Shifting from Engagement to Partnership in Community Revitalization Work

March 15, 2019

People with Arms Linked

When the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) launched, there was a big focus on community engagement.

But historically even well-meaning “community engagement” efforts have ended up being top-down. That is, communities being consulted after major decisions are made.

What would it take to foster an inclusive revitalization process that intentionally includes community perspectives in decision making?

The six SPARCC regions have been exploring this question, and are now encouraging a mindset shift from engagement to partnership.

First, some background on SPARCC. In March 2017, the challenge rolled out in six regions across the United States: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Memphis, Denver, and the San Francisco Bay Area. We are one of four nonprofits implementing the initiative. Learnings from our midcourse check-in are available in a recent Community Development research brief.

At the start of SPARCC, we believed that achieving equitable outcomes required the community to build a shared vision and the power to implement change. Has that changed? No. The hypothesis rang true for all of the sites.

However, what has emerged is a more nuanced understanding of the ways that SPARCC sites can effectively partner with grassroots organizers and community members.

SPARCC sites have worked with community members through various approaches, including:

  • creating resident councils.
  • adapting table governance structures, with formal seats for residents.
  • training community members on planning and development processes.

Regional representatives learned valuable lessons through the process of working in partnership with members of the community. In their experience, building power that lasts begins by establishing meaningful relationships and trust.

It’s not a short-term approach.

The process requires a significant investment in time and resources. But it is essential for sustaining the work beyond SPARCC.

Many respondents represented in our research brief vocalized similar feelings about the need across the community development field for this conceptual evolution from engagement to partnership. They stress the importance of working together to support the lasting power of the community.

For details about the lessons learned and future direction of SPARCC, and a summary of the most relevant adaptations, visit Testing Our Hypotheses on Equitable Development: Midcourse Learning and Adapting through SPARCC.

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Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) is a three-year initiative with major funding by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, JPB Foundation, and The California Endowment. Four nonprofits form the partnership that implements SPARCC: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Enterprise Community Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.