Community Network Building
HSN as a Community Network
Visualize it here: HSN as a Community Network
HSN provides a central place for individuals interested in engaging in housing solutions to bring their ideas and resources, and be connected with others. We also organize events/spaces that allow for individuals and groups to meet and begin building relationships among themselves.
Facilitator of Action
Our small team of two part time staff are dedicated to helping our Housing Action Teams move from ideas to action. We help with strategy, communications, funding materials, maintaining our website, offering technical skills, and more.
We collaborate freely and use our relationships to strategize on how to make our work effective. No one directs anyone else’s work.
The network provides a place for people to build a more common understanding of both the problem and the various solutions we are each working toward, and to engage in housing advocacy as individuals.
We see and support many types of solutions for affordable housing. We offer the community a forum through which to imagine their own solutions and then engage with each other to experiment, learn, and most importantly, take action.
HSN helps share stories of housing struggle and housing solutions, constantly engaging the community on the issue itself as well as the actions of all our local housing organizations to offer solutions.
Community Network Building, more broadly
Community Network Builders foster and sustain locally-based networks of people who work together to create positive social, economic, and civic momentum that leads to inclusive local economies and vibrant communities. We do this by creating spaces that foster mutual trust among otherwise disconnected residents so that they can share their aspirations, resources, skills, and actions to improve their lives and communities.
Network Builders work to eliminate barriers to – and fear of – engaging in public life by building an environment that invites new interactions, encourages aspirations and maximizes the ability to establish and grow new connections designed to be mutually beneficial. That environment is intentionally built and is guided so people feel safe to take risks, speak their truth and reach across prevalent divides of class, sector, ethnicity, age, race, geography, generation and dominant traditions. This leads to increased cooperation and, ultimately, coordinated actions by those who would otherwise be disconnected. Community Network Builders are people who know how to lead this effort.
Community Network Builders work to identify, support and sustain natural networks in neighborhoods, towns and counties while challenging them to think in new ways and cross lines of difference – to bridge. This is a challenge but also an opportunity to create new functionality in communities. This work is not about getting institutions to collaborate but rather about a careful cross stitching of individual relationships that are ‘surprising’ and that begin to weave networks that wouldn’t otherwise be weaved: intergenerational, cross-professional, neighborhood residents, leaders of large institutions, and of course, class, ethnic and racial.
This relationship-based approach has been explored simultaneously – and without cross planning – by approximately 25 organizations across the country over the last 30 years including: Community Renewal International (Shreveport, Louisiana), Lawrence Community Works (Lawrence, Mass.), Boston Rising (Boston, Mass.), Impact Silver Spring (Silver Spring, MD), Nexus Community Partners (Minneapolis, MN) and the Network Center for Community Change (Louisville, KY).
Why is Community Network Building important?
Across the country, we are dealing with the consequences of the growing disparity in income between the rich and poor. People feel disenfranchised, forgotten by the systems of economy and government and hunkered down to protect what they have, blaming each other and fighting fiercely. People are challenged to create shared spaces – shared by people and organizations that have not and would not typically share space. So we are needed to cross traditional neighborhood boundaries, professional boundaries and institutional boundaries.
In the past, we’ve chosen to see and address social challenges in isolation of each other. Using the U.S. Government as an example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development focuses on providing affordable housing, the Department of Health and Human Services on social service programs to these same neighborhoods, and the Labor Department trains residents as workers. Foundations, too, have taken this approach: grants for housing, hunger, education. However, at the base of all of these problems are people and their networks of support. Today, Community Network Builders are asking if there is a better way: How can we use new thinking about individuals and networks to address these challenges?
How an individual lives depends in large part on how that individual is tied into the larger web of social connections. Social networks affect economic and social outcomes for three main reasons. First, social networks affect the flow and the quality of information. Much information is subtle, nuanced and difficult to verify, so individuals do not believe impersonal sources and instead rely on people they know. Second, social networks are an important source of reward and punishment, which are often magnified in their impact when they come from personal relationships. Third, trust (the confidence that others will do the “right” thing despite a clear balance of incentives to the contrary) emerges, if it does, in the context of a social network.
We have seen over and over again that the transactional approach – that of providing pre-determined programs or resources on a time-limited basis – has been ineffective in terms of sustainability. By taking a network (or relationship-based) approach, we ensure that leadership is owned by the community members themselves, rather than by a nonprofit organization. The instrument of an organization in this scenario is a tool for fueling community leadership, one that must be shaped to the communities’ desires. This is the opposite of traditional approaches where community members are seen as fuel for an institution.
Community Network Builders create new kinds of spaces and practices where people can connect and spark new ideas and action. They find and create lots of different spaces (indoor and outdoor places, gatherings, meet ups) that are welcoming to a wide range of people and that facilitate civil discussion, a mutual exchange of value, learning and co-investment. Community Network Builders offer useful opportunities to help people connect in the midst of a busy life and with people who are different than those they usually associate with.
When we intentionally rebuild the relational foundation of our communities, new solutions appear, ones that are fundamentally more likely to succeed because they emanate from the residents themselves. This is because residents start this process with the assets they control, the assets within their own reach…their own networks. This dramatically increases the creative capacity of residents to fashion their own solutions with trusted partners. Community network builders “link and leverage” those assets in new and creative ways. Chief among them: trusted relationships.
Networks don’t occupy the same kind of institutional space in local communities as nonprofit institutions. In fact, community networks are made up of layers of connected relationships that interlace with a whole range of institutional connections; church, family, neighborhood, community organization – without getting in each other’s way. The way that one can be a member of a health club and a church and a buying club and a sewing club – picking and choosing which to be invested in in a given week, this is the kind of layer the community network represents. Far from competing with local nonprofits, associations and CBO’s, a healthy community network can feed these efforts with additional engagement, expanded networks, and people who are more informed and more skilled in effective participation.