Getting to Know the Community
This “discovery” phase of the planning process includes information and activities to help you learn more about the community. These steps include:
- How to assess community strengths and resources
- Ways to identify community weaknesses
- How to identify potential threats or risks
- A review of at-risk populations
- Ideas to map information to better visualize your data
The term community gets used a lot, so what do we mean when we say community? We use the term to refer to persons who work, share recreation or live in a given area. Why? Because this is one way that programs and policies are developed and administered and how resources are allocated.
We acknowledge, however, that people belong to multiple communities that extend beyond geographic boundaries — cultural, gender, faith-based or professional communities for example — and those must be considered as you get to know the diversity of the wider community.
Why is understanding the community so important?
Getting to know your community helps you to communicate with locals about issues with greater ease and confidence. It builds trust with community members who recognize you’ve done your homework and open doors to future collaborations.
LEARN WHAT YOU & OTHER STAKEHOLDERS NEED TO KNOW
1. Assess Community Strengths and Resources
Every community has its strengths – qualities or characteristics that people view as an advantage compared to other areas. These include educational opportunities, community services such as early childhood education programs, its libraries or its employment opportunities.
Use this tool to identify community strengths and resources.
2. Identify Community Weaknesses
Every community has its weaknesses or challenges. These might include lack of unity (partnership and collaboration); lack of communication and engagement; lack of coordination (services, resources and support); lack of access to services; and problems such as poverty, pollution or crime.
Record characteristics that make your community weaker compared to others.
3. Identify Community Threats or Risks
Communities face threats, risks or issues such as unemployment, lack of community services, crime or environmental hazards. There are several ways to identify risks. You can seek the perspective of stakeholders, identify potential risks and review those that occurred in the past.
Identify and rank the potential community threats and risks by level of impact.
4. Review At-risk Populations
Some community members are more vulnerable than others during and after an emergency event. Groups that may need assistance include people with physical or cognitive challenges, single parents with young children, those who live without a network of social support or who are economically disadvantaged.
The Minnesota Department of Public Health explains who might be at-risk during a disaster or crisis with links to the CDC’s guide to define, locate, and reach special, vulnerable, and at-risk populations in an emergency.
This next activity will help identify which groups in your community may need help and the resources available to support them.
Note: Depending on the community, some might want to map first and then think about vulnerable populations. For mapping guidance see bullet 5 below.
Identify groups needing additional help, where they reside, and the resources that may safeguard them during a crisis.
5. Map Your Community
Maps can help you visualize the space you live in and the people and places that might be affected by different threats or risks. Organizing all this information in one place can help you prioritize your activities and assign roles to members of your coalition.
Our RESOURCES section connects you with data and tools to describe populations and public services at the state, county, city and neighborhood level.
To produce a paper map:
- Print out a map of your community.
- Select one of the community threat or risk or other data you previously identified. Draw a line around the areas that will be affected. Are there populations at risk in these locations? Highlight those communities.
- Identify any resources close by. These could be businesses that may have equipment, community organizations with translations skills, or health centers.
- Repeat these steps for each of your community threat or risk.
What does it mean to be a resilient community?
Do you need to brush up on the concepts of resilience so you can confidently describe to others what it is, why it matters, and what it means to be a resilient community?
Review RAND’s Community Resilience Learn & Tell Toolkit to develop and practice talking points so you can start telling other people or organizations what they can do to build a more resilient community.
Download a PDF of RAND’s free e-book, “Community Resilience Learn & Tell Toolkit.”
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Now that you better understand your community, you’re ready to begin recruiting and assembling a coalition.
Image credit: Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience Toolkit: Resilience Builder
Towe, Vivian L., Anita Chandra, Joie D. Acosta, Ramya Chari, Lori Uscher-Pines and Clarissa Sellers. Community Resilience: Learn and Tell Toolkit. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015. https://www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TL163.html.