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Publication #FCS9210

IFAS Community Development: Stage 1 of Empowering Your Community–Initiation1

Jade Marcus, Mark Brennan, Muthusami Kumaran, Randall Cantrell, and Michael Spranger 2

This paper is part of a series of discussions on community development. This series includes specialized papers on civic engagement, community action, and other topics important to community development.


Residents of communities are increasingly expected to assume greater responsibilities in addressing local issues, planning for future development, and providing community services. In response to the pressures and changes facing communities, activists, community-based nonprofit organizations, and coalitions of concerned community groups have emerged to shape and guide the development process. Similarly, organized residents continue to play instrumental roles in identifying new development opportunities in localities that historically were presented with few or no such options.

Community-based action is increasingly seen as essential to the overall development of a community and its residents’ well-being. In its most basic form, this action refers to the process of building social relationships in pursuit of common community interests and maintaining local life (Wilkinson, 1970; Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff and Bridger, 2003). Such action is the foundation of the community development process because it represents deliberate and positive efforts designed to meet the general needs of all local residents.

While central to the emergence of community development, the organizing of local residents into community actions does not take place by itself. It is a process that needs to be cultivated and systematically approached (Cantrell and Stafford, 2013). Through this process, the interactions among local residents evolve through a series of steps that focus on solving specific problems, establishing channels of communication, and establishing a framework for long-term social change (Wilkinson, 1991). During the first stage, the process focuses on initiating community interest and promoting awareness of issues as well as establishing opportunities for participation in action (Wilkinson, 1970; Wilkinson, 1991).

Initiation of Community Action

While interactions among residents facilitate solutions to many of the basic human needs, the development of purposive community action requires more focused links between members to foster change. The first phase of community action is initiation (Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff and Bridger, 2003). Initiation of interest occurs when residents from across the community identify common issues/needs and begin to discuss them as potential focus areas for group action (Luloff and Swanson, 1995; Wilkinson, 1991). This process facilitates the spread of awareness across diverse groups and reflects the process of acknowledging common issues/needs in the community and the recognition that solutions to resolve them exist (Korsching and Allen, 2004). By addressing these commonalities and planning possible solutions, the community action process begins.

For example, a local school board and a real estate business operating in the community can have widely different priorities that they feel are essential to meeting the needs of their particular social group. However, through interaction in a variety of settings, both can come to an agreement that they and other groups have mutual community needs, such as community safety. Instead of the school board asking for increased security guards and the real estate sector pushing for more police coverage, the groups realize that a partnership such as a neighborhood crime watch program and a homeowners association would achieve a greater impact. Such efforts would not only help the school protect their students, but increase property values and the preservation of neighborhood security. Bringing in even more groups such as religious, business, civic organizations, and others within the community would further expand the representation of local voices in the decision-making process.

Identifying common needs and initiating efforts to meet those needs can take many forms. Often times, the active choice of diverse residents is to organize themselves to resolve some immediate threat or overarching need. Such conditions tend to make the organization of active individuals more simple and direct. However, action often focuses solely on the success or failure of efforts to address the needs (task accomplishment). While such conditions are of course beneficial in bringing people together, they can serve only short-term action efforts. Considering such factors, it is useful for Extension and other change agents to consider more long-term plans and to frame action as part of a greater effort to improve the vibrancy and vitality of the community. Bringing together residents in such settings is not based around a single issue, but rather in response to the need to promote the overall local well-being of residents.

Including Initiation in Extension Work

When issues are identified and discussed in the initiation stage, they are often in the context of accomplishing one or more specific goals. Herein lies the importance of interaction: When diverse residents communicate about issues facing their shared locality, they are building relationships with other members of the community who would otherwise may not interact with them. As a product of such interactions within community, the development process of the community emerges.

Fostering Initiation

Change does not come only from those formally named as community organizers, but from people who live and interact within a community. Recognizing these people as important assets and direct agents of change is imperative in shaping the emergence of community action. The initiation stage of community action is therefore essential to increasing individual awareness and providing a venue for people to come together and become active. Initiation can include the following actions:

  • Start with a small number of people who represent the diversity of the community.

Identifying stakeholders, leaders from various groups throughout the community, and other important partners will help frame initial efforts. This includes members of the business community, social service sector, local government, school board, Parent-Teacher Associations, local newspapers and media, as well as religious groups. These individuals are the primary connection to the diverse groups they represent in the community and can serve the important role of bringing a wider audience into development efforts.

  • Identify social fields not represented.

Based on the initial grouping of individuals involved in the community action process, it is possible to identify individuals/groups missing from the decision-making process. To better identify these groups, a listing or asset mapping of all of the stakeholders within the community (e.g. religious, social, business, government) and the organizations or groups that comprise these fields (e.g. churches, community development corporations, chamber of commerce, city commission) can be developed. This process helps identify those voices that might be missing from local decision-making. To be successful, community action efforts must be inclusive of the many diverse groups and perspectives within the community. By fostering diverse interactions and relationships across the community that would otherwise not occur, an entity stronger than the sum of its parts develops.

  • Develop a framework for linking fields and bringing in new people.

Once the organizations existing within the community are identified, innovative, creative, and unique strategies for addressing issues that build on the strengths of the community can be developed. Building on the diverse skills and background present within the community, this approach involves meeting local needs through methods unique to the locality instead of concentrating on traditional courses of action. This framework involves innovation and allows us to link a variety of organizations and institutions within the community towards addressing its given needs.

  • Spread awareness through all channels available.

With groups and partners identified, it is important then to begin a course of action for spreading awareness among all residents of the community. By identifying various groups and establishing channels of communication, these groups can in turn disseminate the information about local issues to their respective members. For example, efforts to raise awareness and call residents to action can be presented at civic events, festivals, sports events, religious gatherings, and town meetings.


Initiation and promotion of awareness are vital first steps in the community action process. From this stage, strong relationships are established that represent the entire community. These relationships cut across the various divides and social barriers that may exist within a community. More importantly, the initiation and promotion of awareness provide a strong foundation for stage two of the action process, organization of sponsorship. Initiation is the first step in the process that allows local residents to take on a more direct and active role in local decision making, thereby taking on an increased say in the decisions that shape their lives.


Cantrell, R. and A. Stafford (2013). The Introduction and Development of the Community-flow Measurement Instrument, Journal of Community Development. (

Green, G.P. and A. Haines. 2012. Asset Building and Community Development. (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press, Inc.

Korshing, P.F. and J. C. Allen. 2004. “Locally Based Entrepreneurship: A Strategy for Community Economic Vitality.” Community Development Journal. 39 (4): 385-400.

Luloff, A.E., and J. Bridger. 2003. Community Agency and Local Development. Pp. 203-213 in, Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty-First Century, edited by D. Brown and L. Swanson. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Luloff, A. E. and L. Swanson. 1995. "Community Agency and Disaffection: Enhancing Collective Resources." Pp. 351-372 in Investing in People: The Human Capital Needs of Rural America, edited by L. Beaulieu and D. Mulkey. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Wilkinson, K. 1970. “Phases and roles in community action.” Rural Sociology. 35 (1): 54-68.

Wilkinson, K.P. 1991. The Community in Rural America. New York, NY: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Suggeted Websites

The Asset-Based Community Development Institute

The Community Development Society

Community Resource Group

Civic Practices Network

International Association for Community Development



This document is FCS9210, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date April 2005. Revised January 2014. Reviewed January 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Jade Marcus, former graduate student, Mark Brennan, PhD, former assistant professor, Muthusami Kumaran, PhD, assistant professor, Randall Cantrell, PhD, assistant professor; and Michael Spranger, PhD, professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.