Understanding Your Community

The following questions provide a beginning framework to identify individuals within any community
who might be partners (or means of access to partners) for community engagement activities.
The list should be updated regularly.

If your organization does not have the answers to all (or most) of these, you should get them.
If you don’t know how to get the answers, find people who do,


Government
Executive/Legislative
Who is your current mayor/elected community leader? [Who is his/her chief-of-staff or personal assistant?]
Who is the president/leader of your local council (city/town and county)?
Which elected official(s) is(are) generally the most influential with the public?
Which elected official(s) is(are) generally the most influential with other officials?
Which elected officials(s) is(are) most responsive to community concerns?

Schools
Who is the president of your local Board of Education?
Who is your Superintendent of Schools? [Who is his/her chief-of-staff or personal assistant?]
Which board member demonstrates support for arts programs in your schools?
Who are your area’s high school/middle school choral director(s)?  Theatre director(s)? Art teacher(s)? Band director(s)? Orchestra director(s)?
Which school administrator demonstrates support for arts program in his/her building?
Who are the presidents/leaders of local PTO/similar organizations (PTA/PTSA)?

Business Community
Who is the president of the local Chamber of Commerce?  Paid staff?
Who are the most influential business spokespersons in your community?
What are the major businesses in your community? Who are their CEO’s? [Who determines the type of support and/or makes final decisions for each?]
What are the principal locally-owned businesses in your community? Who are their owners or CEO’s? [Who determines the type of support and/or makes final decisions for each?]

Not-for-Profit Community
Is there a county or state organization providing service and support to not-for-profits in your area? Who are the executive directors? When do they hold trainings/conferences?

Arts and Culture (Community Orchestras, Choirs, Writers, Theatres, Artists, Dancers, Historians, etc.)
Who are the Board Presidents and paid staff for each arts organization in your community?
Who is/are the more obvious shaker/s-and-mover/s within each local arts organization?
Who is/are the key spokesperson/s for the arts organizations sin your community?

Service Organizations
Social/Community Services
Who are the CEO and Board President of the United Way?
Who are the community-wide opinion leaders in the social service realm?
Who is the president of each local service organization?
Do any organizations directly sponsor or underwrite community arts programming? [Who is/are the individual/s leaders responsible for decision-making?]

Private/Parochial/Charter Schools
Who is the principal and Board chair of each?
Who are the arts personnel in each (see questions above under Schools)

Faith-Based Institutions
What faiths are represented in your community?
What are the consortia of faith-based organizations in your community (denominational and ecumenical)? [Who are the leaders (paid and volunteer) of each?]
Who are the paid and lay leaders of each faith-based institution?
Who are the musicians (pianists, organists, music directors, etc.) in each? Are other art forms supported in worship or educational programs?
Which sponsor public performance events/pageants/holiday programs? [Who directs/organizes each of them?]

Grassroots Communities
Are there community-wide groups that exist to support community building or the development of social capital? If so, who are the leaders (staff and volunteer) of each?
Are there community organizing coalitions? If so, who are the leaders (staff and volunteer) of each?

Neighborhoods
Are there coalitions of neighborhood organizations?
What neighborhood associations exist? Who are their leaders?

Culture/Ethnicity
Are there associations of immigrant groups? If so, who are the leaders (staff and volunteer) of each?
Are there associations of community members based on ethnicity? If so, who are the leaders (staff and volunteer) of each?
Are there associations of community members based on other forms of shared identity? If so, who are the leaders (staff and volunteer) of each?

Socio-economic
Do service organizations for the economically disadvantaged sponsor client organizations?
What organizations/means exist to connect with individuals not affiliated with other organizations included in this list? (Community festivals, interest groups–e.g., book clubs, children’s athletic activities–soccer, Little League, etc.) This is a particularly important (and difficult) question in thinking about developing relationships with the wide swathe of the community not directly involved in government, business, or the not-for-profit community. Churches and schools are one mode of connecting, but thought needs to be given to learning about the people you seek to reach and identifying how you can begin to develop relationships with them.

Rural (as applicable)
Who are formal and informal leaders of the community?
What social and service organizations exist? Who are their leaders?
In what locations and circumstances (formal and informal) do people meet? Are there leaders in any of these situations?

County/State/National Cooperative Extension Service
Who is the office chairperson of the Cooperative Extension Service in your county?
Who is the Coop Extension staff member responsible for supporting the arts in your county?
Does Coop Extension currently sponsor or produce arts programs in your county and if so who is responsible for providing staff leadership?

Cross-Sectoral
Is there an organization devoted to community-wide planning (sometimes including government, schools, business, not-for-profit, and grassroots leaders)? If so, who are the leaders (staff and volunteer)?


Derived from questions developed by Professor Harv Thompson,
Emeritus Professor, The University of Wisconsin-Madison
Further information available from the Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation
P.O. Box 259272, Madison, WI  53725-9272 or maryo@gard-sibley.org