WORKGROUP'S PRODUCT IS NOW AVAILABLE!
During the first two years of this exploration, the Workgroup kept hitting a major stumbling block. The partnerships' inclusive processes were certainly giving community members opportunities to participate and be involved, and it was clear that people from the community were driving what the partnerships did. But the partnerships' communities, like most others, were not homogeneous; they encompassed people who differed from each other in various ways. Of the people in these different groups, whose voices were actually influential, whose weren't, and why?
These questions were important to the members of the Workgroup because they - like many others in the rapidly expanding field of community participation - were committed to giving people formerly excluded from decision making an influential voice about issues that affect their lives. In particular, they wanted to promote the influence of people who had been excluded the most - the poorest, least educated, and most marginalized residents in their communities.
There was no way of knowing the extent to which this was actually happening, however, because no one - in either the Workgroup or the broader field of community participation - had been looking at the influence of participants directly. Attention had primarily been focused on the involvement of community members - giving people opportunities to participate in the process and "seats at the table." Influence was something that was taken for granted.
In 2006, five of the partnerships in the Workgroup embarked on an unprecedented investigation. Working with a technical support team, they developed methods to assess the influence of the various people in community participation processes. Then, using these methods, they took a fresh look at ten of their past experiences working with members of their communities to find out how influential different people had been and how the pattern of influence affected what the partnerships had been able to accomplish.
A book describing the methods, cases, findings, and practical tools from this investigation has just been published. Entitled Engaging the Community in Decision Making: Case Studies Tracking Participation, Voice, and Influence, it is now available through McFarland Press.
Tracking the ideas of everyone involved in each of the cases, the book explains how participation processes give people an influential voice and why, in spite of good intentions, the ideas of marginalized and ordinary residents are far less likely to be influential than those of people with more clout, resources, or acknowledged expertise. On an optimistic note, it also explains how these inequities in influence can be overcome, providing readers with practical evidence-based tools to help them do so.
Engaging the Community in Decision Making is intended for practitioners, funders, and evaluators involved in any form of community participation - from participatory research to civic engagement, deliberative democracy, and comprehensive community initiatives - as well as students and professionals who seek to use their academic expertise to benefit people in disadvantaged communities. For more information or to order a copy, click here.
MEMBERS OF THE INVESTIGATIVE TEAM
Leadership Team of Beyond Welfare (Story County, Iowa)
Park Empowerment Partnership (Chicago, Illinois)
MIRACLE Group (Cass Lake,
Southeast Oklahoma Champion
and Enterprise Community (Choctaw, McCurtain, and Pushmataha Counties,
Tri-County Workforce Alliance
(Coahoma, Quitman, and Bolivar Counties, Mississippi)
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