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Professor John McKnight: Community Building

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Building Associations

What we know is that there are a lot of organizations already organized where you are, and the question may be, an organizer's question is "How might we get them to come together in ways that would increase the well-being of the community, that would make more powerful action to improve the community?" How would you do that? And let's say they talked to the chairs of 30 groups and 20 say "We're not doing it, but we would be willing to do it with other groups in the neighborhood."

So if you want a method that seems to be working better than any other we've seen, this is it. Incidentally, when you ask the question Would you be willing... Would your group... If you're group isn't doing this, would you be willing to do it with other groups in the community? You want to add the other groups in the community. You get a very significant percentage of people answering Yeah, we're willing to do that.

And so now you have the real stuff, the associational stuff that you need, right, to begin to build a powerful community acting in broader ways to do things. The neighborhoods that have done the best are the neighborhoods that have formed organizations of all the associations—not individuals, but associations-that if you begin to see the associations around you and began to approach them in this kind of a framework, you would see as a community organizer, that's what you're doing, you're organizing a community, a kind of change that I think usually we don't see.

Let's put the associations on the map. There they are. So those are the first two building blocks-the gifts, skills, and capacities of local people and the associations that are around them that take them and put them together, and an organizer then can put them together.

If you can get people through their associations, they will do many, many things that they will not do individually and in part because they know it's more powerful when they do it collectively as well. So our problem as organizers is inviting, is knowing the associational framework, and making the invitation to people to become active around the kinds of concerns that you have.

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