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Where Are We Now? - Community Involvement

Where Are We Now? | Where Do We Want to Be? | How Do We Get There? | Let's Go!

Victorian Houses with Skyscraper Background"Chattanooga possesses both the chemistry and the hope needed to transform itself. I'd never seen a city where an outsider can come in and immediately become a player...Chattanooga allows people to do that."
Gerald Mason, Board Member, Chattanooga Venture

"The political activity that pervades the United States must be seen in order to be understood. No sooner do you set foot upon American ground than you are stunned by a kind of tumult; a confused clamor is heard on every side, and a thousand simultaneous voices demand the satisfaction of their social wants. Everything is in motion around you; here the people of one quarter of a town are met to decide upon the building of a church; there the election of a representative is going on; a little farther, the delegates of a district are hastening to the town in order to consult upon some local improvements; in another place, the laborers of a village quit their plows to deliberate upon the project of a road or a public school. Meetings are called for the sole purpose of declaring their disapprobation of the conduct of the government; while in other assemblies citizens salute the authorities of the day as the fathers of their country."
Alexis de Tocqueville on citizen participation. Source: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Chapter XIV.

Community involvement is a cornerstone of a Green Communities program. A well developed community involvement program will bring people together and allow them to share ideas and concepts and to arrive at a consensus on what is best for the community. This section offers tips, guidance, and resources on getting a community involvement program underway in conjunction with the community assessment process under the question "Where Are We Now". The section discusses some of the more popular community involvement tools and provides sources where information on creating and sustaining community involvement programs can be found.

Community involvement is an opportunity to get "grassroots" participation in the Green Communities program. Effective community involvement can:

The community involvement process should begin early and often. Early involvement at the community assessment stage will:

Check out Northwestern University's Capacity Inventory.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

Also Check out Know Your Watershed's Leading and Communicating: A Guide for Watershed Partnerships publication.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

Planning the Community Involvement Program

Effective community involvement does not just happen but requires careful planning. The first step in this process is determining the needs of the community. The following is a checklist of items that should be considered in planning and organizing a community involvement program:

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Steps in Designing Community Involvement Programs

  1. Identify Issues, Needs and Concerns. Solicit Opinions and Get the Community Involved.
  2. Identify Stakeholders.
  3. Establish Goals and Objectives for Community Involvement.
  4. Organize the Community Involvement Program.
  5. Develop a Community Involvement Plan.
  6. Get the Media Involved.
  7. Select Tools and Techniques.
  8. Implement the Program.

The EPA provides guidance in establishing goals and objectives for communities in its Superfund Community Tools Website.

A Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) is a voluntary process by which a community and a company work toward improving the environmental performance of a facility in that community.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

Good Neighbor Agreements: A Tool for Environmental and Social Justice is taken from Social Justice, Volume 23, Number 4. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

The Citizen's Handbook is an excellent and very thorough online grassroots organizing guide.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

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Selecting the Tools

The following is a list of tools and techniques that can help to inform the community, enlist community involvement, and answer the question, "Where Are We Now." This is not intended to be a complete listing.


Public Kickoff Meeting

The planning team should all come out in support of this event which formally announces the start of the process and solicits involvement from the community in developing the Community Assessment which is the result of asking the question, "Where Are We Now?" This is an excellent opportunity for elected officials and other highly respected community leaders to show their support for the project and to answer questions posed by the general public. The meeting should be announced several weeks in advance using various media. Be careful to time the event so it does not conflict with holidays, vacations, or other scheduled meetings and events. An evening meeting is usually the best time to attract the most people. Ensure that the location of the meeting is easily accessible for the community and that it is accessible by the handicapped. Once you start holding meetings, it is best to change the locations to enable the widest attendance.


Workshops are informal sessions usually organized to develop and discuss and possibly resolve a specific issue or issues. Workshops are usually agenda driven but have the informality for discussions, brainstorming, presentations, and role playing. Workshops can include a large number of people and can be organized into "breakout groups" for more focused discussions, brainstorming or role playing. The workshop can achieve the following results:


Surveys allow us to "take the pulse" of the community. Surveys can be designed to test public knowledge of a particular issue and can give valuable feedback on opinions and attitudes on the community and the current status of the community. The survey can also be used to obtain information on the other questions such as "Where Do We Want To Be?" Survey documents need to be designed so they ask the appropriate questions and do not confuse the recipient.

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Applied Community Involvement

The National Civic League, an organization committed to community leadership, has coined the term Civic Infrastructure. They define civic infrastructure as the formal and informal processes and networks through which communities make decisions and solve problems. Successful communities recognize the interdependence in the community of business, government, non-profit organizations and citizens coming together to identify and solve problems. (from, The Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook, The National Civic League and The Alliance for National Renewal) This is precisely the intent of the Green Community's community involvement process. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

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The Civic Index

The National Civic League has developed a Civic Index, a tool developed to measure a community's planning and problem-solving capacity. Stakeholders assess the community's current performance in each of 10 areas and consider how that performance affects the profile of the community. The proposed methods to enhance the community's civic infrastructure can be integrated into the action plans later in the process.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

  1. Citizen Participation
    • Do the citizens volunteer to serve on local boards?
    • How visible and active are local civic groups?
    • Do citizens know how local government works?
    • Is participation proactive or reactive?
    • Are citizens actively involved in major projects?
  2. Community Leadership
    • Is there active leadership from all three sectors?
    • Is government willing to share leadership turf?
    • Are there training programs to nurture new leaders?
    • Is leadership results-oriented?
    • Is leadership risk-taking?
    • Do leaders take the long-term view?
    • Do leaders from the three sectors work well together?
  3. Government Performance
    • Is government free of corruption?
    • Does government address qualitative concerns about services?
    • Is government professional and entrepreneurial?
    • Is government responsive and accountable?
    • Are services provided equitably?
    • Does government consider and utilize alternative methods of service delivery?
    • Is government a positive force in addressing community needs?
  4. Volunteerism and Philanthropy
    • Is there an active community foundation?
    • Do local corporations have active giving programs?
    • Does the community have long-term philanthropic goals?
    • Do local programs encourage and honor volunteers and philanthropists?
    • Do government and business work closely with the nonprofit sector?
  5. Intergroup Relations
    • Is the community dealing with ethnic and racial diversity?
    • Does the community promote communication among diverse populations?
    • Do all groups have the skills to become involved in the community?
    • Do groups cooperate in resolving broad disputes?
    • Do small, specific conflicts escalate into larger ones?
    • Is the community dominated by narrow special-interest groups?
  6. Civic Education
    • Do schools promote or require community involvement?
    • Do schools, churches, and youth agencies offer civic education?
    • Do civic education efforts involve the entire community?
    • Do youth have ample opportunity to engage in community service?
    • Are schools teaching citizenship and civic responsibility?
  7. Community Information Sharing
    • Do citizens have enough information to make good decisions?
    • What role does government play in making information available?
    • Do schools and libraries play a role in informing the public?
    • Are there civic organizations designed for this purpose?
    • Do the media cover community issues fairly?
    • Do the media play an active and supportive role in the community?
  8. Capacity for Cooperation and Consensus Building
    • Are there neutral forums and processes where all opinions are heard?
    • Are there informal dispute-resolution processes?
    • Do community leaders have regular opportunities to share ideas?
    • Are all major interests represented in collaborative processes?
    • Do all three sectors work together to set common goals?
    • Do leaders reach collective decisions and implement them?
  9. Intercommunity Cooperation
    • How do local governments relate to each other?
    • How do regionwide policy challenges get resolved?
    • Is economic development addressed on a regionwide basis?
    • Do leaders in the region have a common forum in which to discuss issues?
    • Are any services provided on a regional basis?
    • Are any planning activities carried out on a regional basis?

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Community Capacity Building

Listed below are the "Top 10" Keys to Success as compiled by Annette Mills, Falls Church Recycling Coordinator, for the Community Capacity Building Training Session, Sustainable Chesapeake Summit, March 22, 1999.

  1. Create structures that will allow people to work together over time.
  2. Ask people individually and directly to participate in projects. A general call for volunteers is rarely as effective as personal contact.
  3. Demonstrate respect for different skills and interests, as well as levels of commitment. There should be room for everyone to participate in some way, not just those who are leaders.
  4. Encourage innovation and initiative. Consider how you might support an idea by building upon it.
  5. Provide a forum for concerns and suggestions to be expressed. Foster an atmosphere of respect and inclusion.
  6. Develop a positive "can do" spirit. If a goal is not reached by one means, try a fresh approach. Don't give up. If someone is problem oriented, invite them to be a part of the solution.
  7. Nurture relationships among volunteers by building "social time" and celebrations into meetings and other activities.
  8. Acknowledge the contributions of citizens. Make sure people know that their efforts have made a difference.
  9. Provide ongoing communication with volunteers. Regular contact is critical to maintaining effective working relationships.
  10. Be willing to make lots of personal phone calls and to write personal messages. (an hour or two of phone calling has often made the difference between a lively meeting and a dull, poorly attended one.)

Sustainable Communities Online is a resource center for people working to build strong communities throughout the United States. Its aim is to provide fast access to information and ideas covering all aspects of neighborhood revitalization, as well as to create a national network of activists working on problems that affect where we live.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) is designed to strengthen the quality of local government through professional management.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

EPA's Trilogy (Environmental Planning for Small Communities) offers a complete one-stop introduction to a wide range of environmental issues and decisions that affect small to medium-sized communities.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) "is a non-profit organization that helps build prosperous, sustainable communities by linking economic and community development with ecological improvement."Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

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