Building Civic Bodies

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Revision as of 21:16, 24 May 2011 by Onemic18 (Talk | contribs) (Conclusions)

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Project Work

Study of community network mapping

The main concept I discovered in my reading was the distinction between needs based and asset based models. The traditional service sector model is needs based. Indicators of poor health, economic poverty, crime, and the like are all standard ways of identifying the needs of a community that service organizations then devote their time and resource to fixing. The problem with this model is that it frames the community being served in a negative image and makes them reliant on the help of outsiders.

An asset based model begins with an inventory of the gifts and skills of community members. It then broadens to include locally owned and controlled assets like churches, businesses, neighborhood organizations, and others. Secondarily local service organizations are included and finally resources controlled outside the community are considered. The goal of an community asset map is to identify leaders, and build an understanding of the wide range of abilities a community can leverage to address their own needs.

Fieldwork & Interviews

As a part of this project I have begun identifying organizations that show some civic intelligence and could be used as assets to leverage more development of civic intelligence. The organizations I have identified are only a starting point, but each one has a unique potential from a civic intelligence perspective.

  • Pathways 2020 - This organization is focused on raising awareness and increasing the health of Cowlitz County by identifying community indicators and fostering partnerships within the community.
    • I attended Pathways 2020's Community Report Card 2010 presentation. While the organization does build a network of organizations focused on the same goal, improving the health of Cowlitz County, it does not do so in a very civicly intelligent way. The main thrust of the report card was that the poor socio-economic living conditions of Cowlitz County are the main contributing factor to its poor health. Yet, the 200+ people at the event represented the wealthiest members of the community. The community members that were invited to speak spent so much time patting their own organizations on the back that there was no time at the end of the event for the presentation on the economic indicators of health.
  • Peace Health - Peace Health is the largest employer in Cowlitz County. It's main facility in Longview, St. John's Medical Center, is the largest hospital between Vancouver and Olympia. This organization has wide reach in the community as a provider of medical care, income to its employees, and its community outreach programs.
    • I spoke with the Community Outreach Coordinator at St. Johns, who has been active in many organizations throughout her career as an advocate for addressing the needs of the population. Her work at St. John's is to serve as a bridge to the community of information about services available and important health related issues the community faces. She promotes the free clinic, coordinates several annual conferences on health issues, and educates St. Johns employees on topics from volunteerism to domestic violence. We spent a good deal of time talking about the challenges involved in getting those in need of services to take an active role in advocacy or service.
  • Parent's Place - The major work of this organization is to spread awareness and information about early childhood development. Parent's Place partners with many other organizations to accomplish its goals. It develops programs that target needs which are not being met by current infrastructure.
    • My short interview turned into a long discussion about the value of the civic intelligence approach to community building and an examination of how Parent's Place fits well within that model. As an organization they are members of several other umbrella organizations focused on childhood development, as well as being in direct partnership with the school district and other local entities that helps them cary out their mission. My main involvement with Parents Place has been through taking my son to their weekly play groups that serves as a place for parents to interact, get some information, and support each other through conversation about being a parent. We talked about how having the focus be on the children and the issues surrounding their care equalized socio-economic differences and built group wisdom.
  • Lower Columbia College - This community college offers a wide range of educational opportunities to the community, from their running start program for high school students to their recreational learning opportunities for non-academic students.
  • St. Stephen's Episcopal Church - As a parishioner at this church I am aware of the high involvement of its members throughout the broader community. St. Stephen's opens its facilities to numerous other organizations that use the space to host their own programs, as well as conducting several of its own ministries to address needs within the broad community.


Although the needs based indicators of Longview and Cowlitz County paint a bleak picture, there seems to be a strong community ethic of collaborative effort to provide service. The major challenge is to bring the population steeped in generational poverty to the table for making lasting change. The means and methods of civic intelligence seem appropriate for tackling this problem, and the community seems to have many foundations for implementing it.

Community Service
There is already an ethic of collaboration in place within the community of service providers. As funding becomes more difficult to obtain from outside sources the community is working together more to identify needs and address them together. There is a huge body of knowledge about the community in the members of the service community who have been active in many organizations throughout their careers in Cowlitz County.

It is my hope, and perception from the conversations I have had from some of the long time members of the service community, that the civic intelligence model of fostering community based solutions to civic issues can be adopted and implemented in Longview and Cowlitz County. A series of inter-agency forums and workshops could be developed to educate the service provider sector about the methods of civic intelligence. The Liberating Voices Pattern Language could be deployed to build understanding.

Financing Programs
An aspect of service agencies that I had not considered is their reliance on grants and other outside funding to develop and run programs. The temporary nature of grants creates many unsustainable projects that start well but quickly run out of steam when the funding leaves. Or programs are forced to morph as different agencies take on the funding and control of them.

If the spirit of volunteerism that sustains the free clinic can be fostered and spread into other sectors of the population there is a real opportunity to build local networks that fund and sustain needed services. The main challenge again, is to work with the socio-economicly impoverished population and foster that sector of the community's desire to participate. In my mind this work needs to begin in the school system.

Bridges to greater civic intelligence
The sense of entitlement fostered by generations of needs based service providers is a huge stumbling block for building civic intelligence. How do you get people to participate who believe everything should be provided to them for free? The main key to working through this challenge seems to be in realizing that there is a close nit community of people dependent on services. Anything that can be done to engage them and begin showing the value of participation in creating change will spread if it is done in an inclusive way that honors their core values.

Developing programs through the school system that engage children and young adults in civic responsibility seems like a good way to integrate the population used to receiving services with the parts of the community that provide service. If the paradigm of civic intelligence is embraced by the service sector and the values of participation are demonstrated to be effective through projects carried out by youth, there is incentive for parents to tune into the work being done. At the very least by opening the pathways to participation in civic life for the young people in the community a new generation can develop an understanding of the role civic intelligence plays in building healthy communities.