The Center for Community Advancement (CCA) is intended as a university-based initiative designed to fill a critical niche in neighborhood and community development while providing hands-on experience for emerging leaders in community-based service. The grassroots leadership of community based organizations in the City of Chicago and surrounding suburbs have the vision and energy to bring about constructive change, but often lack the tools and technical expertise to bring their ideas to reality. While there are many university-based research centers in Chicago and around the country, they focus generally on conducting research on neighborhoods. None see their primary mission as linking theory, research and teaching with action. The CCA will serve as that link.
The Center for Community Advancement will provide four core services:
1) Community Engagement. In community development as well as in business and government, investment accentuates the conventional and shies away from innovation. Consequently, development strategies settle into models that may not fit the needs and vision of a particular community. While it is essential to draw lessons from the experiences of others, local conditions, culture and aspirations must be understood, respected and addressed.
The Center for Community Advancement will begin by working with community leaders in framing local conditions, opportunities and challenges in ways that lend themselves to new arrays of solutions that go beyond conventional approaches.
CCA will take US as well as global lessons that have been learned about sustainable communities and effective locally-driven development practices and policies, and then re-contextualize that knowledge for Chicago-area leaders.
It will draw from a broad assortment of models, as well as develop new models, and reframe them to the specific needs of partner communities. CCA will assist in the design and implementation of community and economic development strategies.
CCA will facilitate collaborations involving community leaders and experts in housing, economic development, workforce development, public health, community infrastructure, education and planning.
CCA will also establish and support community engagement working groups involving community leaders, university centers, other non-governmental organizations, philanthropic organizations, and all levels of government. These working groups will become resource networks driving local innovation.
2) Community Resource. The Internet and the World Wide Web have led to a virtual explosion of information resources, some targeted by subject matter or type of audience. Others are more general in nature. Relatively few online resources are designed specifically to support the active exchange of knowledge and practice in which formal and informal knowledge is linked across multiple pathways, disciplines and taxonomical schemas. Electronic libraries in medicine and environmental research are examples of resources that enhance the exchange of knowledge. On the other hand, workforce and economic development, as well as most other disciplines in social and economic policies and practices, are served by sites containing lists and published reviews of “best or promising practices,” research and program evaluations, and testimonials and opinions. Nothing approaches comprehensive knowledge systems and investments of the “hard” sciences.
The CCA will establish an online, searchable knowledge repository in urban economic and workforce development policies and practices. It will also establish and support an expert-practitioner knowledge exchange and collaborative forums. It will build from the proof-of-concept work behind the experimental Workforce Open Knowledge Exchange (WOKE) and Problem-Solution Finder, both projects funded by the Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor. WOKE established the first ontological framework linking formal knowledge across several disciplines within workforce development (e.g., disability, adult services, youth services, dislocated worker services, training, etc.). PSF was a search engine that retrieved knowledge from both formal and informal knowledge resources (the latter including blogs, lists, etc.). Both resources will be adapted and expanded to serve the community development community. They will be offered in a moderated open-source environment so as to better serve the needs of end-users and to encourage adoption of the underlying code by the user community. This will support greater interoperability among organizations wishing to maintain their own knowledge repositories.
The recent shuttering of the Metropolitan Chicago Information Center has resulted in a significant loss of an essential resource. MCIC offered a broad array of services, but a core element was comprised of its data sets on Chicago area communities and neighborhoods. CCA will partner with other interested organizations in maintaining and advancing this important set of resources.
3) Leadership Education. Practitioners working on the front lines can become isolated as they deal with the day-to-day challenges of their work. Conferences, informal working groups and collaborations on projects afford them with opportunities to expand their working knowledge. CCA will provide an array of leadership education services that directly addresses problems of isolation and that expands the range of opportunities for peer-to-peer and peer-to-expert exchanges. It will accomplish this through:
Subject matter working sessions – both face-to-face and online – bringing together experts and practitioners on high value problems and solutions. This is modeled on the series of highly successful working sessions organized under the auspices of the Midwest Innovation Initiative, a project of the Employment and Training Administration of the US Department of Labor.
The Local Development Academy for community, civic and religious leaders, public policy makers and opinion leaders, and researchers modeled on programs such as the Public-Private Ventures workforce leadership academy in New York and the economic development initiative of the Associate of Chamber of Commerce Executives. The academy brings together a working cohort from across the city and from a broad range of functions in yearlong working and learning collaborations. They meet routinely to examine in depth a specific set of issues. They also act as references group supporting the work of each member.
Conduct multi-disciplinary local, regional and national conferences, workshops, and briefings on community economic and workforce development.
4) Innovation. A university is a place for research, teaching and imparting knowledge to its community. CCA will serve as an important resource where these three roles are joined in a community-focused learning environment for university students from any of several disciplines, including:
ii. Public administration
v. Political science
xi. Sustainable communities and urban ecology
xii. Architecture and design
xiii. Performing and visual arts and literature
xiv. Social work
xv. Public policy
xvi. Environmental studies
xvii. African American and Latino studies
xviii. Information technology.
One element that differentiates CCA from other community-focused think tanks is its emphasis on the importance of context and framing in devising strategies that lead to effective solutions to complex system problems. Innovation is driven by people who see problems in fresh ways and who solves them with a combination of what others have done and their own new ideas. Innovation is also a learned skilled that is developed through successive efforts that combine theory, practices and critical thinking. CCA will be a center for innovation by inviting and supporting students to think and act creatively as they apply what they are learning to real problems and challenges while being respectful of and acting in collaboration with community leadership. The staff of CCA and university faculty will be responsible for developing and maintaining such an environment.
Institute for Work & the Economy
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Mailing Address: P.O. Box 4061, Oak Park, IL 60303-4061 Phone: 312.332.8508 Fax: 773.681.7028 Blog: http://workandeconomy.wordpress.com