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A Connected Community Approach to Building Community Resilience
Urban resilience research is recognizing the need to complement a mainstream preoccupation with “hard” infrastructure (electrical grid, storm sewers, etc.) with attention to the “soft” (social) infrastructure issues that include the increased visibility of and role for civil society, moving from (top-down, paternalistic) government to (participatory) governance. Analyses of past shock events invariably point to the need for more concerted efforts in building effective governance and networked relations between civil society groupings and formal institutions before, during, and after crisis. However, the literature contains little advice on how to go about this. A Connected Communities Approach is advanced that offers the missing guidance, and it's key features are explained.
2. Framing Resilience as Social Infrastructure
3. Building Resilience: Re-Centring Community
4. Community-Based Organizations and Community-Centred Resilience
|Type of Community
|Examples||Governance Structure||Role in Community-Centred Resilience|
|Community-basedorganizations with governance and decision making that rests outside of the community||Public libraries; public health departments; disaster relief organizations such as the Red Cross||Includes any organization with multiple branches and centralized decision-making||Can act as a conduit between larger systems and communities; often have large community-based facilities that can be leveraged for planning and responding activities; often have reduced autonomy in facilitating community driven
decision making, planning, and action
|Social service organizations||Foodbanks; employment centres; immigration services; legal aid; counselling centres||Governance can be either local or centralized elsewhere; mandates primarily focus on addressing individual needs||Play critical roles in helping individuals with needs caused by chronic stressors
and major shocks are typically focused on the individual/professional relationship rather than on facilitating collective action
|Interest focused organizations||Arts organizations; recreational sports leagues; after-school programs||Governance can be either local or centralized elsewhere; mandates primarily focus on convening around shared interests including drama, music, or sports groups||These groups can play specific and even surprising roles in the event of an extreme shock, but are not usually designed to facilitate community-wide processes|
|Grassroots organizations||Mutual aid networks; peer to peer support groups; residents’ and neighbourhood associations||May or may not have formalized structures; deeply rooted in communities; usually have a purpose/focus on either service delivery, community development, or advocacy||Critical players in community-centred resilience; they often hold knowledge and relationships with community members that formal institutions cannot|
|Community development organizations||Community Development Corporations||Governance and decision making is firmly in the community with significant grassroots and resident participation. The purpose of these organizations is to foster processes and build local capacity to generate community-led solutions to local issues.||These organizations are critical in ensuring the resilience efforts are truly community centred. Planning and execution of strategies are based on local context, lived experience, and local knowledge. May or may not hold or foster relationships with formalized structures outside of the community.|
|Community backbone organizations (local integrators or intermediaries)||East Scarborough Storefront (Toronto)||Like community development organizations described above, these organizations have community driven governance and decision making structures. The primary purpose of these organizations is to facilitate connections, strategy and action, between and among the various players engaged in community-building work||These organizations are ideally suited to bridging grassroots, civil society actors and more formalized organizations, institutions, and governments; facilitate processes that allow the various actors to collectively, plan for, respond to, recover from, and bounce forward after major shock events.|
5. A Connected Community Approach
To address the search for an equitable model for the governance of community-centred resilience, a Connected Communities Approach (CCA) is a novel solution for connecting communities and formal institutions. Unlike many other community interventions, the goal of a CCA is centred around strengthening the social fabric of marginalized communities rather than aiming at a specific predetermined outcome. A CCA is particularly relevant to discussions of community-centred resilience, as it fosters community-led, collaborative responses to systemic stressors, thereby developing the relationships and networks that support a community-centred approach to responding to, recovering from, and bouncing forward after major shock events [117,118].
A CCA is a “complex interconnection of principles and practices that builds from previous community development theories” including asset-based community development, complexity theory, systems theory, and collective impact  (p. 4). As a set of principles and practices for community development, a CCA argues that by “intentionally focusing on and strengthening the social connections and networks between and among organizations, these networks can be a catalyst to foment community-based social and economic development”  (p. 3). By supporting community building from the bottom up and inside out, a CCA emphasizes the central importance of a community backbone organization as critical social infrastructure that provides an “anchoring point for social net- work structures across levels and sectors (person, to person, organization to organizations, etc.)”  (p. 2).
The CCA emerged over a period of intense on-the-ground community development work in East Scarborough, a marginalized inner suburban community in Toronto, On- tario [85,119]. Although it was not coined a CCA until 2014, the early iterations of CCA resulted in the co-creation of the East Scarborough Storefront . Later referred to as a “community backbone organization”, the East Scarborough Storefront was designed as an innovative “by the community for the community” service hub model in 2000 , but it soon became apparent that the implications of this facilitative praxis went beyond improving local access to services.
As The Storefront matured, it began forming networks of contributors to the community’s overall wellbeing, including grassroots groups, social service organizations, architects, planners, academics, and municipal actors. Collectively, these players began to recognize the critical gap that The Storefront was filling. The Storefront was iteratively and organically weaving networks to create social infrastructure that both strengthened social fabric at a local scale, and at the same time, intentionally connected the community to public policy actors, capital investment, and social networks that are not necessarily local . This was the genesis of what later became the CCA.
Unlike other community-based organizations, The Storefront’s role in the community is not direct service delivery, but rather to facilitate the creation of a “community social fabric that supports people, organizations, and initiatives to thrive” . In 2012, based on the evidence of The Storefront’s extensive impact on the community it served, staff began the process of articulating what made their approach unique and effective in their community and to explore ways in which their work could be applied to other communities with similar results . From this work, the CCA emerged.
A CCA offers an opportunity to bring together the best of planning, design, academic theory, municipal, provincial and federal strategy, social service interventions, faith community aspirations, and corporate social responsibility and ground them in the authentic goals, aspirations, and realities of grassroots groups and people who have traditionally been at the margins. Unlocking the potential of a connected community requires skill sets not often found in our community-based interventions. These include network weaving, facilitation, knowledge mobilization, and translating across multiple actors both within and outside of the community. Using a CCA to unlock the potential of communities requires an investment of time and resources in local capacity building and social infrastructure, but most of all in the facilitative role required to continually weave together the social fabric that communities need to effectively find local solutions to complex social problems .
The role of a community backbone organization in the context of community-centred resilience can not only facilitate local responses to shock events, but at its best can also play the vital role of two-way communication between community and government strategy and action. In their 2015 UK study of connected communities (which aligns with but is distinct from the Connected Community Approach originating in East Scarborough), Parsfield et al.  argue that “non-statutory duties of public services must not simply be seen as ‘soft’ extras, but potentially crucial points of collaboration & engagement between state and communities as well as strategic opportunities to prevent greater problems arising from social isolation” (p. 5).
One of the unique features of a CCA is that it does not exclude or seek to replace projects, programs, or other approaches in a community. Rather, it builds on these, using principles and practices that are captured in the CCA’s 10 keys for uncovering and unlocking the potential of a connected community (Table 2).
This entry is adapted from 10.3390/ijerph181910175
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