Community Building: Helping Action Groups Succeed

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Being part of an action group working on a community-defined project can be extremely rewarding. It can also present many challenges, including those related to leadership, communication and/or coordination, resource development and planning. In light of all the challenges, the following are important points to consider:

  • Facilities may set the tone for meetings. Community members who don’t attend church may decide not to participate if meetings are held in churches. Government offices such as town halls may be intimidating to others. Discover from the start what sites would be favorable to members.
  • Select a meeting space large enough to accommodate the group with room for movement. Have extra chairs on hand. Make sure participants can see each other. Make sure any needed materials and equipment are available.
  • Ensure group meetings are effective and organized. This includes:
    • providing name tags if people don’t know each other.
    • establishing a specific purpose for the meeting.
    • starting and finishing on time.
    • having an agenda and keeping on track, with some flexibility for appropriate discussion.
    • not allowing members to dominate the discussion, argue, redirect the
    • discussion off the topic, or follow personal agendas.
    • keeping the meeting lively, positive and moving forward.
    • having adequate breaks, with refreshments if possible.
    • at the end, making sure everyone knows what has been decided, what actions are needed before the next meeting, and what the focus is of the next meeting.
    • distributing minutes/notes to participants in a timely manner, with a reminder of assignments and details of the next meeting.
  • It‘s important group members understand the goals and objectives of the group as well as their individual roles and capacities in helping accomplish them.
  • Set aside a meeting to discuss expectations, roles and responsibilities of group members so everyone understands what is expected of them.
  • Have the group set realistic achievable goals and actions.  Setting goals people feel are important and developing ways to achieve those goals are key to getting people involved and keeping them involved.
    • Complete? Does it list the purpose, scope and all the critical parts/action steps/changes to be sought in all relevant parts of the community (e.g., schools, business, government, faith community)?
    • Clear? Is it apparent who will do what by when?
    • Current? Does the action plan reflect the current work? Does it anticipate newly-emerging opportunities and barriers?
  • To identify all the local capacities and resources - human, financial, physical, & community-wide that could be used in your project, conduct an asset mapping activity in your community
  • Develop and/or enhance coalitions among individuals and organizations in the community to provide support for the group’s work.
  • Develop linkages outside the community to support the group’s work.
  • The action plan for your initiative should meet several criteria. Test yours by asking, "Is the action plan..."
  • It‘s very important to recruit, inspire and motivate volunteers effectively to get a job done.
  • Visible change keeps people involved. On long term projects, ensure there are short term achievements that keep volunteers inspired and motivated to continue.
  • Make jobs doable. If a job grows too large, divide the tasks into manageable pieces and distribute the responsibilities among more people.
  • Set time limitations for jobs (other than political) to make activities more attractive and manageable.
  • Make participation accessible for those currently unable to participate by providing transportation, car-pooling or childcare.
  • Develop a community-wide communication network to let everyone know about the group’s efforts. Use multiple access points for people to obtain information; newsletters, newspapers, bulletin boards, websites, library, schools.
  • Make information appropriate and of interest to the audience. Ensure information is distributed in a timely fashion so people may use it more effectively.
  • Always communicate positively about volunteers and their activities if you expect others to show interest.
  • Encourage frequent celebration of accomplishments in the project. Celebrate small as well as big successes. They don’t have to be elaborate or expensive

Resources: Building Communities from the Grassroots - Community Development Academy, University of Missouri. The Community Tool Box, Kansas State University


Molly Donovan
Community Economic Development State Specialist
Assoc State Specialist
Phone: (603) 862-5046
Office: Cooperative Extension, Nesmith Hall Rm 204C, Durham, NH 03824