Connecting the Power of People to the Power of Place: How Community-Based Organizations Influence Neighbourhood Collective Agency

Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership

Author +
Jessica Carrière, Rob Howarth, and Emily Paradis

Year: 2016

Economic changes and austerity policies are causing increased inequality, polarization, and segregation within and between neighbourhoods. Residents must juggle multiple responsibilities under intensifying pressures and with access to fewer resources and supports. With the retreat of the state from ensuring adequate income security and services, community-based organizations are left holding the bag, trying to meet the basic needs of their communities with unpredictable and insufficient funding.

This research explores the ways in which residents and local community organizations can work together to address rising inequality and diminishing resources at the neighbourhood level.

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Neighbourhood collective agency (residents’ desire and capacity to work together to improve daily life and promote equity and social justice in their neighbourhood) is a dynamic capacity that responds to these conditions on multiple levels. It strengthens the optimism, pride, belonging, and connection that are eroded by inequality; it brings neighbours together to improve their immediate local conditions of daily life; and it is a powerful force for demanding systemic change.

In this report, we ask how collective agency emerges in neighbourhoods, and how community based organizations may promote or inhibit it.

This report draws upon three key sources:

  1. more than two years of discussion and analysis by a working group of community practitioners and scholars;
  2. a broad review of the literature;
  3. interviews and focus groups with staff and community leaders in three community-based organizations in Toronto.

This research shows how local agencies have set a goal to enhance agency in their communities; the barriers they encounter and the enablers that assist them in this work; the agency-promoting objectives they pursue; the specific everyday practices that put these objectives into action; and the indicators that help them to recognize when these efforts are successful within their organizations and in the neighbourhood as a whole.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Why We Are Doing This Research
1.1 The Value Of Neighbourhood Collective Agency
1.2 How Did We Get Here?
1.3 Why Neighbourhoods?
1.4 What This Means For Community-based Organizations
1.5 This Report
2. Methods & Context: What We Did And Where
2.1 Methods: What We Did
2.2 Context: The Neighbourhoods And Organizations We Visited
3. Findings: What We Learned
3.1 Neighbourhood Context And The Dynamics Of Collective Agency
3.2 Neighbourhood Collective Agency And Community-based Organizations
3.3 Enablers And Barriers
3.4 Objectives That Support Neighbourhood Collective Agency
3.5 Agency-promoting Practices In Community-based Organizations
3.6 Indicators Of Neighbourhood Collective Agency
4. Key Learnings And Next Steps
4.1 Key Learnings
4.2 Questions For Further Research
4.3 Where Do We Go From Here?
Appendix A: Inventory Of Practices To Promote Neighbourhood Collective Agency
Appendix B: The Ecology Of Agency: Mapping Your Neighbourhood’s Networks Of Collective Agency