By Dan Kahl, Assistant Professor, Department of Community and Leadership Development
“Readiness” is a term often mentioned by community developers as a way to describe a community’s collective potential for development. The concept of community readiness actually may have Kentucky roots. Edwards, Jumper-Thurman, Plested, Ottering, & Swanson (2000) credit the concept of community readiness to Mary Ann Pentz, speaking at the Kentucky Conference for Prevention Research in 1991. And while the concept has been around Kentucky for over 25 years, the importance of community readiness for development is still an important concept today.
Community readiness can be thought of as community members’ collective willingness to take on new projects or their state of openness to community change. For example, an indication of readiness might include a high level of trust and partnerships or collaborative activities between institutions and organizations in the community. Low levels of community readiness might be characterized by distrust of the local government, or lack of community support or involvement in community projects.
Readiness for change is dynamic. Changes in economies, health, the environment, cultural demographics and/or social relationships can influence the community’s readiness for change. For example, sometimes a disaster will force a community to work together and take action to rebuild.
But communities stuck in status quo don’t need to wait for disaster to establish their openness to change! Community readiness is something that can be cultivated and encouraged through activities and building relationships. Sometimes, starting the conversation about the future of the community can kick-start a community’s readiness. Kostadinov, Daniel, Stanley, Gancia & Cargo (2015) report that, “The mere act of conducting a community readiness assessment helped improve awareness of the issue in leaders and stakeholders (section 3.1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410196/ accessed 9/1/2016).”
In Kentucky, there are several programs through CEDIK that can support the community coming into a higher state of readiness for action. The First Impressions Program is an excellent example. An outside reviewer’s constructive criticism and feedback to the community often spark a quick response to address areas of improvement. All of the communities that have utilized the CEDIK First Impressions Program thus far have pulled together to make quick improvements following the outsider feedback they receive.
Another resource available through CEDIK is the Rural Communities Discussion Guide. The guide serves as a customizable template for hosting a community conversation about what residents’ value about their community as they look to the future. Contact Dan Kahl for support with hosting a forum to use the discussion guide. The Discussion Guide can help community members’ decide if they are ready to enter a strategic planning process, or in conjunction with identifying community values as part of the strategic planning process.
A third resource for enhancing community readiness through CEDIK is the Business Retention and Expansion Program or BR&E program. The BR&E process helps businesses and economic support groups (like Chamber of Commerce or Main Street Organizations) to identify and prioritize ways that the community can support their local businesses.
Each of these programs are intended to begin meaningful discussion between community members in ways that help communities organize and prioritize their actions for community improvement. Contact CEDIK if you are ready to jump-start your community engagement process!
Edwards, R. W., Jumper-Thurman, P., Plested, B. A., Oetting, E. R., & Swanson, L. (2000). Community readiness: Research to practice. Journal of Community Psychology, 28(3), 291-307.
Kostadinov, I., Daniel, M., Stanley, L., Gancia, A., & Cargo, M. (2015). A systematic review of Community Readiness Tool Applications: Implications for reporting. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(4), 3453-3468. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410196/ accessed 9/1/16