There is plenty of research about the successful elements of a good community partnership. This series of posts isn’t based on research, at least not directly. I’m hoping my experiences in this particular community project will provide useful insight and maybe some new ideas for your own community partnership. And just as important, I am hoping readers will leave their own experiences about their community partnerships so maybe we can use some of those ideas, too. If I do this right, it should be useful for people in each of the groups I’ve represented: government employees, college/university representatives, community non-profit and community member.
Here’s the backstory. In June of 2009 an involved community member approached me about advocating for our community as the head of a North Park neighborhood association. The local news was that San Diego Unified School District was closing down a local elementarys school that was under-enrolled and replacing it with a second chance school for students who had violated the District’s Zero Tolerance policy. The school, Alternative Learning for Behavior and Attitude (“ALBA) Community Day School, was received with mixed emotions and concerns about the impact that the kids might have on the neighborhood and the less than ideal portions of the neighborhood might have on the kids. By this time I’d been a neighbor/volunteer for five or six years, which meant I wasn’t the most long-term volunteer but had been doing enough thankless jobs like picking up trash to convince a large number of people that I care about where I live. This was probably an important starting point.
The goal of my participation was to try to help maximize the benefit of the school coming to North Park and minimize any possible negative impacts. Probably a secondary goal was also to help all the sides move forward in a way that built some trust and showed that we had shared priorities. Because the School District was going to save several million dollars putting ALBA in North Park, the neighbors–fueled by comments from School Board Trustee Richard Barrera–felt there were opportunities to improve the park and immediate surrounding community. This worked well for me because I’d been working on trying to improve the immediate area and figured any positive attention, especially coupled with physical improvements, could make a useful difference.
The posts that follow on this topic all relate to aspects of the relationship: communication, planning, goal setting and execution. My experience, though mixed at times, was that a successful community partnership is possible when the leadership on all sides is willing to put the ultimate goal ahead of things like who gets credit and where the ideas come from. As the posts will demonstrate, the one indispensable component of this–and probably most–community partnerships is a local government advocate who believes in the work and is willing to champion it. Our project had three–the School Board Trustee, the Superintendent of the District and the City Councilmember. I’d welcome any feedback from your own experiences in these types of partnerships as you read.