circle around. I am interested in exploring the tensions between the stated goals and the process of achieving them. The readings in this course have demonstrated that there are many pitfalls within the community building community itself. Some of these are as black as white as: who is the most important factor in a mobilizing effort — the individual or the group. Some of the tensions, like those about roles and the future, are more nuanced and are answered with a well it depends. At the heart of my response to this course is the recognition that there are and always will be competing objective in a world with limited resources. And that despite those limitations the objective is to find ways to adapt and evolve while retaining the human connections to one another that allow us to effectively problem solve so that we may all live well. To that extent, I discuss the nature of alliances-who should partner with whom and when; the role of the government in community building; the unit of community organizing is it the individual or the group; and finally, I discuss the pitfalls of leadership and management.
Theme I: Grassroots Transformations: Is There Room for Corporate & Community Alliances?
In chapter four of Putnam’s text, we are introduced to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI). The DSNI’s movement, which began in 1984, was successful precisely because they were able to find and bring together all of the stakeholders in the neighborhood. The residents themselves were on the boards, the residents were racially and ethnically different, and information about the movement was passed through meetings and demonstrations. Although small by some standards, the movement was powerful and effective. In the efforts of the DSNI the neighborhoods residents were the leaders instead of the heads of the agencies. The portrayal of the DSNI by Putnam and Feldstein made me wonder when the conversation that needs to happen, and the community which needs to be built is national in scale, what lessons can be drawn from DSNI. Particularly, when it comes to feminist movements, which are necessarily national if not global in nature, how should communities be built, where should the conversation take place, and who should be involved?
The Dove beauty campaign of 2004 and the grassroots efforts of the Pretty, Porky, and Pissed Off group (PPPO) in challenging notions of beauty and body self-image provide the perfect case study to explore what the impact of the involvement of community members can be. In Feminist Consumerism and Fat Activists, Johnston and Taylor explore how corporations co-opt liberation movements as part of their advertising campaigns (941). Johnston and Taylor use a qualitative analysis of interviews and documentation from PPPO organizers along with the advertisements and journals of the Dove Real Beauty campaign the authors to make a several points. The authors argue that 1) corporations have in the past and now continue to “appropriate countercultural with industrial society” for purely marketing processes; 2) the success of PPPO events which used performance pieces that actually engaged audience members on a very emotional level is more ideologically in line with feminist motivations; 3) and the dove campaign while urging women to simply ‘feel beautiful’ — itself served to contribute to stigmatize women experiencing low self-esteem because they had already internalized society wide notions of beauty. (10-15).
The Dove campaigns superficial attempts at altering beauty norms while still peddling beauty products and encouraging women to simply accept that they don’t fit the model, suggests that perhaps there is little room for alliances across corporations and grassroots movements which are staffed by real people with a real-non profit- stake the issues. On the other hand, It may be that even if we were to conclude that corporations are effective in building communities- because of their ability to make any idea ubiquitous- since they operate primarily on the basis of profit, they would not be good stewards of the question what is desirable. Perhaps there is both room and a need for both mainstream corporate approaches as well as the radical grassroots movements, when considering how best to transform society. At some point, it has to be acknowledged that mainstream is a large part of society, and any true lasting transformations will have to occur both on the fringes, in the suburbs, in our urban centers, and our rural communities.
From Putnam and the efforts of the DSNI, the PPPO’s success is familiar. And, arguably it may have much greater longevity than the Dove movement, because it uses the kinds of narrative story telling and relationship building mechanisms that we saw successful from the churches to the shipyards and the schools. Throughout Better Together, Putnam and Feldstein emphasize that the path to true social capital requires individuals to engage in on-going interactions within small groups. When corporations decide- even if they do it for profit reasons- to embark on a campaign to challenge and alter some of the underlying beliefs of some of society’s conventions, true transformation still requires the presence of truly revolutionary grass roots movements working alongside the more mainstream corporate movements to keep everyone honest.
Theme II: Identifying Needs & Building Communities: The Future Role of Government
The primary lesson of chapter 3 of Denhardt’s Public Administration, is the need to understand the complicated web that defines the relationships between the state and federal government. In particular, the text focused on the fiscal relationships between the federal and state governments. From our readings in Putnam it was clear that the monetary contributions of state agencies played a crucial role in communities building spaces for engagement and activism. Denhardt adds the element of the sheer number of players involved in government grant allocations. One thing is clear; there is room for improvement in the process of allocations. Some of that change has occurred, with the emergence of large numbers of non-profit organizations and the change from restricted grants to block grants. Flexibility, creativity, and partnerships across, public, private, and non-profit organizations continue to provide innovative solutions to continuously evolving social and public problems.
Denhardt’s analysis reveals that at a basic level, the manner in which the government interacts with the states and other partners is dependent at least in part on the political climate and the administration currently in office. Currently, the U.S. is having vibrant debates and conversations in the midst of recall elections about the role of labor and unions in the U.S. economy. It stands to reason then, that the role of government in building communities may decrease or at the very least evolve. What lessons can be drawn from current models of grant allocation so that states and local communities can prepare for changes?
In Goal Conflict and Fund Diversion in Federal Grants to States, Nicholson-Crotty offers an alternative method to determine how federal grants are used by the states. He suggests that ‘goal congruence” the degree to which the federal government and the agency have the same principles and outcomes in mind the more likely that the funds are used in the manner intended by the federal government (110-115). Nicholson-Crotty’s article begins by explaining the existing models of grant diversion. Namely the “fiscal choice” model which relies on an analysis of the restrictions placed on the grantee and t he Chubb’s model which utilizes the ‘principal-agent framework’ and the hierarchical nature of the relationships between grantors and grantees to shed light on the effectiveness of the grant. In Corbin, the fact that inter-governmental relationships are complicated vertically but also horizontally by outside organization is presented (2). This further complicates the Chubb’s model. Nicholson-Crotty’s finds both approaches short-sighted and suggests that the variable that both approaches fail to consider “goal congruence” is a far better predictor of rates of grant diversion (4-5). Through his empirical review of state grants to law enforcement agencies and Medicare, Nicholson-Crotty concludes that government oversight cannot solve the problem of fund diversion; only, bringing the parties into a conversation about policy conflicts and goals can accomplish a significant reduction in grant diversion (12-15).
The Nicholson-Crotty analysis poses several lessons for communities interested in continuing to thrive regardless of the federal government’s ability or willingness to continue to be a primary grantor. The first lesson is that the success indicator of a grant was determined primarily by whether or not the federal government’s mandates were met. This poses a concern for several reasons, chief among them, the fact that local communities are concerned more about effectively providing needed resources, than they are about fulfilling checklists and following blueprints created in Washington D.C. The second lesson is that in a political climate such as this one, where Republicans show absolutely commitment to any lofty principals like ‘goal congruence’ building communities of self-reliance may be an important tactic. In the face of a shrinking federal government there may be just greater self-reliance, in the form of non-profit organizations that provide services driven mainly by volunteers. Nicholson-Crotty’s analysis fails to include a bi-directional definition of goal congruence.
Theme III: Organizing Priorities: The Individual v. The Group
In the discussion of the formation of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, in chapter 8 of Better Together, Putnam demonstrates the creation of social capital based on the strength of human relationships and visceral emotional connections. What was fascinating about the creation of the union was that it used a relationship-based strategy even with hostile administrators and it did so successfully. In other words the union, without attacking, set a tone which placed equal importance on the grievances suffered by the individuals as they did on the proposed remedies and the pursuit of solutions with the Harvard administration. The different iterations of the HUCTW and its previous failures present a critical strategy question which all community groups and organizing entities must ask themselves: what is the unit of representation. In the same way that businesses have to decide whether they are a sole proprietorship, a limited liability corporation; a full corporation, or an S-Corporation, organizers must go through a similar process-albeit more organically. Can other groups successfully model themselves on the successes of the HUCTW?
In Community Organizing or Organizing Community? Gender and the Crafts of Empowerment, authors Stall and Stoecker present two different approaches towards community development and community organizing. The Alinsky power-based model which focuses on the elevation of community leaders to positions of public office, and the women-centered interpersonal model that focuses on the relationships between members of an organization. The two approaches are on opposite sides of an ideological continuum but they address the same question. What is the best way to develop communities and organize constituencies-whether they are political or social? In exploring answers to that question, Stall and Stoecker present the Alinsky model v. The “women-centered” view of interpersonal relations as two competing paradigms addressing community organizers (729-731). Whether they need to be competing models is questionable. They are not mutually exclusive. They may, arguably, be able to co-exist and in fact complement one another when appropriate.
More than just a distinction between power centered and relationship centered mechanisms of organizing, Stall and Stoecker are concerned about the relegation of important organizing work-that of building the very relationships which sustain movements in the long run- to the private sphere (732). For example, they discuss the work of Patricia Hill Collins centered on “extended mothering networks” for an example of the link between the intensely private and its community building component (731-733). Though the importance of building relationships cannot be underestimated, Stall and Stoecker do a grave disservice to women by insisting only on the recognition of the importance of the private sphere and women’s roles in it, without suggesting ways for women to enter and thrive in the public sphere. David Smith recognizes the importance of interpersonal relationships and their use even in public structures (2). Smith discusses the impact that personality can have when persuading alderman.
Whether other groups can successfully model the HUCTW with interpersonal relationships at the core of defining the organizing movement depends largely on the personalities and philosophies of the leaders of the movement. In light of the success of HUCTW — a mostly female union- it is interesting to note that in the political science literature and the game theory literature there are emerging models which take into account the strategic importance of cooperation. This is something that the secretaries and assistants at Harvard identified and employed successfully. The value, importance, and efficacy of the interpersonal model referred to as the ‘women-centered’ model by Stall and Stoecker cannot be denied. What remains up for discussion, however is whether the model’s success relies on uniform gendered interests such as those of the HUCTW or whether cooperation can be expanded in heterogeneous communities.
Theme IV: Leadership, Management & Power
Denhardt’s fifth chapter on the development and management of organizations suggests that fluidity and flexibility lie at the heart of good management. Continuously changing conditions require an adaptable strategy. Specifically, public agencies are subject to the changes in public funding, policy, and changes in the administration. Denhardt’s characterization of the challenges of managerial success suggests that the role of the internal culture of an organization is important in creating indicators of success that don’t rely exclusively on external factors for validation. It is difficult to think about managerial success in any sense without also thinking about the climate in which a manager may act. Politicians are notorious for blaming the government and describing it as inept or as a failure while they themselves are part of t he government. Denhardt’s work poses challenges for managers to succeed in an environment characterized by predicted mismanaged and expected incompetence. How can leaders and managers of agencies and community-based organizations address anti-government rhetoric?
There are several strategies suggested by Cooper in The Duty to Take Care. Among other things, it is important for a manager to have an in-depth understanding of the environment one is operating within (9). It is not enough to just have a vision, a manager must also have a realistic understanding of the history and details of the organization’s everyday responsibilities. Cooper explores these challenges by looking at Obama’s failure to govern. He identifies the capacity deficiens in government (3-8). Cooper concludes that though Obama entered into office with many challenges and many promises his failure to recognize the inability of the federal agencies to hire staff, train their staff, and pose for the entire country (4). Cooper focuses on the federal government’s lack of ability to administer contracts efficiently to demonstrate how everything from the wars in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina can be attributed to staffing inadequacies at the Government Accountability Office.
The primary lesson for leaders and managers of organizations is the need to be hyper vigilant about what your organization and your people are capable of. In other words it is important to assess the skills, the resources, and the number of staff members in order to carryout the organizations mission. This poses unique challenges for non-profit organizations because they are routinely underfunded, understaffed, and under-resourced.
From the many tensions and conflicts reveled by Putnam and Denhardt, the importance of persistence, clearly articulated goals, a unified vision, common principles, and deep relationships all reign supreme. Above all, all of the questions should be filtered through and around questions about what is good for the community as a whole (Ledgister 1-4).
Cooper, P.J. “The Duty to Take Care:President Obama, Public Administration, and the Capacity to Govern.” Public Administration Review 71.1 (2011): 7-18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2010.02302.x
Corbin, Julia. “Connect The Dots for Putnam and Denhardt Readings.” Colleague Paper.
Pages 1-4. September, 26, 2011.
Denhardt, Robert B. (2008) Public Administration: An Action Orientation. Belmont, CA:
Johnston, Josee, and Judith Taylor. “Feminist Consumerism and Fat Activists: A Comparative
Study of Grassroots Activism and the Dove Real Beauty Campaign.” Signs 33.4 (2008): 941-966. .
Ledgister, Kimberly. “Human Capital Change.” Colleague Paper. Pages 1-4. October 31, 2011.
Nicholson-Crotty, Sean. “Goal Conflict and Fund Diversion in Federal Grants to the States.”
American Journal of Political Science 48.1 (2004): 110-122. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.
Putnam, Robert. & Feldstein Lewis (2005) Better Together: Restoring the American
Community. Cambridge University Press.
Smith, David. “Denhardt-Putnam Connect the Dots.” Colleague Paper. Pages 1-4. October 24, 2011.
Stall, Susan, and Randy Stoecker. “Community Organizing or Organizing Community? Gender
and the Crafts of Empowerment.” Gender & Society 12.6 (1998): 729-756. Web. 9 Dec. 2011. .
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