Initial curator: Steve Dubb, Democracy Collaborative


One of the biggest challenges for universities seeking to be effective community partners is to identify partners and help those partners increase their own economic development capacity. Yet this is one of the most difficult parts of community building work. It is one thing to employ university intellectual and economic resources to improve conditions in surrounding neighborhoods. It is quite another to employ university intellectual and economic resources to enhance the capacity of community partners to be agents in their own economic development. Campus Compact, in its 2016 Action Statement, does touch on this second, more ambitious goal in the first plank of that statement, which talks about empowering community partners. In theory, universities should be good at this. After all, what is capacity building but a fancy term for education?  But, of course, we’re talking about a very different kind of education here than traditional classroom-based learning or traditional academic papers.  

In Educate and Empower: Tools for Building Community Wealth, Keane Bhatt and Steve Dubb identify some of the leading strategies. Some of the available strategies that might be employed in community-based capacity building work include educational games, visual tools (such as using building blocks) that help residents engage in community planning or related activities, peer mentoring, field trips to other communities in engaging in similar work, study circles, and knocking on resident doors to get everyone’s input into agenda setting. Organizationally, strategies might include customized board training, building boards that bring community members into direct contact with business and university leaders (as Syracuse University has done with its Near West Side Initiative), and assisting community groups link with each other.   These strategies are not new. In fact, many can be found in the early 20th century settlement house movement (where John Dewey of the University of Chicago was involved), as well as cooperative extension, which emerged out of land-grant universities at about the same time. In short, some of this work involves re-learning strategies once more common in the university world. As for identifying partners in your community, the resources listed below should help you.  Of course, cataloguing your own faculty members’ activities is one source of information.  Others include reaching out to local institutions in your community. Local government agencies (including parks, police, and libraries), local religious institutions, the local school district, the local community foundation, community centers, and local neighborhood associations might all form part of the community map that you build that can help guide institutional efforts. Under both federal and state laws, nonprofit health systems and county health agencies are compelled to conduct community health needs assessments. Because of increasing recognition of the connection of community economic stability and health, these planning efforts are becoming an increasingly important tool for mapping community challenges and co-designing solutions.

Key resources


  • Asset Based Community Development Institute Founded by John McKnight and John (“Jody”) Kretzmann at Northwestern University, the institute, founded in 1995, provides a host resources on build on the skills of residents, local associations, and local institutions to build stronger, more sustainable communities.
  • Community Commons: Community Health Needs Assessment This website provides a free web-based platform to assist hospitals and organizations seeking to better understand the needs and assets of their communities as well as collaborate to make measurable improvements in community health and well-being. The tool is designed to be accessible to community members—regardless of training, expertise, and experience—to ask and answer questions about health and quality of life at the local and regional level.
  • This website, launched by The Democracy Collaborative in 2005, serves as a kind of information clearinghouse on community economic development strategies.  Including on its website are profiles of over 40 cities across the United States. If your institution is in one of these cities, then these profiles can provide a useful overview of the community economic development landscape in your metropolitan region.
  • National Equity Atlas Launched in 2014 by PolicyLink, this project provides data on demographic change, racial inclusion, and the economic benefits of equity for the 100 largest cities, 150 largest regions, all 50 states, and the United States. The site is continually being updated. For example, in fall 2016, neighborhood-level maps charting indicators of educational and job opportunity equality with measurements for race/ethnicity, people of color, unemployment, and “disconnected youth” (16-to-19-year-olds who are neither working nor in school) were added.
  • National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership Founded in 1996, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) is a collaborative effort by the Urban Institute and local partners in over 30 cities to further the development and use of neighborhood information systems in local policymaking and community building.  If your institution is in one of these cities, then these profiles can provide a useful overview of the community economic development landscape in your metropolitan region.
  • Promise Neighborhoods Institute Founded in 2009, the Promise Neighborhood Institute is a joint effort of PolicyLink, the Harlem Children's Zone, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy provide resources and guidance that aims to build and sustain burgeoning Promise Neighborhoods in over 60 communities. Because Promise Neighborhood networks link nonprofits, schools, health clinics, foundations, institutions of higher learning, and other community-based organizations committed to developing a place-based, coordinated approach to ending poverty, if your community has an established network, this can be an important resource.


  • Centers for Disease Control: Community Health Improvement Navigator This federal site aims to show how the community health improvement (CHI) process can bring together health care, public health, and community stakeholders to identify and address issues of health and economic vitality. The website highlights partnerships involving hospitals, public health, social services, universities, residents, and other community stakeholders.
  • Collaboratory Cofounded by Emily Janke, Kristin Medlin and Barbara Holland, the Collaboratory originated from a desire at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to track, report and build awareness of community engagement activities. Collaboratory provides report templates to help institution present information to both internal and external stakeholders, thereby promoting greater understanding and ownership of institutional community engagement work.
  • Grounded Solutions Network Grounded Solutions Network supports community land trusts and other forms of permanently affordable housing as a strategy to facilitate community building and economic development while avoiding the costs of resident displacement.  More than 150 organizations across the United States are part of its membership network.  
  • National Alliance of Community and Economic Development Associations NACEDA is an alliance of 45 state and regional community development associations in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Through its members, NACEDA connects with almost 4,000 community development nonprofit organizations throughout the United States. 
  • National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions Founded in 1974, the Federation has been promoting financial inclusion by organizing, supporting, and investing in these community development credit unions, which specialize in serving populations with limited access to affordable financial services, including low-income wage earners, families, new immigrants, young people and the growing number of Americans seeking financial independence through credit unions. The federation has over 150 federally insured member credits unions located across the country.
  • University-Assisted Community Schools Network Launched in February 2015, with participation from over 20 universities facilitating university-assisted community schools, the network hopes to more effectively connect universities to regular school day and after school programming, through both scholarship and research, as well as share resources and best practices and explore opportunities for collaboration.

Models and Exemplars

  • Homewood Community Partnership Initiative Homewood Community Partners Initiative (HCPI) began with an announcement by Johns Hopkins University that it would invest in ten neighborhoods surrounding the Homewood campus. The focus areas are the following: clean and safe neighborhoods; blight elimination and housing creation; public education; commercial and retail development; local hiring and purchasing; and workforce development. Over seven months, led by a steering committee of community representatives and 150 resident participants, the community and university co-developed a detailed plan that has guided implementation.
  • Lawrence Community Works Lawrence CommunityWorks aims to foster an “environment of connectivity” where residents can more easily connect to information, opportunity and each other. A university-community partnership, known “as MIT at Lawrence,” involving urban planning faculty and graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, located 30 miles to the south, played an important role in supporting the development of this initiative from 1998 through 2012.
  • Neighbor Up Established in 2003 with the support of the Cleveland Foundation—the community foundation of Cleveland, Ohio—Neighbor Up (formerly Neighborhood Connections) seeks to bring together neighbors to respond innovatively to the challenges that plague residents.  Its NeighborUp network of grassroots and civic leaders, launched in 2012, has more than 1,200 members and provides a venue for members to exchange resources, support each other and collaborate on big-change projects. The network has also helped connect local residents to job opportunities at area universities and hospitals.
  • Portland State University, Business Outreach Program Founded in 1994, the Business Outreach Program (BOP) at Portland State University provides technical assistance and business consulting services to locally owned, small businesses, with a focus on emerging, minority, and women-owned enterprises. In 2016, the center assisted Over 300 business, of whom more than 75 percent were women-owned, 40 percent minority-owned, and 98 percent served low-to-moderate income individuals. Over 70 Portland State business students as consultants to the businesses that came to the Center.
  • Robert R. Jones University Research and Outreach Center Located in the Northside community, about four miles from campus, the Robert R. Jones Research and Outreach Center, was designed to focus on three core areas identified through community discussions and votes: health, education and economic development. The Center opened its doors in 2009 and had its formal grand opening in May 2010. The Center is overseen by a 15-member executive advisory committee. One of its signature programs is the Northside Job Creation Team (NJCT). Working in partnership with the university business school, the business community, local government and community partner, the team has helped residents obtain hundreds of jobs, with a goal of reaching 1,000 jobs by 2018.