Engaging Residents in Community Change: The Critical Role of Trust in the Development of a Promise Neighborhood
by Joanna D. Geller, Bernadette Doykos, Krista Craven, Kimberly D. Bess & Maury Nation - 2014
Background: Currently, there is great enthusiasm surrounding place-based initiatives for school reform, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and other initiatives that attend to the multiple contexts that influence child development. However, past efforts to bridge schools, families, and communities have been undermined by mistrust between and among stakeholders. Although trust is a building block for effective collaboration, there is little deliberate attention to cultivating it.
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to use a case example of a low-income neighborhood currently developing a Promise Neighborhoods initiative to explore how variations in trust between and among community residents, local institutions, and school staff in the problem definition and assessment phase may threaten or facilitate the success of the initiative.
Setting: We conducted this study in a low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood in a midsize southeastern city.
Participants: There were 44 participants, including parents, school administrators and staff, service providers, and high school students.
Research Design: We used qualitative research methods, including eight focus groups and observations.
Data Collection and Analysis: Focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Multiple researchers coded the transcripts. Trust emerged as a key theme through open coding, and we used focused coding to explore this theme in detail.
Findings: The findings corroborate previous studies that have found relatively low levels of relational trust between residents, between residents and local institutions, and between residents and school staff. Additionally, we identified “seeds of trust” that indicate opportunities to cultivate trusting relationships between stakeholders that can be developed and replicated in this neighborhood and others undertaking similar initiatives.
Conclusions: Promise Neighborhoods and similar initiatives should intentionally address low levels of trust through activities such as community asset mapping, programs with a deliberate relational focus, and partnerships with agencies that address the systematic roots of trust.
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