how they are
Partnerships to improve schools, protect homeowners from foreclosure, and mobilize to inform public policy all change over time. The number and nature of local collaborations can grow, diminish, or shift. So can the leadership and influence of individual organizations within collaborations.
In some cases, partnerships may change deliberately, in response to new circumstances such as new federal, state, or local political agendas; demographic shifts in neighborhoods; or changes in funding opportunities. In other instances, the strain of external stresses, such as state budget cuts, neighborhood violence, or potential school closures, may make it harder to maintain partnerships at all. This feature explores both sustaining and adapting partnerships in the face of external events.
What Is Network
Because the Chicago Community Networks Study involved two waves of a survey, one conducted in 2013 and the second in 2016, it is possible to explore the ways that local networks evolved and how they were sustained over time in nine Chicago neighborhoods. This feature illustrates the network changes observed between 2013 and 2016, a time when Chicago faced ongoing struggles with violence, state budget woes that delayed payments to service providers, and heightened public concerns about police violence.
This section uses hypothetical examples to illustrate concepts of network change. Later in this feature, these concepts will be connected to data in an actual neighborhood.
Why Network Change
In many cases, to respond to new challenges or opportunities, local organizations may need to shift or adapt how they partner with each other. In the public management literature, this concept is known as network adaptation. And in fact, during the period of the CCN study between 2013 and 2016, Chicago’s neighborhoods contended with several major problems, as outlined above.
Under such difficult circumstances, organizations may need to make new kinds of connections to continue service partnerships and may need different kinds of coalitions to change public policy. On the other hand, budget cuts may also make it hard for groups just to sustain important partnerships, making it important to find ways of maintaining networks over time.
The following example shows how a community organization navigated these circumstances in one neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, and offers a comparison to the other study neighborhoods.
One finding across the nine study neighborhoods was that agencies charged with coordinating local work appeared to be more well-connected in 2016 than they were in 2013. The case of Austin, and the increased well-connectedness of Austin Coming Together (ACT), illustrates this theme.
ACT is an organization formed in 2011 to convene community stakeholders and to coordinate service delivery in the neighborhood. MDRC’s network analysis and qualitative research both suggest that ACT increased in well-connectedness between 2013 and 2016.
How did this change happen?
This feature has explored the changing nature and character of community partnerships. In particular, it has highlighted:
- How community organizations may shift or adapt the way they partner with each other and affect the system of community collaboration as a whole, and how social network analysis can illustrate these changes.
- How a challenging funding environment for nonprofits and public institutions, along with other neighborhood shocks (such as the gentrification pressures observed in Logan Square) may have an effect on these processes.
- As shown in the case of Austin, how explicit and dedicated investments that support a convening organization's local partnership-building efforts and coordination activities can contribute to maintaining and fostering partnerships in its neighborhood despite a challenging funding environment.
A print report published in late 2018 will explore these themes in more detail.