Community Building: What Works - A report from 1997

Recently, a friend shared this book about community. It was published in 1997, written by Paul Mattessich, Barbara Monsey, and Corinna Roy, Community Building: What Makes it Work: A Review of Factors Influencing Successful Community Building

They reviewed 525 case studies for key ingredients that resulted in the success (or failure) of specific community building initiatives. Part of the definition of ‘community’ for their research was that communities were geographically based – people living in proximity to one another.

Characteristics of the Community Building Process
Mattessich, Monsey, and Roy identified 15 characteristics of successful community building:

1. Widespread Participation
Successful efforts occur more often in communities that promote widespread participation.

2. Good System of Communication
Successful community building efforts tend to have well-developed systems of communication.

3. Minimal Competition in Pursuit of Goals
Successful efforts tend to occur in communities where existing community organizations do not perceive other organizations or the leaders of a community building initiative as competitors.

4. Develop Self-Understanding
Successful efforts are more likely to occur when the process includes developing a group identity, clarifying priorities, and agreeing on how to achieve goals.

5. Benefits to Many Residents
Successful efforts are more likely if community goals, tasks, and activities have clear, visible benefits to many people in the community.

6. Focus on Product and Process Concurrently
Community building initiatives are more likely to succeed when efforts to build relationships (the process focus) include tangible events and accomplishments (the product focus).

7. Linkage to Organizations Outside the Community
Successful efforts are more likely to occur when members have ties to organizations outside the community.

8. Progression from Simple to Complex Activities
Success is more likely when the process moves community members from simple to progressively more complex activities.

9. Systematic Gathering of Information and Analysis of Community Issues
Successful community building efforts are more likely occur when the process includes taking careful steps to measure and analyze the needs and problems of the community.

10. Training to Gain Community Building Skills
Success is more likely when participants receive training to increase their community building skills.

11. Early Involvement and Support from Existing Organizations
Successful community building efforts tend to occur most often in situations where community organizations of long tenure and solid reputation become involved early.

12. Use of Technical Assistance
Success is more likely to occur when community residents use technical assistance to help residents gain competence in a particular area.

13. Continual Emergence of Leaders
Successful community building efforts are more likely when the process includes the means to produce new leaders over time.

14. Community Control Over Decision Making
Success is more likely when residents have control over decisions, particularly over how funds are used.

15. The Right Mix of Resources
Successful community building efforts occur when the process is not overwhelmed by too many resources or stifled by too few, and when there is a balance between internal and external resources.

What are your thoughts on this list? Anything you would change or add? Please share.


Wow! Research done in 1997–quite some time ago–is still so timely. Thanks for posting this, Dem. I immediately noticed points of convergence with the sociocratic framing of self-governance, like wide-spread participation, training to gain community-building skills, progression from simple to complex, community control over decision-making, and continual emergence of leaders–at least in theory! The proof is in the pudding, as they say. The feedback element that is vital to sociocracy is not clearly surfaced in this list, but implied in some of the characteristics. I like that “success” is the defining measure. It would be interesting to explore how success is defined by the authors.