The community environment

If you're setting up a community group, you'll need to know a bit about the community. Here's how to do it systematically.

Before you start out to change the world, you'll need to know:

Too often we focus on what's wrong with our community, its deficits. Yet it's also possible to focus on our assets and strengths -- discovering what our community has. Why? Because those assets and strengths can be used to meet those same community needs; they can improve community life.

To accomplish this, we first have to find out what those assets are. So in this help sheet, we will learn how to identify community assets and resources through a community audit.

Community resources, or community assets, are people, places, or organisations that can be used to help achieve your community goals. The benefit of going through this process of assessing all of your community assets is to provide a better framework within which your group can operate.

As well as identifying areas of strength it will also identify areas where you need to do more work or can grow into.

Your audit will bring together a database that is useful for you and perhaps other agencies, in which case you can use it to strengthen your alliances.

You don't have to come up with a typed list, or a report in a glossy cover; the important thing is that you have the relevant contact details in your mailing lists, and that where necessary you have set up arrangements to collaborate.

The most important thing in a resources assessment is to be flexible and open to new suggestions. You are looking for people who can help you, and one of the ways in which they can help you is to lead you in new directions towards

things you hadn't thought of. Listen to what people are saying, respond to their input, and be prepared to change. The best outcome for a resources audit is that new possibilities and new projects are taken up, and in that case it is the new activities that are the true record of the search project.

After a community audit comes a community needs assessment.

The goals of your organisation will be set by the interplay between the services and products you are equipped to provide and the needs of the community you serve.

Communities come in many different forms and all will have different ways of approaching their goals. Once you have gone through the processes of identifying and understanding your community and identifying its assets and resources, you will need to establish how you can best serve its needs.

You may think you know what your community needs. You may even be right. Nevertheless, you must still consult the community first to find out what it wants - and you must do this genuinely, with a mind open to change.

What the community wants may not always be the same as what it needs - your job may be to persuade it that it has needs it hadn't turned its mind to - and if there are large differences between wants and needs you need to know about that, too. You may decide to change your direction, or you may decide to spend more on community education, but you must establish a clear link between your goals and the goals of the people you want to involve.

Finding out what your community says it needs is incredibly important because unless there are common goals, you may be unable to gain committed and motivated volunteers, you may lack clients, and you will have little support from funders and stakeholders.

Once you know what's needed, you have to look around for people who can help you get from here to there.

When doing work in your community, the first thing to decide is what is the issue or problem you want to address. Whether you are teaching kids to read or trying to create safer neighbourhoods, it's your group's reason for being; it's what you're all about.

But you and your organisation are not alone. There are people who can benefit and people who can help. That is, there are people for whom your initiative has things to offer and people from whom you can learn and get assistance. We need to be clear about who should benefit--youth and parents, for example--and people who can help address the issue or problem--including youth, parents and guardians, teachers, service providers, and others. And knowing just who these people are is an important step.

Your organisation or initiative is trying to reach targets of change with the help of agents of change. You'll need to develop a plan to make sure you've found everyone who can benefit and everyone who can help, and not just the most obvious candidates.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? And it is. It's just a question of being clear, complete, and making sure you look at every angle.