Successful Collaboration a Critical Element in Community Engagement

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This post was written by Elizabeth Miller, Communications Associate at the Knight Foundation.

This is the sixth and final post in a blog series highlighting communities profiled in “Bright Spots in Community Engagement,” a joint report of  Knight Foundation and National League of Cities.  It showcases 14 U.S. communities that are building greater civic participation and engagement from the bottom up. Previous blog posts included an in-depth look at Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Austin, Texas, St. Paul, Minn., Akron, Ohio and San Jose. Calif. This post originally appeared in the Knight Blog.

New research finds that collaborative civic revitalization efforts go a long way towards enabling residents to help improve their communities.

Bright Spots in Community Engagement” – a new report released earlier this week – demonstrates that successful collaborations including multiple networks and representatives from all facets of the community led to significant improvements in both Macon, Ga. and Charlotte, N.C.

In Macon, Ga., the launch of the College Hill Corridor in 2007 offered new opportunities for residents to be involved in the physical, economic and civic revitalization of the neighborhoods surrounding Mercer University. It truly sprung from the ground up – a group of students first proposed the idea as part of their capstone project. The university’s president also took a leadership role in helping bring the idea to light. With financial support from the Knight Foundation, the multi-sector redevelopment planning process was really a collaborative effort: in addition to the university and private philanthropy, it involved the city, local business and neighborhood residents. It ultimately led to new and rehabilitated housing through a partnership with Historic Macon and helped create everyday leaders in the community.

Simultaneously, “Knight Neighborhood Challenge” grants (which ranged from $450 to $10,000) supported “bottom up” ideas from the community. Projects that received funding to improve the community ranged from social events like an annual soapbox derby and movies in the park, to physical upgrades, like park improvements and the Historic Macon Facade Loan Program.

Involving multiple sectors in citywide visioning processes was a successful tactic used in Charlotte, N.C. “Crossroads Charlotte” – a civic project – encouraged corporate and civic leaders to examine four possible scenarios of the city’s future and steps to steer the community towards better collective outcomes. As a result of the project (and combined with other community initiatives), some 30 organizations – representing the corporate, service, nonprofit and government sectors – have undertaken projects to address issues related to access, inclusion and equity in the community.

Other factors also help contribute to successful community engagement efforts, like a strong community relations committee that serves as an integral part of the human relations support system for the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Additionally, a citizens’ academy has successfully used technology to engage young people to blog about school board meetings.