Part Four: Community Assessment and Issue Selection
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PART FOUR Fields such as public health, social work, and city and regional planning typically focus considerable attention on needs assessment and use a variety of methods to determine the problems and needs being experienced by the groups or communities involved. Increasingly, however, the importance of shifting our gaze from a narrowly conceived needs assessment to a broader community assessment has been realized. Reflecting this change in emphasis, the first two chapters in this part provide approaches to community assessment that go well beyond needs assessment as it is typically conceived and indeed reject the narrow needs assessment approach as rooted in a “deficit thinking” mentality that can harm, rather than enhance, our efforts at community organizing and community building for health. Trevor Hancock and Meredith Minkler begin in chapter 9 by posing a series of questions that get to the heart of the whys and hows of community assessment for health. Drawing in part on the former’s extensive experience as a key architect of the healthy cities movement worldwide, they indeed suggest that the very focus of such efforts should move from community health assessment to healthy community assessment if we are to pay adequate attention to the numerous factors affecting the health and well-being of communities. Arguing that community assessments are needed, not only for the information they provide for and about change, but also for empowerment, the authors make the case for assessment that is truly of, by, and for the community. Expanding on John McKnight’s (1995) statement that “institutions learn from studies, communities learn from stories,” they further point Community Assessment and Issue Selection up the need for collecting both stories and more traditional “study” data as part of a comprehensive assessment process. Hancock and Minkler use Sylvia Marti-Costa and Irma Serrano-Garcia’s (1983) categorization of assessment techniques according to the degree of contact with community members that they entail as a framework within which to explore a number of assessment techniques and approaches. This chapter makes a strong case for the use of multiple methods, with an accent placed on those methods, such as the development and use of community or neighborhood indicators (Bauer 2003; Howell et al. 2003), that empower individuals and communities, in part through their active involvement in and ownership of the assessment process. A critical part of the shift from a needs assessment to a community assessment focus involves appreciating that communities are not simply collections of needs or problems but vital entities possessing many strengths and assets. Chapter 10 presents a classic contribution to the community assessment literature, namely, John McKnight and John Kretzmann’s approach to “mapping community capacity.” Pointing out that the needs-focused approach to low-income communities has led to deficiency-oriented policies and programs, they propose instead a capacity-oriented model. The community mapping technique they provide looks first to “primary building blocks”—those assets such as people and their talents and associations— located in the neighborhood and largely under its control. In a spirit consistent with Cheryl Walter and Cheryl Hyde’s (chapter 5) expanded notion of community, however, they also have us consider nonprofit organizations, local businesses, and the like that are located in the neighborhood and that, although largely controlled by outsiders, nevertheless may constitute important “secondary building blocks.” The sample neighborhood needs map and contrasting neighborhood assets map included in this chapter offer students and practitioners a graphic illustration of how changing our orientation from deficiencies to strengths can transform our perceptions of communities, as well as those communities’ images of themselves. Although the chapter addresses itself to geographic communities, the approach it demonstrates clearly can be adapted for use in a workplace or common interest community as well. Closely connected to community assessment is working with communities in ways that enable them, rather than outsiders, to determine the goals and issues around which they wish to mobilize. In chapter 11, Lee Staples, author of the classic COMMUNITY ASSESSMENT AND ISSUE SELECTION 150 organizing text Roots to Power (2004), draws our attention to this pivotal area as he explores the topic of selecting and “cutting” the issue. Echoing a theme that runs throughout much of the book, Staples argues that issues should indeed come from the members and potential members of a community. At the same time, he sees the outside professional as having a critical role to play in helping community groups become familiar with the criteria of good issues so that they can select...



Subject Headings

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