Part Three: Building Effective Partnerships and Anticipating and Addressing Ethical Challenges
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PART THREE One of the most important parts of the professional’s role in community organizing and other aspects of community practice involves building and maintaining effective partnerships that enable working with, not on, communities. Yet as DeFilippis and colleagues (2010) point out, the very notion of community is—and should be— contested, particularly in light of its increasing co-optation by the state in ways that support the current political economy—“and those who benefit from it most” (3). This part begins with just such a critique, as Canadian scholar and activist Ronald Labonte looks more deeply at some of the assumptions that underlie our notions of community and our related approaches to community development (or organizing) work. Drawing on both his extensive work as a health promotion consultant nationally and internationally, and his in-depth study of the Toronto health department, Labonte begins by asking professionals to free themselves from their often uncritical and romanticized notions of community. In a similar vein, he reminds us that community involvement and decentralized decision making, although wonderful concepts in theory, may translate into tokenism, both sapping a community’s limited energy and inadvertently supporting government cutbacks (see also Bryant et al. 2010). Labonte then applies this attitude of critical rethinking to the whole domain of community development (which, he reminds us, has roughly the same meaning in Canada as community organizing does in the United States). Central to this discussion is the distinction he draws between community-based efforts and true Building Effective Partnerships and Anticipating and Addressing Ethical Challenges community development work. In the former, Labonte suggests, health professionals or their agencies define and name the problem, develop strategies for dealing with it, and involve community members to varying degrees in the problem-solving process. In contrast, community development or organizing supports community groups as they identify problems or issues and plan strategies for confronting them. Building on these and related distinctions, Labonte suggests that community development approaches are far more conducive to the building of authentic partnerships. The latter require, among other things, that “all partners [establish] their own power and legitimacy” and that community workers support community group partners, whether or not the latter buy into the concerns and mandates of the professional or the agency. In chapter 7, Meredith Minkler, Cheri Pies, and Cheryl Hyde revisit many of the issues and challenges raised in chapters 5 and 6, focusing special attention on the ethical dimensions of these issues. Six areas are explored: the problem of conflicting priorities; the difficulties involved in eliciting genuine rather than token community participation; cross-cultural misunderstanding and problems of real and perceived racism in organizing; the dilemmas posed by funding sources; the sometimes problematic, unanticipated consequences of our organizing efforts; and questions of whose common good is being addressed by the organizing effort. Drawing on both theoretical literature and relevant case studies, the authors highlight the ethical challenges raised in each of these areas and pose hard questions for the professional as organizer regarding his or her assumptions, appropriate roles, and potential courses of action. Several tools are provided, such as the DARE criteria for measuring empowerment—Who determines the goals of the project? Who acts to achieve the goals? Who receives the benefits? Who evaluates the project? (Rubin and Rubin 2007)—and the “publicity test of ethics” for helping communities decide whether to accept money from a controversial source. The real purpose of the chapter, however, is to raise questions, rather than answer them. A key message of the chapter—and indeed of this whole section of the book—is that careful questioning of our assumptions and values and careful exploration of the ethical dimensions of our work must be preliminary and ongoing aspects of our professional practice. This message is well illustrated in chapter 8, as Galen Ellis and Sheryl Walton share case studies of lessons in cultural humility and the need for broader systems BUILDING EFFECTIVE PARTNERSHIPS 92 change as three local health departments attempt to partner with their local communities in ambitious community building and -organizing projects. Using a strengths-based approach, and acknowledging from the outset numerous opportunities for cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications, the authors offer a deeply personal and nuanced account of the genesis and evolution of the Healthy Neighborhoods Project in West Contra Costa County, California, and its successful replication in the neighboring city of Berkeley, and finally in the Sobrante Park neighborhood of East Oakland. The particular challenges posed by community distrust of health...



Subject Headings

  • Health promotion.
  • Community health services -- Citizen participation.
  • Community organization.
  • Community development.
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