued tools. One type of gateway uses promising models or frameworks (e.g., Community Health Improvement Process, A Framework for Program Evaluation, or Writing a Grant Proposal) to guide the reader to core competencies related to each phase and operation of the framework (e.g., forming a coalition, identifying stakeholders, documenting the problem). These frameworks help orient the community practitioner to recommended activities — and related how-to information — that can help support the local effort.
Another valued gateway is the Troubleshooting Guide. This access point starts with a list of 13 commonly faced problems in the work of community change and improvement.
By clicking on a particular problem situation (e.g., “We haven’t had enough community action.”), the reader calls up a list of clarifying questions (e.g., “Does the group know the specific changes we want to see made?” or “Do we have enough members to carry out our actions?”). Should the answer to any question be “No,” the u ser may click again to retrieve related how-to information (e.g., “Developing an Action Plan,” “Recruiting Members,” “Recognizing Allies”). Since we may be more open to learning new skills when facing a challenge, the Troubleshooting Guide provides valued user-tailored access to the tools.
WAYS TO USE THE COMMUNITY TOOL BOX
THE COMMUNITY TOOL BOX HAS BEEN USED FOR SEVERAL SPECIFIC PURPOSES:
- The learning modules are being used extensively for training and technical assistance. For example, many support organizations, including our University of Kansas Work Group, have used the tools in periodic workshops and ongoing consultation. They have been used to support a variety of community-based initiatives including those addressing categorical issues such as adolescent pregnancy, or substance abuse, and broader issues such as child/youth development, public health, or urban community development.
- The Community Tool Box has been used as textbook readings for both traditional and distance learning courses. For example, a University of Kansas distance learning course on “building healthy communities” used compressed video (i.e., television) and CTB materials to create distributed learning communities among teams of both traditional students and community members and practitioners in regional sites throughout Kansas.
- The Community Tool Box has been used to help build capacity of funded community-building initiatives.
We are working with grantmakers and the community partnerships they support to enhance core competencies among large numbers of community members and practitioners engaged in this work. These tools are being used to support community work of a great variety of people in diverse contexts throughout the world.
Entries in the Guestbook suggest that users range in age from youth (in high school civic classes) to older adults (working on elder issues). They include community members, leaders and professionals working in such domains and disciplines as public health, child and youth development, environmental justice, education, mental health, social welfare, self-help, international development, policy advocacy, rural development, and urban community development.
CHALLENGES, STRENGTHS, AND FUTURE PROSPECTS
SEVERAL PROMINENT CHALLENGES MUST BE ADDRESSED TO ENHANCE THE UTILITY OF THE TOOL BOX:
We need to continue to extend the breadth, depth, and generality of core content.
By partnering with others with technical and experiential knowledge, we hope to enhance the breadth of content topics, the depth of how-to information, examples, stories, and tools, & the generality of application with different issues (e.g., child health, violence), cultures (e.g., Africa, Middle East), languages (e.g., Portuguese, French), and contexts (e.g., urban, rural, global)
We need to enhance the interactivity of the Community Tool Box.
We plan to make greater use of online forum capabilities to connect those with complementary knowledge and experience.
We seek widespread adoption and use of the tools and competencies in community practice.
Social marketing efforts include links to related sites, brochures, direct electronic mailing to current and prospective users, and partnering with state, national and global initiatives for community health and development.
The Community Tool Box is becoming an extraordinary resource for teaching and learning:
- It offers massive amounts of information for supporting development of core competencies in building healthier communities.
- It allows input from the field about promising practices for community work. By linking with a growing local (and global) community of change agents, the Community Tool Box can help filter and communicate innovations emerging from the diverse (but related) work of community change and improvement.
- The Community Tool Box provides a powerful engine for diffusion of practical information for supporting community work. By partnering (and linking) with state, national and global networks, we can promote widespread adoption, adaptation, and use of tools for community transformation.
There are several future prospects for using communications technologies to help create a civic ecology — an environment in which local people routinely work together to effect the conditions and outcomes that matter to them.
- This will demand a support infrastructure for “going to scale“–for making civic work easier and more rewarding for large numbers of people in many different communities. New communication technologies — such as the Community Tool Box — can be used to help build capacity for effecting community change in the millions of local contexts that might benefit.
- Imagine a grand exchange network that connects a diverse community of people engaged in transformational work. For example, online forums might join people addressing different categorical issues (e.g., stopping violence, improving childhood outcomes), perhaps helping reveal the underlying social determinants of related concerns. Forums could be used to connect people with diverse experience — for example, novices and veterans in the work or those with histories of discrimination and those with power. It could also help join those who work in different places (e.g., urban neighborhoods and rural communities) and cultural contexts (e.g., African-American, Latino, emerging democracies of Eastern Europe).
- New communications technologies can help connect people — both locally (e.g., across ethnic neighborhoods in the same city) and globally (e.g., across communities in different states, provinces, or nations).
Building healthier cities and communities fits with global trends of self-determination and democracy building. The widespread and growing availability of Internet-based resources, such as the Community Tool Box, offer flexible and efficient means to give voice to local concerns and innovations, connect people in common purpose, and diffuse tools for amplifying local work. Such innovations transcend distance in promoting democratic social relations across communities of place and interest.
Imagine: universal, affordable access to tools for community building and transformation in local libraries, faith communities, cafes, and public buildings. In this new civic ecology, we join together in common purpose across space and time — furthering the work of democracy and reducing the inequities that hinder our pursuit of justice.
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