In association with Melissa Rivera and Karimah Nonyameko
Habitat for Humanity partners with individuals and families to build or improve an affordable, decent place to call home. A family’s transformation may start with their home, but we believe it advances by remaining engaged in their community. We tested this theory using a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight to pilot a feedback loop project. During the course of the project, we tracked and encouraged community engagement in 12 neighborhoods across the country.
We empower individuals to take action to improve their lives and communities. Implementing this grant validated our understanding of how people become motivated: when residents are invited to engage in their community, enthusiasm increases. Below are a few examples of tools we’ve employed in using feedback loops to build strong communities.
- Offer instant results. When you vote in a local or national election, wouldn’t you like to know who won right away? Getting instant tallies reinforces the message that each individual voice is part of a collective, creating enthusiasm among residents and increasing engagement. We do this by using a survey site during community meetings that compiles reports in real time. Decisions get made on the spot and as a result we’ve seen community participation grow. In Greater Lowell, Massachusetts prior to participating in the pilot, 29 committed resident leaders partnered on neighborhood efforts. Since October 2016, 56 residents participated in the first community conversation and 62 in the second, with an impressive 70 percent or 39 residents participating in both.
- Don’t forget the non-techies. Some people still prefer a piece of paper, so we offer paper forms to engage those who are more comfortable engaging offline and share the tally in follow-up meetings. In Central Berkshire (Massachusetts), a participant, Linda, was initially unaffiliated with Habitat. But, it meant a lot to her to have her voice included in the survey and so she stepped up to a community leadership role in local transportation issues. Linda’s story is not unique. Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity has a reputation for community engagement that helped them win a Working Cities grant and transform a local park from a spot people avoided to a place people will be eager to visit.
- If it gets results, give it a try. In Springfield, Missouri, a community used “information stations,” or outdoor community signs, to share information. But they didn’t want to buy the signs. Instead, residents opted to make information stations that reflected the character of the neighborhood. By giving people the option of speaking and coming up with a solution on their own, the community became invested in the outcome. One resident made a prototype — a little box like an open bird house with neighborhood logos, a shingled roof, and pockets to hold literature – and will be paid to make six information boxes. By experimenting with mixed-methods data collection, sharing feedback on post-its, tablets, etc., residents also decided to host a Street Painting and Block Party this summer – a first for Springfield. Families will get a chance to enjoy music, refreshments and community spirit, and join in putting the paint on a chosen design for the street art. (sketch shown here).
These examples reflect what’s going on throughout Habitat organizations nationwide, where our mission is guided by the aspirations of the communities we serve.
Feedback loops help us energize communities and chart our progress in sustaining and advancing Habitat’s work in partnership with donors, volunteers, homeowners and other supporters. Feedback loops with immediate results lead to direct action.
Beth Brodsky worked as tech lead to evaluate and implement options that different communities in America could use to allow flexibility with community action. Melissa Rivera, evaluation consultant, and Karimah Nonyameko, community development consultant, led data evaluation and resident engagement strategies respectively. Combined, they have worked with Habitat for Humanity for 10 years, and have been community innovators for over 50 years.
Melissa is an Organizational Development Consultant/SME Outcome Evaluation with HFHI’s Neighborhood Revitalization team. She has 16 years of experience in research and evaluation. Her specialties include conducting and managing communications research and program evaluation at the state and national levels. She also has a MA in Interpersonal Communications.