Community Organizing: Building Social Capital as a Development Strategy


Ross Gittell & Avis Videl

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    This book is dedicated to the volunteers in this program, and the thousands like them in communities across the country, who are comitting themselves to make the nation's cities better places to live, and to our families.


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    Many program evaluations—especially those (like this one) that rely heavily on program participants for their information, and that are supported financially by funders who also supported the intervention under study and who are publicly identified with it—are mainly descriptive and focus almost exclusively on positive outcomes. This rendering of one initiative's experience is not. It is both detailed and analytical, because we believe that getting inside the workings of an innovative program and understanding the thinking that guides the actions of the participants provides rich learning opportunities. We have tried to capitalize on those opportunities in our analysis. In the process, we have tried to depict the program and its participants fairly and honestly and to help readers learn from their failures as well as their successes.

    The examination of experience in the three sites, which forms the core of the book, illustrates the complexity and difficulty of community development. Although the basic description of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) demonstration program often appears straightforward, program implementation is multifaceted, strategic, and sometimes even artful. It clearly requires hard work and high levels of commitment on the part of staff, members of the support community, and resident volunteers.

    That there were some setbacks, and even some failures, is disappointing—sometimes even painful, most especially to those most directly affected by them—but it is not surprising. Community development is challenging, pains-taking work; the people and organizations who invest in trying to strengthen its practice know better than any evaluator that the road is rocky. Deepening our understanding of the initiative's many strengths has been a fascinating and rewarding process. Pondering its shortcomings has been a sobering and humbling experience as well. It teaches the lesson that criticizing the mistakes of others is vastly easier than figuring out how to do this hard work better.


    In pursuing a long and ambitious project like this one, authors accumulate many debts. While it is impossible to credit every source of support and inspiration we received, a few people were so helpful that we want to single them out.

    The book took shape at the lively and stimulating setting of the Community Development Research Center at the New School for Social Research, New York. Here we benefited from close contact with our colleagues and with leading community development practitioners, especially Mike Sviridoff and Mark Willis, who took an early and active interest in the project. We especially want to acknowledge the outstanding research assistance provided by Karen Courtney and the skill and unfailing good humor of Eric Feliciano, who helped prepare the manuscript.

    Our research would not have been possible without the active cooperation of the program participants. We thank them for being generous with their time, patience, and insights over the five-year period of our investigations, and we respect them for the commitment, concern and talent they bring to their important work. Of particular help were Michael Eichler, Richard Barrera, Reggie Harley, and Mary Ohmer, at the Consensus Organizing Institute (COI); and Richard Manson, Rob Fosse, Jim Mercado, and Jennifer Carr at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). They contributed greatly to our efforts, and we learned a great deal from them. We are especially grateful to Michael Eichler; his conviction that the assessment was important to do was essential to our ability to secure both funding for our research and candid information from program participants. We would also like to thank Robyne Turner, whose detailed observations of the program in Palm Beach County helped deepen our understanding of the program's complex dynamics at the neighborhood level.

    Funding for our research was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. We are grateful not only for their financial support but also for their ongoing interest. We also appreciate the personal encouragement of interested individuals at these organizations: Rebecca Riley, Bonnie Weaver, and Ralph Hamilton at MacArthur, and Ruth Goins and Jack Litzenberg at Mott.

    Our editors at Sage, Carrie Mullen and Catherine Rossbach, have been enthusiastic supporters of our work. We thank them both for their energy and patience, and thank Catherine for her help as we put together the final manuscript for publication.

    Finally, we each enjoyed the benefit of more personal support. For Ross, Jody Hoffer Gittell and Marilyn Gittell provided ongoing intellectual guidance for the work. Jody, together with Rose Hoffer Gittell, provided daily enthusiastic encouragement. Marilyn and Irwin Gittell provoked intellectual curiosity and social concern, and also provided strong personal support. For Avis, the ups and downs during the project have been smoothed and softened by the interest, supportiveness, and kindness of Prue Brown, Karen Courtney, Dennis Derryck, Julie Freiesen, Anne Kubisch, Jean MacMillan, Stephanie Nickerson, Harold Richman, Alex Schwartz, and Nick Weiner. Of special value have been the warmth and affection of Barbara Pizer and, until his death, Sam. Thank you all.

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    About the Authors

    Ross Gittell is Associate Professor of Strategic Management and Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business and Economics. His areas of expertise and research include community development and state and local economic development. He is the author of Renewing Cities (1993), which compares community economic development efforts in four older industrial cities, and “Inner City Business Development and Entrepreneurship,” (with Phil Thompson) in William Dickens and Ronald Ferguson (Eds.), The Future of Community Development: A Social Science Synthesis (forthcoming). He has also published in numerous academic journals, including Economic Development Quarterly, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Regional Studies, National Civic Review, Journal of Entrepreneurial and Small Business Finance, and New England Economic Review. His major current research and policy activities include community development research projects funded by the Rockefeller Foundation (evaluations of the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Program in NYC and the Foundation's Democracy Round Table initiative) and work with the state of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Business Industry Association on economic development, income disparity, and fiscal issues in the state.

    He is a member of the National Community Development Policy Analysis Network, New England Economic Study Group (at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston), Urban Affairs Association, and Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. Prior to joining the faculty of the Whittemore School, he taught at Harvard University, where he was also a research fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government's Center for Business and Government and consultant for the Harvard Institute for International Development. In addition, he has taught at the New School for Social Research, where he was also senior associate at the Community Development Research Center. He received his PhD (in Public Policy) from Harvard University, an MBA from University of California at Berkeley, and an AB (Economics) from the University of Chicago.

    Avis Vidal is Principal Research Associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., where she is developing a program of research that will use a further elaboration of the constructs of social capital and community capacity to analyze the role of both community organizations and local and national institutions in shaping the well-being of low-income communities and their residents.

    She served for 10 years as the founding Director of the Community Development Research Center at the New School for Social Research, where her research focused on the work of CDCs and led to such publications as Rebuilding Communities: A National Study of Urban Community Development Corporations and “Reintegrating Disadvantaged Communities Into the Fabric of Urban Life: The Role of Community Development.” She has also served on the faculty at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and as a member of the Legislative and Urban Policy Staff at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She has published in major academic journals, including the Journal of the American Planning Association, Urban Affairs Quarterly, and Housing Policy Debate.

    She is currently an Urban Land Institute Fellow. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the Urban Affairs Association, and the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management, and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American Planning Association and the Center for Urban Policy Research Press at Rutgers University. She received her MCP and PhD in Urban Planning from Harvard University and her BA from the University of Chicago.

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