Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Highlights from 2013 United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA) Neighborhood Revitalization Conference

On June 27 and 28, members of the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Community Change team attended the United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA) Neighborhood Revitalization Conference in Washington, D.C. Community practitioners, government officials, issue experts and other stakeholders convened to discuss best practices and innovations in neighborhood revitalization efforts nationwide. Sessions covered topics such as engaging residents as leaders in community change efforts, building effective partnerships, using data to inform decision-making and designing effective strategies to address local challenges, such equitable food systems and community safety.

The conference included several sessions highlighting existing community change efforts throughout the country, providing participants with “real life examples” of the successes, challenges and developmental stages of community change. Resident engagement was a theme that resonated throughout the meeting. For example, resident engagement was identified as the first step in a comprehensive community change initiative. By gathering critical information through informal interviews with residents and community stakeholders, communities can then begin the task of planning, acting, communicating and evaluating their work. Resident engagement was further explored on a panel in which the Aspen Institute’s four building blocks of resident-centered community building were shared. These four building blocks, which are discussed in the Aspen Institute’s recent report Resident-Centered Community Building: What Makes It Different, include: creating multiple ways for people to engage and contribute, building trust and capacity, communicating often in many ways and building foundations for long-term work. Similarly, other sessions illustrated examples of how residents have contributed to community change efforts. For example, one session shared work in Macon, Georgia, where a collaboration between Mercer University and a nearby disinvested neighborhood involved neighborhood residents in the design of a community revitalization plan.

With residents and stakeholders engaged and invested in work, using data to understand the needs of a community and drive decision-making becomes imperative. Several sessions highlighted how data is being used to design strategies that address the specific challenges of a local community. For example, The Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood – led by the Youth Policy Institute (YPI) – has collected data from nearly 3500 surveys and 30 focus groups to better understand the needs of the community and its residents. With surveys capturing concerns around specific crime “hot spots” in the community, YPI was able to match survey data with police department data to gain a comprehensive perspective of crime and safety issues in the community.

Furthermore, community change initiatives require the insight and expertise of several engaged partners. For example, one session highlighted the City of Boston and its partnership with nFocus Solutions and the Search Institute to conduct a pilot project that uses the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets Profile (DAP) to better understand the internal assets – such as a commitment to learning - and external assets – such as a caring adult - that young people in Boston need to thrive. The information gathered with DAP will be shared with human service providers, ensuring they understand the unique needs and challenges of youth in the community.

The annual UNCA conference provides community practitioners, government officials, issue experts and other stakeholders with an opportunity to share best practices, learn from one another and drive the community change field forward. Stay tuned to our blog as we highlight tools, resources and lessons from communities throughout the nation that can be applied to your own community’s change efforts.

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