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Community Rhythms: Five Stages of Community Life

Communities have rhythms to them that we must come to understand so that our approaches, programs and initiatives — and the building of public capital — work with those rhythms, take advantage of them, even accelerate them. This 1999 report from the Harwood Institute describes five stages of community life: The Waiting Place, Impasse, Catalytic, Growth, and Sustain and Renew.

CommunityRhythmsImageAccording to the Harwood Institute, while a community can accelerate its movement through the Stages of Community Life, it cannot violate, or simply pass over, the hard work that needs to be done in each stage. For as Five Stages of Community Life reveals, each stage has its own purpose; indeed, within each stage, different approaches must be taken to grow a community.

For example, Growth strategies for the most part will not work for a community in Impasse. Why? Because the community simply does not have the kind of support — structures, relationships, networks, norms, sense of purpose, in short the level of public capital — required to undertake and sustain such strategies.

Written for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Community Rhythms report helps you understand what stage your community is in, so you can choose actions that will best fit current conditions.

The Harwood Group’s work in communities reveals that there are stages of a community’s life and that each stage has deep implications for understanding your community and what it means for moving forward. These stages echo the development of all living things, such as a person or a plant or an ecosystem. Only if you know and understand the stage in which your community rests, will you be better able to figure out what kinds of approaches, strategies and timing best fit for seeking to move your community forward.

Each stage brings its own set of challenges and opportunities. The problem in many communities is that too often we do not think about stages of community life, or are even aware of them, much less approach them strategically in terms of what they mean for our actions.

Harwood’s Stages of Community Life emerges from over a decade of research and on-the-ground initiatives throughout the U.S.

Download the report: http://ncdd.org/rc/wp-content/uploads/Harwood-CommunityRhythmsReport.pdf

More about the Harwood Institute: www.theharwoodinstitute.org

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