A Community Assessment Scenario
The following scenario is used to illustrate that a community assessment (including whom we choose to involve/who is considered to be a stakeholder, how we choose to involve them, the sources of information considered to be relevant, the techniques used to collect information, and the kind of assessment plan developed) will be influenced by the model of community organization to which community workers ascribe (see Rothman's Three Models of Community Organization for more information). The scenario also reflects how, in facilitating a community assessment, community workers will often use a combination of social planning, social action and locality development techniques. It also highlights that the process for a community assessment (ie, the timing and sequencing of data collection and analysis activities) will vary according to the community.
The Indices of Need for Social Services by Community Districts: 1991 - 1995 identifies the community as a high need area. There are issues of poverty and reliance on government transfer payments, a large number of lone parent families and a lack of connection or informal networks among community residents. There are few formal support services in the community and those that are available are under-utilized due to an inherent mistrust of professionals. Local members value their privacy, but in a time of dire need, they will rally to support and assist a family, especially if they have been a long-term member of the community. It is a predominantly blue-collar community where families from a number of different ethnic backgrounds have lived for several generations. There are some extended family members living in close proximity.
Process and Methodologies
The initial focus was to develop relationships and a referent group that represented a cross-section of the people who live and work in the community (locality development).
Key informant interviews and focus groups provided residents with an opportunity to meet and talk about the issues behind the social indicators of need (locality development and social planning).
An initial sector map was developed using secondary data, such as age, income, education and ethnic background. It also identified service providers (social planning) and other community resources. The sector map evolved as different groups and community characteristics emerged that were not represented in the secondary data, but were discovered by walking around and talking to people (locality development).
An assessment group was formed in the community to start developing a collective vision of the issues and strengths in the community. For those sub-groups that were not involved in this process, efforts were made to find ways to connect with them and to have their issues addressed (locality development).
A variety of means were used to raise the profile of the community worker and the assessment including articles in newsletters, posters and speaking with existing groups at their meetings. There was an open invitation for the community to influence and participate in the process of assessment (locality development).
Discussions regarding the secondary data, community needs and gaps in services were held with service providers working in the community (social planning and locality development). One of the issues identified was that there are a number of families who do not access formal support services in the community as they do not have adequate resources (e.g., child care, transportation, fees). Further information was compiled to support the assumption that residents would be less isolated and healthier if there were more formal services located in the community.
Surveys for service providers were developed to determine how many referrals are made to resources outside of the community, and how many people do not follow through (social planning). Based on the data collected, a decision was made to begin advocating for services to be offered locally. The data was compiled and presented to the agencies and funders that could assist in developing a one-stop centre for services in the community.
Surveys were distributed to community members asking them to identify community issues and priorities. They were also asked to identify the supports needed to address the community issues, including those they would like to see accessibly located within the community (locality development).
Power structures and issues within the community were examined for inequities (social action). People were brought together to explore the social indicators of need that labelled them as a high needs community. While identifying the common issues, lack of income became a key theme amongst the residents. Also, various groups began to discover common issues concerning government transfer payments and low-income jobs that kept them in poverty. They analyzed policies and practices to determine their effects at an individual and community level. They talked about the effects of poverty, such as the isolation and chronic lack of resources for their children. The ethnic groups stated that they felt further marginalized because of discrimination within the community as well as the systems that are intended to assist them. The community worker's role in this process was to assist in getting access to the policy information, and then to set up meetings to discuss concerns.
The local social assistance and child welfare workers were invited to meet with these groups in order to explain and discuss their organizations' policies and procedures. A follow-up letter was sent to both organizations regarding the issues that were discussed at the meeting.
The community worker organized a town hall meeting in which the community could come together to discuss and assess the issues and strengths of their community (locality development, social planning and social action). As groups came together for this purpose, opportunities were also created for mutual aid and for community members to take leadership roles (locality development), and to begin to develop a vision for a healthy community.
The development of new groups or the utilization of existing groups created a number of sub-committees interested in a toy-lending library, a collective kitchen and a women's timeout.
These groups assessed whether there were similar programs available, the skills and resources required to develop the programs, who could participate, and how to maximize accessibility for residents (locality development).
Strategies were developed to deal with certain social issues, within a larger context. Local groups were linked with other groups in the city which were concerned about the same issues (social action). For example, the community worker assisted in developing coalitions amongst groups interested in addressing social assistance rates and the effects of poverty on families.
Further lobbying for services was done between the interagency group and the agencies, management and funders (social planning, social action). Social indicators of need, the results of the community survey and focus groups and local social action initiatives were used to access resources to assist the community in addressing its identified needs (social planning, locality development).