Understanding the Community

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Guiding Principle # 3

Involving a variety of stakeholders in the process of understanding the community forges relationships that sustain a NORC program.

Actions and Considerations

Commit yourself to promoting community involvement. Among other benefits, engaging stakeholders as active participants in the development of the NORC program helps you:

  • Generate buy-in and support from diverse individuals and groups.
  • Develop a shared vision among participants who might become allies, provide resources, or rally support for the community’s agenda.
  • Build community—that is, forge and strengthen relationships among residents, NORC program staff, and other partners and local institutions.
  • Discover skills, talents, and interests that can enhance your program.
  • Communicate the mission and goals of the NORC program and its partners to those who may not be familiar with it.

Create a list of all the stakeholders who may have a role to play. There are many people and many organizations in a community who should know that a NORC program is under development, and who can help you understand the setting in which it operates. No one should be overlooked—an early collaborator who becomes involved at a peripheral level may later be willing to take on a larger role or provide additional support.

Core partners—including senior residents and organizations involved in housing, health care, and social service—are the foundation of a NORC program (see Partnering with the Community). Other stakeholders include organizations with an interest in aging issues, such as senior centers, home health agencies, hospitals, and pharmacies. Beyond that, consider the role that cultural institutions, businesses, banks, real estate developers, educational institutions, and religious organizations, among many others, might play.

Refer to your Community Map (see Understanding the Community, Guiding Principle #2) to consider who else you may be able to draw into your NORC program.  Click here to read about one community’s experience with using community mapping as an early step in planning its neighborhood NORC program.

Develop a strategy for engaging stakeholders. Asking stakeholders to contribute to your understanding of the community is a useful way to build new or strengthen budding relationships. It is also a tool for stoking their interest in your work and giving you access to fresh perspectives.

To decide how best to reach your stakeholders:

  • Know why you are approaching each one.
  • Consider what you hope to learn.
  • Decide who can help you reach each one.
  • Identify the person who can manage this process.

Keep in Mind

By rooting your understanding of the community in the insights of its members, your program becomes balanced and inclusive. Making that happen means reaching out to ethnically and culturally diverse populations; the many socioeconomic groups represented in your community; and people of all ages.

Their participation can teach you how older adults are perceived and help you view the community in new ways. Be sure that all participants feel that they are welcomed into the process and that their voices are heard.

Learning more about the community stretches your potential for connections. The world of older adults is not limited to the people you already know. As you learn whose paths intersect those of senior residents in their daily lives, you may find opportunities for partnerships that go beyond the obvious. Continue to Guiding Principle #4
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