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Building an active citizenry: The role of neighborhood problems, readiness, and capacity for change

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Community-building initiatives strive to involve residents as the drivers of the change process, involving them in an array of activities including collective action efforts. Recent evaluations of many of these initiatives, however, suggest that developing the levels of resident involvement needed in such efforts is challenging. This study examines the neighborhood conditions that are related to whether and how much residents become involved in individual activism and collective action efforts. A random-digit-dial phone survey of 460 residents in 7 distressed neighborhoods suggested that while demographic variables were relatively unimportant, resident perceptions of neighborhood readiness (i.e., hope for the future and collective efficacy) and capacity for change (i.e., social ties and neighborhood leadership), and the level of neighborhood problems were strongly related to whether and how much residents were involved in individual and collective action efforts. Moreover, different elements of these neighborhood conditions were more or less important depending on the type and level of resident involvement. For example, while perceptions of neighborhood problems was the strongest predictor of whether an individual became involved at all, perceived strength of neighborhood leadership was the strongest predictor of an individual's level of activity. The implications of these findings for practitioners and scientists are discussed.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Building an active citizenry: the role of neighborhood problems,
readiness, and capacity for change
Pennie G. Foster-Fishman Æ Daniel Cantillon Æ
Steven J. Pierce Æ Laurie A. Van Egeren
Published online: 29 March 2007
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract Community-building initiatives strive to
involve residents as the drivers of the change process,
involving them in an array of activities including col-
lective action efforts. Recent evaluations of many of
these initiatives, however, suggest that developing the
levels of resident involvement needed in such efforts is
challenging. This study examines the neighborhood
conditions that are related to whether and how much
residents become involved in individual activism and
collective action efforts. A random-digit-dial phone
survey of 460 residents in 7 distressed neighborhoods
suggested that while demographic variables were rel-
atively unimportant, resident perceptions of neigh-
borhood readiness (i.e., hope for the future and
collective efficacy) and capacity for change (i.e., social
ties and neighborhood leadership), and the level of
neighborhood problems were strongly related to whe-
ther and how much residents were involved in indi-
vidual and collective action efforts. Moreover,
different elements of these neighborhood conditions
were more or less important depending on the type and
level of resident involvement. For example, while
perceptions of neighborhood problems was the stron-
gest predictor of whether an individual became
involved at all, perceived strength of neighborhood
leadership was the strongest predictor of an individ-
ual’s level of activity. The implications of these findings
for practitioners and scientists are discussed.
Keywords Community building Community
capacity Community readiness Resident
participation Neighborhood leadership Collective
efficacy Social ties Neighborhood problems
Introduction
Comprehensive community-building initiatives
(CBIs
1
) have become popular vehicles for addressing
significant social, health, and economic issues. Al-
though these initiatives vary greatly in their designs
and targeted outcomes, most strive to affect significant
social issues by focusing on problems at multiple levels
within the community, fostering partnerships between
and among neighborhood residents and local organi-
zations and institutions, engaging local residents in the
work, and building local capacity to resolve issues (see
Duran & Stagner, 1997, and Smock, 1997 for a more
complete description of CBIs). Some recent examples
of such efforts include the Annie E. Casey Founda-
tion’s Making Connections initiative and the United
Kingdom’s regeneration efforts such as the Health
Action Zones.
P. G. Foster-Fishman (&) S. J. Pierce
L. A. Van Egeren
Department of Psychology, Michigan State University,
125 D Psychology Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
e-mail: fosterfi@msu.edu
D. Cantillon
ICF International, 10530 Rosehaven Street, Ste. 400,
Fairfax, VA 22030, USA
e-mail: dcantillon@icfcaliber.com
1
Comprehensive community change initiatives have taken on a
variety of forms and names, including comprehensive community
initiatives (CCIs) and community-based participatory research
(CBPR). We refer to them as CBIs in this paper given the
emphasis of the initiative targeted in this paper and the prefer-
ences of the foundation funding this initiative.
123
Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106
DOI 10.1007/s10464-007-9097-0
A key tenet of these initiatives is that in order to
build a healthy community, an active citizenry base is
needed. In fact, these initiatives tend to emphasize
broad-based resident or grassroots involvement in
most, if not all, phases of the programming efforts
(Chaskin & Peters, 2000; Smock, 1997). For example,
in many of these efforts, residents (often in poor urban
neighborhoods) are treated as architects of and par-
ticipants in the change processes occurring in their own
neighborhoods. While residents can get involved in
these initiatives in a variety of ways, they typically
engage on three levels: (a) involvement in governance,
planning, decision-making, or design entities; (b) par-
ticipation in designing and implementing neighbor-
hood improvement projects or activities; and (3)
involvement in collective action or mobilization efforts
(e.g., Foster-Fishman, Nowell, Siebold, & Deacon,
2004).
This commitment to active resident involvement has
emerged for several reasons. First, by involving local
residents in the design and implementation of a com-
munity-based initiative, more effective solutions to
local issues can be identified because they will be de-
signed with consideration of local culture and concerns
and will build upon local assets (Fawcett et al., 1995;
Smock, 1997). Second, residents will be more likely to
accept the changes that unfold because they them-
selves have played a role in constructing change
(Duffy, 1991). Third, such collaborative approaches
can also serve to build the skilled, knowledgeable, and
active citizenry base needed to foster the creation of an
empowered, healthy community (Smock, 1997).
Overall, most initiatives pursue resident involvement
because it is deemed essential to revitalizing poor ur-
ban areas and creating sustainable change (Smock,
1997; Traynor, 2002). Moreover, regenerating resident
involvement in civic and neighborhood activities is
viewed as the ‘‘lifeblood of urban renewal’’ (Murphy &
Cunningham, 2003, p. 107).
However, CBI evaluations have often found that
eliciting and maintaining the desired level of resident
involvement is difficult (e.g., Chaskin & Peters, 2000;
Gray et al., 1997; Taylor, 1997; Traynor, 2002). In fact,
in their review of community-building efforts within
small cities similar to the one targeted in this study,
Murphy and Cunningham (2003) found that levels of
resident participation were often inadequate for pro-
moting serious resident mobilization and shifts in
existing power bases. These challenges to resident
participation in community-building initiatives occur
for several reasons. For example, residents who are
invited to participate in these efforts often live in
neighborhoods experiencing multiple, deeply
entrenched problems. These problems, coupled with
the neighborhood conditions they often foster (e.g.,
weak neighboring and social ties, low informal social
control, low collective efficacy), have been found to
have a detrimental impact on resident participation
(Chavis & Wandersman, 1990; Coulton, Korbin, Su, &
Chow, 1995; Ross & Jang, 2000; Sampson, Morenoff, &
Gannon-Rowley, 2002; Sampson, Raudenbush, &
Earls, 1997; Unger & Wandermann, 1983). In addition,
many of the neighborhoods targeted in CBIs have a
long history of commitments from ‘‘outsiders’’ that are
often not fulfilled. This history can reduce residents’
willingness to engage in new programs or opportunities.
The purpose of the current study was to examine the
conditions related to resident involvement in neigh-
borhood-based activities within the context of one
comprehensive community-building effort. In addition
to providing baseline data for the evaluation of this
CBI, the study was also designed to provide funders,
programming staff, and residents with insight into
those conditions that could be leveraged to foster res-
ident involvement within the initiative. Recognizing
the challenges CBIs face in promoting resident
involvement, we considered it useful to collect infor-
mation around existing forms of resident participation
in individual and collective change efforts across the
seven participating neighborhoods. An important goal
of the current study was to understand what contextual
factors were associated with existing levels of partici-
pation within targeted neighborhoods, with the hope
that such awareness could be used to design interven-
tions targeted at promoting greater resident involve-
ment within local neighborhood activities and larger
community-building efforts.
The role of context in resident involvement
While many community-building initiatives ultimately
work to shift community-wide policies and practices,
they often start their efforts at the local neighborhood
level, using a community-building framework to foster
the neighborhood conditions needed to encourage
active resident engagement (Kubisch et al., 2002).
Because the success of these initial neighborhood
efforts is a necessary step towards the goal of mobi-
lizing the community to shift broader policies and
procedures, it is important to understand how local
neighborhood conditions facilitate and constrain resi-
dent involvement.
In this study, three types of neighborhood conditions
and their relationship to resident involvement were
explored: neighborhood capacity, neighborhood
92 Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106
123
readiness, and neighborhood problems. The emphasis
on the first two conditions in this study came, in part,
from the increasing interest in how a neighborhood’s
capacity and readiness to change can support efforts to
promote increased resident involvement (Price &
Behrens, 2003). In brief, both capacity and readiness
refer to the conditions needed to support successful
community mobilization around a particular problem
(Goodman et al., 1998). Both frameworks have
become increasingly popular in recent years, particu-
larly among foundations and other funders who have
found them to be useful tools for identifying commu-
nity elements that should be developed to create more
compatible, supportive, and sustainable conditions for
the initiatives they pursue. For example, in the com-
prehensive community effort targeted in this study, the
key funder, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, designed
the first phase of programming with an explicit focus
on understanding and building the targeted commu-
nity’s readiness and capacity to support the necessary
levels of resident involvement. This programming
emphasis seemed essential given the low levels of res-
ident involvement that had historically characterized
the neighborhoods targeted for this effort and the ini-
tiative’s goal to build a powerful resident base of active
citizens within the neighborhoods. As the evaluators
for this initiative, it was our hope that by assessing
neighborhood capacity and readiness prior to the start
of this effort, we could better understand the current
participation levels of residents as well as identify areas
to develop in the community-building effort.
Because both the community capacity and commu-
nity readiness frameworks include multi-faceted,
overlapping elements (i.e., Goodman et al.’s 1998
model of community capacity includes 12 factors; Tri-
Ethnic Center for Prevention Research’s Community
Readiness Model includes six dimensions [Plested,
Edwards, & Jumper-Thurman, 2003], and both models
include components of leadership and resources)
researchers or programmers using them to inform their
work are challenged to determine which dimensions
within each framework to emphasize as part of a par-
ticular project. For example, the critical components of
capacity or readiness for change may vary depending
upon the goals of the project and the community’s
context and history of working together to create
change. Because it is often neither practical nor
desirable to develop or measure all elements within
these frameworks, it becomes imperative to clarify
‘‘capacity and readiness for what and where?’’
Towards that end, we selected elements of capacity and
readiness that were appropriate to the targeted inter-
vention goals (i.e., research suggested they were critical
to resident involvement) and to the specific context
(i.e., key informants within the targeted community
2
identified them as relevant). In addition, though the
concepts of community capacity and readiness are very
similar, the current tendency in the literature to use
them somewhat interchangeably ‘‘minimizes important
differences that each contributes to the development of
community...initiatives’’ (Goodman et al., 1998,
p. 260). Below, we describe how we have distinguished
between community capacity and community readiness
and highlight those dimensions within each that were
targeted within our study.
Community capacity for change
The concept of community capacity has been utilized
to describe the extent to which a context has the
structures and processes in place to help mobilize res-
idents for action (Baker & Teaser-Polk, 1998; Good-
man et al., 1998). According to Chaskin (1999),
community capacity is ‘‘the interaction of human,
organization, and social capital existing within a given
community that can be leveraged to solve collective
problems and improve or maintain the well-being of
that community’’ (p. 4). Overall, most agree that
community capacity includes the knowledge, skills,
relationships, leadership, and resources present within
a community, and that when more capacity exists,
communities are better able to mobilize and support a
specific change effort (Baker & Teaser-Polk, 1998;
Garkovich, 1989; Goodman et al., 1998; Kubisch et al.,
2002; Norton, McLeroy, Burdine, Felix, & Dorsey,
2002). In fact, community capacity is recognized as so
essential to the success of comprehensive community
change efforts that most, if not all CBIs, include some
emphasis on building local capacity for change (e.g.,
Kubisch et al., 2002).
Because capacity is a complex, multi-dimensional
factor (Goodman et al., 1998; Norton et al.,
2002)—and thus difficult for any one initiative to tar-
get all of its elements—it is critical to emphasize those
components most essential to the goals of the targeted
change effort (Kubisch et al., 2002). For the purposes
2
We collected key informant information in two ways. First, the
first author participated in monthly meetings with W.K. Kellogg
Foundation staff, local community organizers, and community
development consultants who participated in this initiative. One
hour each month was dedicated in these meetings to evaluation
concerns, including identifying how to operationalize key con-
structs for measurement within this community. Second, focus
groups involving 140 adult and 90 youth residents in the seven
targeted neighborhoods were held prior to this data collection
and implementation of the initiative to learn how readiness and
capacity issues played themselves out in this community.
Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106 93
123
of this study, two elements of community capacity that
have been found to be particularly important for fos-
tering community mobilization and resident participa-
tion (and were emphasized in initial conversations with
key informants) were targeted: social networks and ties
and local leadership (Garkovich, 1989).
Social ties
Social ties refers to the type and extent of relational
interactions that exist within a neighborhood, such as
the extent to which neighbors socialize with each
other or exchange favors or resources. Social ties are
extremely important in developing trust and shared
norms among neighbors, developing a sense of com-
munity, exchanging important information, and
establishing informal social control (Cantillon,
Davidson, & Schweitzer, 2003; Caughy, Brodsky,
O’Campo, & Aronson, 2001; Elliott et al., 1996; Ku-
brin & Weitzer, 2003; Sampson et al., 2002). Social
ties within a neighborhood provide a critical mecha-
nism for connecting residents to their neighborhood
and fostering the social networks needed to engage
residents in change efforts and in collective action
(e.g., Chavis & Wandersman, 1990; Norton et al.,
2002; Perkins, Florin, Rich, Wandersman, & Chavis,
1990; Unger & Wandersman, 1985; Wandersman,
Florin, Friedmann, & Meier, 1987). In fact, Kieffer
(1984) found that individuals who became activists
initially possessed a strong sense of connection and
ties to their community.
Neighborhood leadership
Leadership is a critical tool for identifying local
issues, initiating action, and mobilizing residents to
respond to the work at hand (Norton et al., 2002).
Local leadership has been consistently identified as
an essential component of community capacity and is
central to the ability of a neighborhood to mobilize
for change (e.g., Chaskin & Peters, 2000; Easterling,
Gallagher, & Lodwick, 2003; Goodman et al., 1998).
Neighborhood leadership encompasses both repre-
sentatives of neighborhood-based formal organiza-
tions, such as faith-based institutions, and of informal
neighborhood-based groups, such as block groups or
neighborhood associations. The ability of neighbor-
hood leaders to gain access to resources both within
and external to the neighborhood is vital to the
success of any neighborhood or social change effort
(Gittell & Vidal, 1998; Mesch & Schwirian, 1996).
Community readiness for change
Community readiness generally refers to the degree to
which communities have accepted that change is nee-
ded and feasible and that the program or action that is
designed to address a problem will succeed (Donner-
meyer, Plested, Edwards, Oetting, & Littlethunder,
1997). Over the past decade, research has shown that
communities differ in their levels of readiness and that
communities with higher levels of readiness are much
more successful in planning, implementing, and sus-
taining community initiatives (e.g., Brackley et al.,
2003; Logan, Williams, & Leukefeld, 2001; Plested,
Smithman, Jumper-Thurman, Oetting, & Edwards,
1999).
While some readiness frameworks include elements
of community capacity, such as local leadership,
knowledge, and access to resources (Edwards, Jumper-
Thurman, Plested, Oetting, & Swanson, 2000; Oetting
et al., 1995; Oetting, Jumper-Thurman, Plested, &
Edwards, 2001; Plested et al., 1999), we have chosen to
distinguish readiness from capacity by framing readi-
ness as the overall belief in the possibility of change and
capacity as the local ability to implement change. Thus,
for the purposes of this study, readiness refers to the
degree to which a community believes that a change is
needed, feasible, and desirable (Armanakis, Harris, &
Mossholder, 1993) and was assessed through the con-
structs of collective efficacy and sense of hope for
change.
Collective efficacy
An outgrowth of prior work on the importance of self-
efficacy (Bandura, 1986), the construct of collective
efficacy taps into the shared belief that neighborhood
residents have control over and can change important
community characteristics—that residents actions can
and will result in meaningful and positive community
change (Perkins & Long, 2002; Price & Behrens, 2003).
Since the intent of comprehensive community initia-
tives is to create positive neighborhood change via the
collective efforts of residents, assessment of the com-
munity’s belief in the efficacy of this approach to
change seems important. As with individual self-effi-
cacy, if the shared perception is that change is not
possible through collective action, residents are
unlikely to become involved in neighborhood
improvement and larger mobilization efforts.
Recent large-scale research has demonstrated the
vital importance of collective efficacy in community
life. In a seminal study, Sampson and colleagues (1997)
94 Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106
123
demonstrated that, controlling for neighborhood
structural characteristics, communities with higher
levels of collective efficacy experienced lower violence
rates. They defined collective efficacy as ‘‘social cohe-
sion among neighbors combined with their willingness
to intervene on behalf of the common good’’ (p. 918).
For the current study, given the focus on collective
action as a possible tool for community building within
the targeted initiative, we conceptualized collective
efficacy as ‘‘trust in the effectiveness of organized
community action’’ (Perkins & Long, 2002, p. 295).
This definition corresponds to Sampson, Morenoff, and
Earls (1999) extension of collective efficacy, where
emphasis was placed upon an individual’s sense of the
potential for active engagement among neighbors.
Hope for change
Another critical element in a neighborhood’s readiness
to change is the belief that change is even possible. In
fact, Kingsley and colleagues (1997), in their assess-
ment of other community-building efforts to address
poverty, noted that a central theme is ‘‘rebuilding
hope’’ (p. 13). Hope for positive change and a better
life is a critical motivational element and has been
found to be strongly linked to individuals taking action
to improve their lives (e.g., Hanna, 2002). Without the
hope that one’s life or neighborhood can actually get
better, it may appear useless to engage in change
pursuits or become involved in neighborhood activi-
ties. Within the context of this study, hope for change
focused on one belief that may be central in getting
residents involved in local neighborhood improvement
activities—the belief that their local block or neigh-
borhood can improve.
Neighborhood problems
The overwhelming majority of CBIs occur in neigh-
borhoods rife with significant problems, including
eroding physical conditions (e.g., vacant/dilapidated
housing) and high levels of social disorder (e.g., crime,
prostitution, and substance abuse). These problems can
affect desire and willingness to become involved in
community change efforts. For instance, in the case of
crime, one of the main reasons many residents do not
become involved is because they are afraid of retalia-
tion (Furstenberg, 1993; Korbin & Coulton, 1997).
Likewise, physical and social disorder in the local
neighborhood can promote withdrawal from commu-
nity life for residents, while at the same time these
incivilities are seen by criminals as marking potential
areas where crime will not be reported. In fact, broken
windows theory postulates that these signs of disorder
promote crime and subsequently further disorder in a
downward spiral of neighborhood decay (Wilson &
Kelling, 1982). However, neighborhood problems also
have the potential to motivate resident participation in
collective efforts to address these problems (Perkins
et al., 1990). For example, Peterson and Reid (2003)
found that awareness of neighborhood substance abuse
problems served as a catalyst for residents to become
engaged in neighborhood and other civic activities.
Similarly, Perkins and colleagues (1990) demonstrated
how awareness of neighborhood problems spurred
resident participation in voluntary organizations.
Thus, neighborhood problems can serve as both a
motivator and an inhibitor of individual activism and
collective action. Awareness of negative physical and
social conditions may result in fear of crime or retali-
ation and reduce citizen involvement (e.g., Skogan &
Maxfield, 1981); but such conditions can also provide
the impetus to act (Chavis & Wandersman, 1990). In
this study, we were interested in exploring how per-
ceived levels of neighborhood problems were related
to resident participation within the community.
Resident involvement in neighborhood efforts
In general, resident involvement within a neighbor-
hood can occur in a variety of forms (Smock, 1997).
Within the context of a community-building effort,
two types of indigenous resident involvement seem
particularly important: individual activism and indi-
vidual involvement in collective efforts. Individual
activism refers to the actions of individual residents
intended to express their concerns about specific
problems within a neighborhood to groups or key
decision-makers such as local politicians or neigh-
borhood leaders. Collective action refers to an indi-
vidual’s participation in collaborative resident efforts
to address issues or influence decision-making, such
as engagement in neighborhood block groups, citi-
zens’ committees, or neighborhood organizing efforts.
We chose to look at these two types of resident
involvement because both would be targeted for
development within this initiative; moreover, both are
central to developing an active citizenry and an
empowered neighborhood (Smock, 1997).
Overall, we were interested in which neighborhood
conditions were related to each type of participation.
For example, perceptions of collective efficacy may be
more strongly linked to engaging in collective action
than in individual activism, since the former involves
Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106 95
123
working with others to create change and may be
preceded by a belief that such collective efforts would
be effective. Identifying the different factors linked to
each form of participation could significantly help to
develop targeted programming efforts aimed at fos-
tering one form of participation or another.
A second area of focus in this study was how
neighborhood conditions are related to different levels
of participation within the community. As evaluators
of other CBIs have noted, resident participation in
these efforts is uneven (Chaskin & Peters, 2000). In
fact, practitioners in the community-building field are
often challenged in two ways when they strive to build
an active citizenry within the targeted community. The
first challenge is simply to get residents involved at all.
While it is neither practical nor necessary to have all
residents involved in these efforts (Chaskin & Peters,
2000), reaching a significant level of resident involve-
ment increases the likelihood that those participating
residents are representative of the community and that
a critical mass of participants has been developed to
promote resident power and deal with issues of attri-
tion and burnout.
A second challenge facing practitioners is the
difficulty of fostering and maintaining high levels of
involvement among residents who do become en-
gaged. While an initiative may succeed at generating
some level of participation within the local citizenry,
creating and sustaining high levels of resident
involvement often presents an even greater chal-
lenge. Yet the development of such highly engaged
residents is critical, because they often become for-
mal or informal leaders within their neighborhoods
or become champions for the change effort. Having
a large cadre of residents who are highly involved
also reduces the likelihood of resident burnout
because it reduces the burden of involvement on any
one individual.
In addition to the above practical considerations, we
believed that the processes and conditions that facili-
tate whether someone gets involved at all versus how
much someone becomes engaged in such activities
would be different and thus necessitated separate
inquiry. This belief is rooted in the stages of change
literature, particularly the Transtheoretical Model
of Change (e.g., DiClemente & Prochaska, 1982;
Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992) which
strongly suggests that individuals move through stages
of change as they shift their behavior (e.g., going from
inactive to active to very active) and that the condi-
tions and psychological processes that constitute each
stage and motivate individuals to move from one stage
to the next are quite distinct.
The current study
The current study assessed these three dimensions of
neighborhood conditions (e.g., neighborhood readi-
ness, capacity, and problems) and their relationships to
current levels of resident participation as part of a
baseline evaluation of a CBI. Specifically, we targeted
the following research questions:
1. What neighborhood conditions are related to
whether individuals are engaged? Are neighbor-
hood conditions differentially related to individual
activism as compared to collective action?
2. What neighborhood conditions are related to how
much individuals participate in individual activism
or collective action? More specifically, what factors
differentiate highly engaged residents from those
who are less involved?
Methods
Study context
This study was conducted as part of a broader evalu-
ation of a comprehensive community-building effort
called Yes we can! (YWC!) funded by the W.K.
Kellogg Foundation. The stated goals of YWC! were to
improve the economic and educational outcomes of
youth and families living within distressed neighbor-
hoods in the small city of Battle Creek, Michigan
(population ~53,000). Key to the theory of change
guiding the YWC! initiative was the belief that by
increasing levels of resident involvement in civic
activities and collective action, significant improve-
ments in local policies and practices could occur that
would result in reductions in racial inequities in edu-
cational and economic outcomes. The authors were
members of the team hired to evaluate YWC!
Seven distressed neighborhoods, defined as an ele-
mentary school catchment area, or ESCA, within the
city of Battle Creek were initially invited to partner
with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on the YWC!
effort, in part because of the poor educational and
economic conditions that existed within them based on
public education records and 2000 U.S. census data.
For example, over half of the children attending ele-
mentary schools within the seven neighborhoods
scored below acceptable ranges on standardized tests,
and approximately three-quarters of the children
attending these schools qualified for free or reduced-
price lunch programs. Across the seven neighborhoods,
approximately 66% of the residents were Caucasian,
96 Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106
123
26% were African-American, and 7% were Hispanic.
The population for each of the seven neighborhoods
ranged from 1,930 to 4,500 people, with an average
population of 3,393.
The data presented in this study were part of our
initial baseline data collection effort and were collected
approximately one month prior to the launching of
YWC! within these seven neighborhoods. Because the
funder and local community practitioners desired
evaluation methods that were as unobtrusive as possi-
ble and because we needed to collect the baseline data
reported here within a six-week time frame, we elected
to conduct a random-digit-dial phone survey within the
targeted seven neighborhoods.
Participants
A criss-cross directory was utilized to randomly select
from the 3,301 households with phone numbers in the
seven neighborhoods. A total of 5,347 calls were made
to a random selection of these households. Of the 1,712
(52% of possible households) households reached,
30% agreed to participate (N = 509). Phone calls were
placed at various times during the day to ensure that
the variety of resident working schedules was accom-
modated. Households that could not be reached ini-
tially were called up to three times. Respondents who
completed surveys were provided with $10 grocery
store gift certificates to reimburse them for their time.
Missing data reduced the sample size to 460 resi-
dents. Table 1 presents the participants’ demographic
characteristics. Among these residents, the median
length of residence was 10 years, and 85% owned their
own homes. Sixty-eight percent of the participants
were females, 16% were African-American, 79% were
white, and 3% were Latino. Less than 1% were Asian
or Native American, and 1% endorsed multiple racial/
ethnic categories. Less than half (42%) of the sample
reported living in a household with children under age
18.
Measures
Scale scores for each respondent were calculated as
follows: First, raw scale scores were computed by tak-
ing the mean across the scale items for respondents
who answered more than 80% of the items in the scale.
Neighborhood means were imputed and used to
replace missing raw scale scores for individuals who
answered fewer than 80% of the items in a scale.
Finally, raw scale scores were standardized to z-scores
to adjust for differing response categories across con-
structs. Unless otherwise noted, the standardized scale
scores were used for the continuous predictor variables
in the analyses reported here.
Demographics
Several demographic variables were included in the
current analyses, including gender, race, residential
tenure, home ownership, and whether the household
had any children under 18 years old (i.e., parenthood).
Table 1 Demographic characteristics (N = 460)
Characteristics Total (%)
or M (SD)
Neighborhood Test statistic
v
2
(6) or
F(6, 453)
1234567
Gender
Male
a
149 (32) 26 (41) 20 (38) 22 (33) 39 (27) 13 (36) 12 (21) 17 (42) 9.39
Female 311 (68) 38 (59) 33 (62) 44 (67) 105 (73) 23 (64) 44 (79) 24 (59)
Race
African-American 72 (16) 10 (16) 7 (13) 5 (8) 4 (3) 5 (14) 28 (50) 13 (32) 79.71**
Other race/
ethnicity
a
388 (84) 54 (84) 46 (87) 61 (92) 140 (97) 31 (86) 28 (50) 28 (68)
Homeownership
Owner 389 (85) 49 (77) 40 (76) 58 (88) 132 (92) 31 (86) 47 (84) 32 (78) 14.03*
Renter
a
71 (15) 15 (23) 13 (25) 8 (12) 12 (8) 5 (14) 9 (16) 9 (22)
Parenthood (children under 18 in home)
Yes 195 (42) 30 (47) 18 (34) 26 (40) 59 (41) 21 (58) 17 (30) 24 (59) 13.87*
No
a
265 (58) 34 (53) 35 (66) 40 (61) 85 (59) 15 (42) 39 (70) 17 (42)
Residential tenure
b
15.7 (14.8) 12.8 (12.5) 14.3 (15.5) 16.6 (13.8) 17.8 (16.1) 10.6 (11.2) 18.0 (14.1) 13.9 (16.5) 2.11
* p < .05, ** p < .001
a
Reference category in all logistic regression models
b
Residential tenure was not standardized before use in the logistic regression analyses
Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106 97
123
These variables were included because previous
research has found that some demographic variables are
related to levels of participation, with more active citi-
zens often having a higher socioeconomic status (Cren-
son, 1983) and greater access to resources such as the
skills and time needed to participate (Verba, Schlozman,
& Brady, 1995). Residential tenure was a continuous
variable noted by the number of years the respondent
had lived at the current address; all others were coded as
dichotomous variables, with race categorized as either
African-American or non-African-American.
Community readiness measures
Collective efficacy
Residents were asked to rate their neighborhood’s
ability to collectively address neighborhood problems.
Items were rated on a 3-point Likert-type scale of no
control (1), some control (2), and a lot of control (3).
Two subscales, one describing collective efficacy
around neighborhood housing and social problems
(4 items, a = .74) and one describing collective efficacy
around crime (3 items, a = .90) were developed. Items
asked residents about their perception of the degree of
control that neighborhood residents, working together,
could have on addressing housing and social problems
(e.g., ‘‘improving the physical conditions of your
neighborhood’’) and crime problems (e.g., ‘‘reducing
drug dealing’’). The z-scores for the two subscales were
averaged to create the collective efficacy scale score.
Hope
To assess the extent to which residents were hopeful
that change was possible in their neighborhood, resi-
dents were asked to respond to the statement ‘‘In the
next year, I think that conditions on my block will
improve’’ on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from
strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). This single-
item scale score was transformed into a z-score prior to
use.
Community capacity measures
Neighborhood leadership
Three items measured neighborhood leadership
(a = .67) and asked about residents’ perceptions of
the quality of neighborhood leadership, neighbor-
hood organizations, and faith-based leadership (e.g.,
‘‘There is strong neighborhood leadership in my
neighborhood’’). Residents were asked to rate how
much they agreed that each statement accurately
portrayed the current conditions in their neighbor-
hood on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from
strongly agree to strongly disagree.
Social ties
The social ties scale had seven items (a = .76) that
described common interactions with neighbors such as
socializing, visiting, exchanging favors, and asking
advice (e.g., ‘‘People on my block socialize with each
other’’). Residents were asked to rate how much they
agreed (on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from
strongly agree to strongly disagree) that each statement
accurately portrayed the current conditions on their
block.
Neighborhood problems
Residents were asked to describe the extent to which
their neighborhood experienced problems with hous-
ing and crime. Response categories were on a 5-point
Likert-type scale ranging from strongly agree to
strongly disagree. Neighborhood housing and related
problems contained five items (a = .77) that asked
about issues such as vacant/abandoned buildings and
lack of property and yard maintenance (e.g., ‘‘Vacant
or abandoned homes/buildings are a problem in my
neighborhood’’). Four items (a = .84) comprised the
neighborhood crime problem scale and asked about
crimes and social disorder such as vandalism, drug
problems, and ‘‘youth hanging out causing trouble.’’
The z-scores for these two problem subscales were
averaged (r
= .52, p £ .01) to create the neighborhood
problems scale score.
Dependent measures
Unlike the predictor variables described above, the
two dependent measures were not transformed to
z-scores. Instead, raw scale scores for these measures
were each recoded into dichotomous categories. For
one set of analyses, the categories represented whether
the individual had participated in individual activism or
collective action. Thus, the involved group consisted of
respondents who had participated in at least one
activist activity while the uninvolved group consisted of
respondents who had not participated in any activist
activities. In the second set of analyses, categories
represented the level of participation. In this latter
analysis, only respondents who had participated in at
98 Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106
123
least one activity were included (individual activism
n = 198, 43% of the total sample; collective action
n = 162, 35% of the total sample). Respondents who
had participated in a single activity were placed in the
low involvement group; respondents who had partici-
pated in multiple activities were placed in the high
involvement group.
3
Individual activism
Three items asked respondents whether (yes/no) they
or anyone in their family
4
had in the last year: (1)
Spoken to a local politician about a neighborhood
problem, (2) Talked to a group causing a problem in
the neighborhood, or (3) Talked to a local religious
leader or minister to help with a neighborhood prob-
lem or with neighborhood improvement. The number
of activities the respondent reported engaging in was
tallied and answers categorized according to the
guidelines above.
Collective action
Four items asked respondents whether (yes/no) they or
anyone in their family in the past two months had: (1)
Attended a neighborhood watch or block watch
meeting, (2) Attend a citizens’ committee or local
political group, (3) Attended a meeting of a block or
neighborhood group such as neighborhood partner-
ships, neighborhood planning councils, Weed and
Seed, etc., or (4) Gotten together with neighbors to do
something about a neighborhood problem or to orga-
nize neighborhood improvement. Many of the exam-
ples listed above, such as the citizens’ committee and
neighborhood partnerships, corresponded to citywide
groups active in the city. Based on the number of
collective action activities the respondent reported
engaging in, scores were computed according to the
guidelines above.
Results
Baseline levels of neighborhood conditions and
resident participation
Table 2 shows descriptive statistics. In the overall
sample (N = 460), slightly less than half of the
respondents (43%) had participated in individual
activism, while only about one-third (35%) had par-
ticipated in collective action. Among the 198
respondents who had participated in individual
activism, 43% were in the high involvement group,
while 46% of the 162 respondents who had partici-
pated in collective action were in the high involve-
ment group.
Are neighborhood conditions related to whether
individuals participate?
A series of multiple logistic regression analyses were
conducted to examine the two research questions.
Results of preliminary cross-tabular analyses and
t-tests demonstrated that neighborhood of residence
was associated with the variables examined here (see
Tables 1, 2); therefore, neighborhood of residence was
included in the first step, demographic variables in the
second step, and the contextual variables in the final
step. However, after including the demographic cova-
riates in the initial logistic regression, neighborhood of
residence was no longer statistically significantly asso-
ciated with either dependent variable. Thus, neigh-
borhood of residence was ultimately removed from the
analyses.
To examine the first research question, ‘‘What
neighborhood conditions are related to whether indi-
viduals participate in individual activism or collective
action?’’ two logistic regressions were conducted with
the neighborhood capacity, readiness, and problem
variables as predictors and individual activism and
collective action as the dependent variables. As shown
in Table 3, both models were statistically significant
(for individual activism, v
2
(10) = 79.34, p < .001; for
collective action, v
2
(10) = 97.28, p < .001).
Demographic variables were largely unimportant as
predictors; homeownership, residential tenure, and
gender were not associated with either individual or
neighborhood activism. Parenthood was a marginally
statistically significant (p = .056) predictor of partici-
pation in individual activism but was not statistically
significantly associated with collective action. Respon-
dents who had children were 1.54 times more likely to
be in involved in individual activism than were
respondents without children.
3
We chose to use logistic regression for this analysis due to the
skewed distribution of the continuous dependent variable. We
considered a variety of transformations (square root, inverse,
and natural log) that are often used to fix such violations of
assumptions, but none of them produced acceptable results.
Thus, we concluded that logistic regression technique was simply
better suited to analyzing the data. For that reason we dichoto-
mized the outcome variable as described.
4
Other work with this data, not included in this paper, assesses
geographic correlates of neighborhood readiness and capacity.
‘‘Anyone in your family’’ was included in the item stem to avoid
underestimating the level of resident activism present among the
set of households in the neighborhood.
Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106 99
123
Neighborhood problems was the strongest predictor
of both individual activism (p < .01) and collective
action (p < .01). The odds ratios in Table 3 show that
residents who were one unit above the mean on the
neighborhood problems scale were 2.49 times more
likely to have participated in individual activism and
2.11 times more likely to have participated in collective
action compared to residents who were at the mean.
Table 2 Descriptive statistics for dependent measures and contextual variables (N = 460)
Characteristics Total (%)
or M (SD)
Neighborhood Test statistic
v
2
(6) or
F(6, 453)
1 2345 6 7
Individual activism
No
a
262 (57) 31 (48) 28 (53) 31 (47) 102 (71) 17 (47) 32 (57) 21 (51 ) 18.20**
Yes 198 (43) 33 (52) 25 (47) 35 (53) 42 (29) 19 (53) 24 (43) 20 (49)
Low involvement
b
113 (57) 14 (42) 14 (56) 20 (57) 35 (83) 6 (32) 15 (63) 9 (45) 21.24**
High involvement 85 (43) 19 (58) 11 (44) 15 (43) 7 (17) 13 (68) 9 (38) 11 (55)
Collective action
No
a
298 (65) 36 (56) 26 (49) 43 (65) 107 (74) 21 (58) 39 (70) 26 (63) 14.79*
Yes 162 (35) 28 (44) 27 (51) 23 (35) 37 (26) 15 (42) 17 (30) 15 (37)
Low involvement
b
87 (54) 14 (50) 11 (41) 14 (61) 27 (73) 5 (33) 10 (59) 6 (40) 11.80
High involvement 75 (46) 14 (50) 16 (59) 9 (39) 10 (27) 10 (67) 7 (41) 9 (60)
Community readiness
Collective efficacy
c
.00 (.87) –.10 (.95) .16 (.90) .05 (.83) –.15 (.84) –.11 (1.00) .34 (.88) .00 (.66) 2.78*
Hope .01 (.98) –.04 (1.10) .03 (.95) –.05 (.99) –.05 (.92) –.10 (1.07) .08 (1.07) .31 (.87) 0.89
Community capacity
Neighborhood leadership –.01 (.99) .10 (1.01) .57 (.95) –.27 (.88) –.23 (.90) .04 (1.05) .13 (1.09) –.01 (.99) 5.57***
Social ties –.01 (.99) –.07 (1.01) .02 (.94) .00 (.99) .12 (.95) –.41 (1.02) –.02 (1.08) –.06 (.99) 1.48
Neighborhood problems
d
.01 (.88) .53 (.89) .12 (.78) .28 (.90) –.41 (.61) .50 (.96) –.42 (.80) .28 (.84) 18.72***
Note: Missing values for continuous predictors were imputed with neighborhood means, then scale and subscale scores were stan-
dardized prior to use
* p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
a
Reference category in the uninvolved vs. involved logistic regression models
b
Reference category in the low vs. high involvement logistic regression models
c
Collective efficacy was the mean of the standardized form of two subscales
d
Neighborhood problems was the mean of the standardized form of two subscales
Table 3 Logistic regression models of individual activism and collective action (uninvolved vs. involved)
Predictor Individual activism
a
Collective action
b
Wald Odds-Ratio 95% CI Wald Odds-Ratio 95% CI
Constant 0.93 0.83 6.91 0.59
Demographics
Homeownership (1 = yes) 1.43 1.45 0.79–2.65 0.04 0.94 0.50–1.75
Race (1 = African-American) 1.51 1.43 0.81–2.54 0.03 1.05 0.58–1.91
Residential tenure 0.21 1.00 0.98–1.01 0.99 0.99 0.97–1.01
Gender (1 = female) 1.70 0.74 0.48–1.16 1.03 0.79 0.49–1.25
Parenthood (1 = yes) 3.65 1.54 0.99–2.40 0.22 1.12 0.70–1.79
Neighborhood problems 43.17** 2.49 1.90–3.27 28.13** 2.11 1.60–2.77
Community readiness
Collective efficacy 2.44 1.22 0.95–1.57 9.46** 1.53 1.17–2.00
Hope 1.32 1.14 0.91–1.43 6.14* 1.38 1.07–1.77
Community capacity
Neighborhood leadership 3.02 1.22 0.97–1.54 5.93* 1.34 1.06–1.70
Social ties 11.86** 1.52 1.20–1.93 22.23** 1.86 1.44–2.41
a
v
2
= 79.34, df = 10, n = 460, p < .001, Nagelkerke R
2
= .21
b
v
2
= 97.28, df = 10, n = 460, p < .001, Nagelkerke R
2
= .26
* p < .05, ** p < .01
100 Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106
123
Thus, residents who reported higher levels of neigh-
borhood problems were more likely to engage in
neighborhood activism.
The results for readiness (measured by collective
efficacy and hope) and community capacity (measured
by neighborhood leadership and social ties) were
mixed. Social ties was associated with participation in
both types of neighborhood change efforts (p < .01).
Residents who were one unit above the mean on the
standardized social ties scale were 1.52 times more
likely to be involved in individual activism and
1.86 times more likely to be involved in collective
action compared to residents who were at the mean.
However, the remaining readiness and capacity vari-
ables were associated only with collective action. The
odds ratios for collective efficacy, hope, and neigh-
borhood leadership were 1.53, 1.38, and 1.34, respec-
tively, indicating that residents one unit above the
mean on each predictor were more likely to have
participated in collective action than residents who
scored at the mean on those scales.
In terms of classification accuracy, the model for
individual activism accurately classified 81.7%
(n = 214) of the uninvolved respondents and 51.5%
(n = 102) of the involved residents, yielding overall
accuracy of 68.7%. The proportional chance criterion
(C
PRO
; see Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1995,p.
204) is the percent of cases that would be accurately
classified by chance if predictions were made by ran-
domly assigning residents to the two outcome groups
with probabilities based on the actual size of the
groups. For this model, C
PRO
is 51.0%. Based on Hair
et al.’s suggested criterion (pp. 205–206) that a model’s
accuracy should be one-fourth greater than chance
before the model has reached an acceptable level of
predictive accuracy, the corresponding value is 63.7%
for this individual activism model. This suggests that
this model’s level of predictive accuracy is acceptable.
Cohen’s kappa (j), which measures agreement after
adjusting for chance, can be applied to the 2 · 2 clas-
sification accuracy table to provide a statistical signifi-
cance test. For the classification results associated with
the individual activism model, j = .34 (asymptotic
SE = .04, t = 7.52, p < .001), indicating that the logistic
model classifies respondents significantly better than
chance.
The collective action model accurately classified
88.3% (n = 263) of the uninvolved respondents and
47.5% (n = 77) of the involved respondents, yielding
an acceptable overall accuracy of 73.9% (C
PRO
is
54.4%; Hair et al.’s suggested criterion is 68.0% accu-
racy). For the classification results associated with
the collective action model, j = .385 (asymptotic
SE = .045, t = 8.54, p < .001), leading to the conclusion
that the logistic model classifies respondents signifi-
cantly better than chance.
Additional models investigating potential interac-
tions among the collective efficacy, neighborhood
leadership, hope, social ties, and neighborhood prob-
lems variables were statistically insignificant.
Are neighborhood conditions associated with level
of resident participation?
To examine the second research question, ‘‘What
neighborhood conditions are related to how much
individuals participate in individual activism or col-
lective action?’’ two additional logistic regressions
were conducted in which the sample was comprised
only of respondents who reported participating in at
least one activity. The categories within the dependent
variables represented low versus high involvement in
individual activism and collective action.
As shown in Table 4, the model for individual
activism was statistically significant, v
2
(10) = 24.71,
p < .01, as was the model for collective action,
v
2
(10) = 31.97, p < .001. No demographic variables
predicted individual activism. However, race was sta-
tistically significantly associated with collective action
(p < .05); African-American residents were 3.10 times
more likely to be in the high involvement group than
were residents who belonged to other racial and ethnic
groups.
Neighborhood problems were significantly associ-
ated with individual activism (odds ratio = 1.70,
p < .01,) but not with collective action (odds ra-
tio = 1.27, ns,), indicating that residents who perceived
higher levels of problems were more likely to be
involved in multiple individual activism activities.
As with the first research question, the results for
community readiness and community capacity were
mixed. Neighborhood leadership, a measure of capac-
ity, was statistically significantly associated with both
individual activism (odds ratio = 1.42, p < .05) and
collective action (odds ratio = 1.98, p < .01), indicating
that residents who reported higher levels of neighbor-
hood leadership were more likely to be in the high
involvement group regardless of the type of activism.
Hope, a measure of readiness, was statistically signifi-
cantly associated with individual activism (odds
ratio = 1.58, p < .05,) but not with collective action,
indicating that residents reporting more hope were
more likely to be in the high involvement group only
with respect to individual activism.
The individual activism model accurately classified
76.1% (n = 86) of the low involvement respondents
Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106 101
123
and 48.2% (n = 41) of the high involvement respon-
dents, yielding an acceptable overall accuracy of 64.1%
(C
PRO
is 51.0%; Hair et al.’s suggested criterion is
63.7% accuracy). For the classification results associ-
ated with this model, j = .250 (asymptotic SE = .069,
t = 3.57, p < .001), indicating that the model classifies
respondents significantly better than chance.
The collective action model accurately classified
74.7% (n = 65) of the low involvement respondents
and 62.7% (n = 47) of the high involvement respon-
dents, yielding an acceptable overall accuracy of 69.1%
(C
PRO
is 50.3%; Hair et al.’s suggested criterion is
62.8% accuracy). For the classification results associ-
ated with the collective action model, j = .376
(asymptotic SE = .073, t = 4.80, p < .001), indicating
that the model classifies respondents significantly bet-
ter than chance.
Discussion
The findings from this study provide strong support
for one underlying premise of CBIs: Neighborhood
conditions matter and are significantly related to
whether and how much an individual engages in
individual or collective action. Overall, the residents
within our study were more likely to be engaged in
neighborhood activities when they perceived their
surrounding context as ready and able to support such
activity and when they noted higher levels of neigh-
borhood problems to address. Interestingly, we also
found that different elements of neighborhood
conditions seem to be more or less important for
different types and levels of resident involvement. For
example, while we found that perceptions of neigh-
borhood problems was the strongest predictor of
whether an individual became involved at all, we
found that perceived strength of neighborhood lead-
ership was one of the strongest predictors of how
active an individual was (low versus high involve-
ment). Similarly, we found that perceptions of
neighborhood readiness for change, including per-
ceived collective efficacy and hope for change, were
strongly related to whether respondents engaged in
collective action, yet were unrelated to whether they
were involved in individual activism. These results
provide evidence for the influence of contextual
variables on resident participation in community and
civic life. Overall, residents who recognized the state
of current problems, believed that neighborhood
efforts could help alleviate these problems, had ties
in the local community, and felt effective neighbor-
hood leadership was available were more likely to be
actively involved in neighborhood change efforts—
both through individual actions and collective efforts.
These findings are consistent with prior research
that has also found that residents who perceived
both neighborhood strengths (community capacity,
community readiness) and deficits (neighborhood
problems) were more likely to participate in neigh-
borhood change strategies (e.g., Perkins et al., 1990).
These findings also highlight that even within the
context of high levels of neighborhood problems,
significant levels of capacity can exist (Cook, Shagle,
& Degirmencioglu, 1997; Coulton, Korbin, & Su,
1996; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Taylor, 1997).
Table 4 Logistic regression models of individual activism and collective action (low involvement vs. high involvement)
Predictor Individual activism
a
Collective action
b
Wald Odds-Ratio 95% CI Wald Odds-Ratio 95% CI
Constant 3.44 0.56 1.79 0.64
Demographics
Homeownership (1 = yes) 0.72 1.47 0.60–3.56 1.85 1.96 0.74–5.19
Race (1 = African-American) 1.66 1.68 0.76–3.69 5.47* 3.10 1.20–8.00
Tenure 0.55 1.01 0.98–1.04 2.27 1.02 0.99–1.05
Gender (1 = female) 0.92 0.73 0.38–1.39 2.37 0.56 0.27–1.17
Parenthood (1 = yes) 0.22 1.17 0.61–2.23 0.08 1.11 0.52–2.37
Neighborhood problems 7.53** 1.70 1.16–2.48 1.38 1.27 0.85–1.91
Community readiness
Collective efficacy 1.42 1.27 0.86–1.86 0.00 1.01 0.67–1.54
Hope 5.35* 1.58 1.07–2.32 1.44 1.30 0.85–2.00
Community capacity
Neighborhood leadership 4.49* 1.42 1.03–1.97 13.71** 1.98 1.38–2.85
Social ties 2.57 0.73 0.50–1.07 1.86 0.73 0.47–1.14
a
v
2
= 24.71, df = 10, n = 198, p = .006, Nagelkerke R
2
= .16
b
v
2
= 31.97, df = 10, n = 162, p < .001, Nagelkerke R
2
= .24
* p < .05, ** p < .01
102 Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106
123
Future researchers may want to examine more spe-
cifically the processes through which neighborhood
problems affect resident involvement, such as
exploring whether distinct types of neighborhood
problems (e.g., crime, abandoned buildings) influence
different types of resident action.
Implications for practice and science
Despite significant interest in community capacity and
readiness across many disciplines and by foundations
and federal funders, the measurement of these two
constructs is still in its infancy (Norton et al., 2002).
Our study highlights two important challenges that
scientists and practitioners face when attempting to
measure and nurture these factors. First, it is essential
to clarify ‘‘capacity and readiness for what?’’ since the
critical components of readiness and capacity vary
depending upon the targeted outcome and relevant
community needs. Specifically, in our study, we found
that different components of capacity and readiness
mattered for different types and levels of resident
involvement. For example, we found that while
capacity in general was related to both whether
individuals engaged in individual activism and how
much they pursued, we also found that different ele-
ments of capacity contributed to whether involvement
happened at all versus how much involvement
occurred. Specifically, while one dimension of capac-
ity, perceived levels of neighborhood social ties, pre-
dicted whether an individual participated in individual
activism behaviors, another dimension of capacity,
perceptions of neighborhood leadership, mattered
when predicting the degree to which residents who
were involved in these activities participated. This
suggests that what helps individuals move from inac-
tion to action may be different from what helps them
become highly engaged residents within their neigh-
borhoods. In this study, initial levels of sense of
community or social ties mattered more as individuals
made the transition from inaction to action. This
finding is supported in part by Kieffer (1984) who
found that activists initially became involved in
activities due in part to their strong connections to
their neighborhood or community. On the other hand,
our findings suggest that nurturing higher levels of
activity seems to require more than just feeling good
about or connected to one’s neighborhood. Instead,
the support of a strong neighborhood leadership
infrastructure seems important to one becoming
highly active in individual activist behaviors. This
finding is not surprising, given that strong neighbor-
hood leadership is a critical component of effective
neighborhood associations or block groups (Perkins
et al., 1990).
Second, attention to which elements of readiness
and capacity are most important to target is also
important when developing useful, cost-effective
instruments. Because it is rarely possible or desirable
to measure all of the potential components of readiness
and capacity, it is important to develop a better of
understanding of when and under what conditions
different components of readiness and capacity matter.
In this study, we highlighted two elements of capacity
(e.g., social ties and leadership) and two elements of
readiness (e.g., collective efficacy, and hope for
change) and illustrated that when considering different
types and levels of resident involvement, these four
indicators assumed varying degrees of relevance and
importance.
Overall, these findings have important implications
for practitioners who are interested in fostering res-
ident involvement in community-building efforts and
in increasing overall levels of civic engagement. They
suggest that instead of adopting generic models of
community building or community development,
practitioners should consider which elements of a
neighborhood’s readiness and capacity to change are
the most important levers to target, given the out-
comes desired. For example, given that the CBI
targeted in this study—Yes we can!—is primarily
focused on building resident involvement in collec-
tive action, our findings suggest that particular
attention should be spent on fostering skills of
neighborhood leaders and increasing awareness of
neighborhood problems that could be addressed
through collective action.
Limitations
The data for this study were collected as part of an
initial information-gathering effort designed to guide
the initiative’s subsequent programming and evalua-
tion and therefore were subject to a number of con-
straints that limit the generalizability of the findings.
Foremost is the use of phone survey techniques to
conduct the assessment. Anticipating more intensive
programming and data collection efforts as the initia-
tive progressed, YWC!’s designers sought to minimize
intrusion and data burden for neighborhood residents
at this early stage, resulting in the decision to gather
baseline data through the use of a short phone survey.
However, conducting a phone survey necessarily lim-
ited the sample to residents who had phones and was
likely to have excluded not only residents without
phones, who tend to be experiencing high levels of
Am J Community Psychol (2007) 39:91–106 103
123
economic stress and are a target of this initiative, but
also those who rely primarily on cell phones or who
regularly screen their calls.
Additionally, these data are comprised of individual
residents’ perceptions of neighborhood conditions and
do not include objective assessments, such as obser-
vations or census data, that characterize the capacity,
readiness, or problems present in the neighborhoods.
Moreover, results are cross-sectional; although we
consider it most likely that levels of capacity, readiness,
and problems precede resident’s engagement in citizen
participation and community activism, activism may be
an impetus to increases in capacity and readiness
(although probably not to increases in neighborhood
problems). This may be particularly true for individual
activism; for example, individuals who become
engaged for whatever reasons may increasingly take on
neighborhood leadership roles, thereby building
capacity and promoting others to become active resi-
dents. Research has indeed shown that involvement in
community activities builds a sense of community
(Levi & Litwin, 1986).
Conversations continue regarding the definitions of
and elements that constitute capacity and readiness.
Some theorists advocate for a broad view of readiness
that includes infrastructural elements such as re-
sources, skills, knowledge, social ties, and leadership
(e.g., Donnermeyer et al., 1997; Oetting et al., 1995).
We took the approach, however, of separating the
capacity and readiness frameworks to reflect, on the
one hand, infrastructure present in the community
context, and, on the other hand, attitudes and beliefs
that impel residents to work for change. We adopted
this approach in an effort to identify specific leverage
points that the initiative’s programmers could target
during the implementation phase. We recognize that
others may hold alternative views of capacity and
readiness and may have chosen to evaluate different
elements.
Similarly, resident involvement is a multi-faceted
concept. Here, we examined involvement in terms of
efforts to effect change both through individual actions
and connections and through participation in formal-
ized groups. We do not know whether the community
conditions found to predict resident involvement in
this study would be similarly linked to engagement in
other resident involvement opportunities. For exam-
ple, Sears and Hughes (1996) found that different
forms of citizen participation attract different types of
people, who may or may not be interested in engaging
in alternative forms of community action such as
involvement in governance structures, programming
decisions, or evaluation.
Conclusion
Critical to the success of CBIs is the development of an
active citizenry that is engaged in a variety of efforts
aimed at strengthening neighborhoods and rebuilding
the local infrastructure. Through participation in the
groups and organizations in their neighborhoods and
communities, residents develop increased sense of
control (Itzhaky & Schwartz, 2000) and increased
personal mastery (Donlap, 1996). This study suggests
that when community-building efforts want to promote
resident involvement in such efforts, they need to
attend to the types of involvement they desire and
consider which neighborhood conditions are most
likely to influence resident engagement in those efforts.
Acknowledgements We would like to thank the residents who
participated in the phone survey featured in this manuscript and
the W. K. Kellogg Foundation for supporting this evaluation
effort. We would also like to thank Hester Hughes, Tom Sum-
merfelt, Cherise Brandell, and Teri Barker for all their help in
carrying out this project. This project was supported by a grant
received by the first author from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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