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Twelve “C’s” for Sustaining Civic Work

The Twelve “C’s” list was written by Michael Briand of the California State University at Chico.

To some extent, every situation in which a community endeavors to sustain an effort to achieve some goal is unique. Communities, circumstances, and challenges vary from place to place and from one point in time to another. This fact makes it difficult to speak in terms of “models” for sustaining community efforts.

The term “model” suggests a particular way of acting—the employment of certain methods, techniques, procedures, etc.—that has been shown to make possible the achievement of specified results. It implies a “type” of strategy that “works” for particular kinds of communities, circumstances, and challenges.

Whether or not an inventory of “models” or “types of strategy” might someday be developed, currently no such thing exists. It’s easy to see why: there simply is too much variation in communities, circumstances, and challenges to predict what will work for a given community, circumstance, and challenge based on what has been done in other situations.

For this reason, it makes more sense to think in terms of generally-applicable guidelines or principles. Although it’s not possible to prescribe in detail a particular strategy for sustaining a particular community effort, it is possible to identify a number of considerations that experience tells us are likely to affect a community’s ability to do so. Here are a dozen principles, couched in terms of considerations a community should take into account. The more likely it is that a community can give affirmative answers to these questions, the more confident it can be that it will prove able to sustain its efforts.

Community: Do people believe the process will be open—that anyone can join and contribute at any time? Do they believe it will be inclusive—that all perspectives and interests will be represented? Do they believe people will be “community-minded” and “public-spirited”? Do they believe shared goals will take priority over narrow, particular ones?

Connection: Do people have a personal stake or interest? Does it matter to them? Do they feel a sense of personal responsibility? Will they avoid responsibility or accept it? Will what they do be a high-enough priority relative to their careers, families, social life, etc.?

Capacity: Do people feel they have something to contribute? Do they have resources they can bring to bear: experience, creativity, time, energy, stamina, etc.?

Choice: Do people see multiple possibilities for acting, or do they feel constrained by pre-determined options?

Change: Do people believe their efforts will have an impact? Will their involvement make any difference? Is their contribution wanted/needed/valued?

Consequences: Do people believe the benefits will outweigh the costs? Are they prepared to take necessary risks? Do they fear adverse repercussions?

Control: Do people feel a sense of personal efficacy, competence? Do they feel they personally can influence what is done and how it is done?

Cooperation: Do people believe others will join the effort and do their share of the work? Will they help rather than hinder one another? Will they complement each other’s efforts?

Correctibility: Will the effort be flexible and adaptable? Or will stubbornness or rigidity prevent people from admitting and learning from mistakes?

Communication: Will there be full and frequent exchanging of information between organizations, between citizens, and between each of these and their representatives in government? Will there be feedback? Will participants systematically and routinely ask,

  • Who is doing what?
  • What results are we getting? How much progress are we making? Of what sort? How do we know? What evidence do we have? How is it being measured?
  • What actions or steps do we need to start taking? What do we need to do that we haven’t done? Who will do what by when?
  • What things should we stop doing? What actions are we taking that we shouldn’t be taking?
  • What things should we continue doing? What actions are we taking that we should keep on taking?

Celebration: Will people’s efforts and successes be recognized and rewarded (especially in the beginning, when progress may be slow or fitful)?

Continuity: Do people believe enough of their fellow community members will become and stay engaged over time so that they can disengage—transfer their responsibilities to others—as they reach the limits of their time and energy? Is there a “plan for succession”? Will new leaders be developed and new followers recruited?

This great resource was contributed to NCDD’s 2009 Public Engagement Principles project by Michael Briand.

Also of note, The Center for Civic Partnerships has a similarly titled resource. Their  12 ‘C’s of a Collaborative focuses on collaborative actions and attitudes in the support and building of communities.

  More Resources  

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