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New Concepts in Community Organization – 1961

New Concepts in Community Organization


by Dr. Robert Morris


A Presentation at the 1961 Annual Forum of the National Conference on Social Welfare


Editor’s Note:  Dr. Morris was the Associate Professor of Community Welfare Planning, Florence Heller Graduate School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.

COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION has thus far been a distinctly practical and pragmatic aspect of social work. Certain broad concepts about community organization as carried on by social workers have been developed in the social work curriculum and in practice. We have developed certain values which give us a philosophical underpinning. In addition, we have a body of rough-and ready rule-of-thumb ideas about how to carry on our daily tasks. However, if our literature is a guide, we have moved very slowly toward the development of any precise or clear body of concepts to govern either the teaching or the practice of community organization. This gap is found primarily between the philosophy, which tempers our work, and the mechanics of day-by-day action. This fact becomes apparent when we try to translate our philosophy into operational theory. It is one thing to believe in wide democratic participation as a value or philosophy. It is quite another to have a coherent set of theories about what constitutes participation in diverse conditions, how it affects the goal we set for ourselves, how varying but typical real life situations affect participation.

Any discussion of “new concepts” should be approached with a certain caution. The term has many connotations. It can mean simply a fresh way of stating an old idea. It can mean the expression of a completely new philosophical view of the subject. For example, in recent years, there has begun to emerge renewed attention to the relationship between power figures in our society and the community planning process. This is a way of viewing one of the elements of planning which differs from our previous stress upon wide participation in the planning process. This, however, cannot yet be termed a theory. Finally, the term can mean new hypotheses about how to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

Professional thought about such matters has experienced a steady if uneven growth. We have come a long way from the quite practical views of the community organization societies and the settlement houses of the nineteenth century to present-day thinking which seeks to blend social work experience and social science concepts. Nevertheless, our literature still has serious limitations. It is characterized by a lack of precision in terminology. The term “community organization” itself is used so variously by social workers that it is hardly a useful descriptive term except in the loosest sense. Some social workers use the term to cover whatever they do to secure support for their agency program. At the other extreme, it includes any of the things done by any people to improve the quality of life in society. Ross, for example, uses the term to mean those acts which improve community cooperativeness and coherence. The usual meaning is somewhat between these two extremes, but even here we find a mixed set of ideas. In usage “community organization” covers a great variety of things that are done by social workers to deal with all the inter-organizational transactions which are the basis for social work in the community context.

In addition to this difficulty in language, we are confronted with a further characteristic. The writers of the past have sought to develop a logical, coherent set of concepts to define community organization and at the same time to fit these concepts into the framework established by casework and group work. This attempt has not really succeeded. The rich and varying disorder of organizational life at the community level has not fitted comfortably into the analytic framework provided by casework or group work.

Finally, there is the global nature of our present literature. Many of the concepts advanced have purported to describe fundamental truths which are applicable in all situations and under all circumstances. The validity of these concepts is probably attested by their persistence. However, this global approach has meant that concepts have had to be so generalized that they are of limited assistance in dealing with recurrent types of community organization problems, each of which has its distinguishing features.

Our purpose is not to define this situation further. Charles Peirce, America’s distinguished nineteenth-century philosopher and pragmatist, once wrote that “nothing new can ever be learned by analyzing definitions,” and many of our conceptual difficulties have been rooted in our tendency to keep separate our practical experiences and our definitions (or formulations of concepts).

This is an attempt to fill in more precisely the middle range of community organization theory which lies between a broad philosophy and daily mechanics-to ascertain whether a study of our daily actions in community planning can lead to an operating theory which will explain certain types of group and organizational behavior. It will report the results of a four-year research in the process of community organization which sought to: (a) classify characteristic planning situations; (b) identify key factors which usually influence action in one type of situation; and (c) derive a theory about the critical acts which are necessary for the achievement of social work goals in this type of situation. Reduced to its simplest terms, this is an attempt to isolate one subaspect of community organization practice and to study as thoroughly as possible the conditions which are encountered, the alternative actions which can be taken, and the results which follow the selection of one cause of action as compared with another. In effect, this is an attempt to build our theory by research in limited and defined segments of our field and thus to create small building blocks for the construction of our ultimate theory.

In a way, this is both a proposal about how we can develop new concepts and an example of concepts which result from one use of the method.

The research base for new concepts.-This approach was built into a four-year study. 1) of community organization processes sponsored by the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds under a grant from the Public Health Service. The main purpose of the study was to examine the conditions under which service coordination among existing agencies could be improved by central community planning. Wherever the term “planning” is used it refers to community-level action by a central agency that represents many organizations. Coordination is viewed as one means for mobilizing resources to meet new community needs. This approach was based upon certain assumptions about the units and methods of study.

First, community organization was analyzed as to its operating objectives rather than as a continuous process. These objectives were:

  1. Cooperation or coordination of services, including attempts to merge organizations
  2. Adjustment of agency services, including efforts to alter agency activities to meet new needs
  3. The development of new resources, including all the attempts to create new social welfare facilities and resources to supplement or complement existing ones.

We asked ourselves whether the processes and conditions were necessarily the same for each objective. In order to find the answer, study of community organization in each class of cases was necessary. We chose to study the conditions affecting coordination of services.

Second, we were convinced that study of a single coordinating effort in a single community is no longer satisfactory. The single case study leaves us with the possibility that the unique characteristics which are always found in the particular case are decisive. There is no way of knowing whether the conclusions drawn from the single case can be used with confidence elsewhere. This study was carried on in seven communities. The intercommunity approach gave us a sample of cases. We hoped that systematically gathered data on similar problems in several communities would help us identify similarities and differences so that the seemingly unique characteristics of the individual case could be reduced in number.

The research was then limited to planning by Jewish Welfare Federations in the field of chronic illness. By this means, each case involved a similar range of agencies. The selected agencies and communities were all affected, within rough boundaries, by the same underlying economic, sociological, and technological influences. There was a general similarity in historical background and similarity in community structure. There was a reasonable similarity in the range of tension and disagreements attributable to cultural and ethnic subgroups in each case.

The seven communities were all urban, with similar economic potentials, a similar range of public and private services, and with comparable levels of intergovernmental or philanthropic support. The seven planning efforts had been carried on over the same ten-year period. The results of these efforts ranged from complete success to failure. Could we explain at all precisely the reasons for success or failure?

The study method was as follows:

  1. All local records, including confidential correspondence, were thoroughly reviewed.
  2. Depth interviews were held with the key decision-makers and actors in each community. The interviews were carried on by teams made up of a social worker and either a sociologist or a public health physician.
  3. The results of the interviews in each community were reviewed by all members of all teams.
  4. Central conclusions were made from the data and tested with the research teams and local professional personnel.

Certain conclusions have been drawn. They will be summarized as sharply as possible, which means they will be overstated. Actually, this research does not definitively prove the conclusions advanced. At best, certain hypotheses have emerged which need to be rigorously tested.

If community organization has as its objective the achievement of improved cooperation or coordination among agencies in a selected field, then there are six essential characteristics which determine the success or failure of the planning enterprise. These factors, each of which will be discussed, are:

  1. The existence of a simultaneous crisis in the functioning of the agencies to be coordinated
  2. The existence of substantial informal interaction between trustees of the agencies involved
  3. The existence of a planning structure significantly committed to the goal of interagency cooperation
  4. Individual leadership of high status capable of dealing with antagonistic agency trustees; and possessed of negotiating skill capable of modifying agency autonomy without destroying it
  5. The conduct of expert studies
  6. The discriminating use of incentives.

The bases for social agency policy control.–The application of these factors depends upon our understanding of the foundations for decision-making in social welfare agencies. The analysis used here is most applicable to voluntary agencies although there is some reason for believing that it may have applicability for public agencies as well. In this approach, the term “total community” or “over-all community” is at best a fiction for dealing with certain issues. The entity we call “community” is, in fact, made up of many diverse subgroups, each concerned primarily with its own history, aims, and needs and only secondarily concerned with a larger unit called the “community.” This was found true for Jewish agencies in relation to their Jewish community, and certain evidence suggested that this is similarly true for nonsectarian agencies, whose community is less homogeneous.

Society, or a community of persons, expresses itself through these subgroups. Some individuals belong to many and some to few groups; some individuals are influential and some are not. But the key for community organization purposes is the group that has a common purpose and a certain continuity. These groups, acting together and upon each other and against each other, make up the fabric of community life.

Social work is mainly carried out by social agencies. The subgroups dominate and control the programs, objectives, and actions of these formal organizations we call social agencies. (Private practice is growing, but we do not yet really have a substantial body of private practice.) Most voluntary social agencies can be viewed as the organized expression of the aims of specific subgroups, not the aims of the more loose entity known as a community. The inner control of these voluntary agencies may shift from time to time and there may be no permanent monopoly of control; but in any one era the agency is likely to represent the values, goals, and aspirations of its dominant or controlling subgroup. At best, a coalition of subgroups may agree about objectives for a particular agency for a limited period of time.

If this view is accurate, then the activities and goals of the agencies are determined not only by the logic of professional aims but also by the aspirations and objectives of the subgroups which dominate the decision-making of each agency. This is the field in which community organization takes place.

The policy control of which we speak was once reasonably well identified with church groups, women’s societies, ethnic associations, and so on. This control of policy-making has become obscured by the continuing integration of varying groups into more standardized forms of American life, but the survival of subgroup forces can still be traced in the decision-making of agencies and they are still a potent influence. The subgroupings of American life which now dominate are less likely to be particular families, churches, or clubs but are likely to be traced through the common economic, social, and cultural characteristics of agency board members. The progressive breakdown of artificial barriers between groups in American society may lead to a further weakening of this distinctive characteristic. For the present, the persistence of subgroup loyalty in institutional control must be treated as an essential element in community planning.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, it is not claimed that the policy decisions of agencies are solely determined by the group characteristics of their boards. These characteristics are only one of the several key elements to be taken into account. In addition, agency trustees do seek professional and factual guidance for their internal policy-making. They are affected by external standardsetting influences, although this influence is limited by the willingness of board members to adopt them for their guidance.

If this interpretation is sustained by further study it means that effective planning must take into account not only the logic of professional judgment and professional studies, but also the subtle and often ill-defined influences of cultural survival, competition for influence, and social interrelationships among groups as well as individuals.

Given this framework, let us now consider the six essential factors in planning:

1) Simultaneous crisis in agency operations.– In the successful cases studied, the agencies were simultaneously disturbed by some of the basic social and economic forces of the time: the long delay in civilian construction due to the war; the cumulative effect of long-time demographic trends and an aging population; the emergence of chronic illness as a major health problem; an unexpected increase in total population. In every successful case the agencies had been forced to expand or alter their basic program. These changes affected their relationships with other community agencies. These shifts were further encouraged by new technical and financial factors: the increased costs of medical care; social security of the elderly; the growth of prepaid hospital insurance; new concepts of rehabilitation; and home care.

In our analysis it appeared that simultaneity in agency crisis was central to planning success. Planning frequently seeks to meet a community problem by making better use of existing agency resources, and one device is more effective cooperation among agencies. Such cooperation may be forthcoming for logical reasons, but more often it results if all parties involved stand to benefit, a circumstance most likely to arise when each one is actively undergoing some change. In seven cases, the least successful attempts were those in which one of the agencies was relatively untouched and the others seriously affected by the forces mentioned. The most successful efforts at coordination involved agencies that were simultaneously affected.

We have so far spoken of uncontrolled changes which impinge upon agencies. It is important to consider whether crises can, for all practical purposes, be induced so that readiness for change can be consciously prepared for. The conclusion of this research is that there are serious limitations to the capacity of social welfare planning agencies to induce a crisis for these purposes, at least in the short run. This derives from the fact that the most serious crisis which is likely to affect agency operations is a disruption in financing or in flow of clientele. Central planning organizations are seldom capable of wholly controlling either the major income sources of voluntary agencies or the flow of clients. Voluntary agencies serving the sick and the handicapped have especially benefited from a widening financial base of support which now includes philanthropic payments, fees, and payments by government and private insurance corporations. It can be expected that this widening of the financial base will be experienced in all fields, including the casework services.

Another circumstance which operates against induced crisis is the voluntary nature of association among welfare agencies. This voluntary association means that authority is widely dispersed among the members. This will be true even if welfare planning councils move away from their social agency base to a more general citizenship base. Acts against the interest of one agency can easily be countered by withdrawal from the association without necessarily destroying the seceder.

In other words, central bodies are limited in their freedom of action. Even where contributors are in a position to dominate policy-making mechanisms of planning agencies, they do not constitute a monolithic or unified body of interest. Rather, they reflect a multiplicity of interests which need to be reconciled if planning is to function smoothly. This means that effective planning results when there is a kind of stability among various contributor interests. This stability is sometimes uneasy and is maintained through delicate negotiation. A determined effort to impose a course of action upon one constituent usually leads to an upsetting of this hard-won stability. Exceptions can be found when the object of induced crisis is weak, has little independent support, and is largely dependent for income upon a single external source of funds.

Some crises arise when key personnel leave, but this does not often occur simultaneously in two agencies. The effect when it occurs in one agency has not been studied.

The conclusion to be drawn is that planning for coordination is most likely to be effective when the concerned agencies have each been disturbed in their operations at about the same time by some major social, economic, or technical influence.

2) Informal trustee interaction.–The unfreezing of past patterns through a crisis only sets the stage for succeeding events. Different communities and agencies respond differently to similar social forces. What determines the direction of change which each community finally takes? If coordination is the goal, then substantial trustee interaction emerges as a second essential condition. Successful coordination occurred in communities where trustees of the involved agencies had already developed a network of informal social and economic association with each other. Where there was failure or incomplete planning, a lesser degree of informal interaction had developed.

A significant feature of this finding is the informal and unofficial character of the interaction. Agencies as distinguished from individuals and small groups interact through many means: formal exchange between official representatives; an exchange of service; and contacts between professional staffs. While each of these is important, and they have been the object of most social work attention in the past, the informal contacts among board members require special attention-their social and religious contacts, business associations, and leisure-time patterns (including who invites whom to dinner and who meets whom at the country club). These types of informal association appear to be more decisive than the formal meeting of trustees in the conference or committee room.

In each community, trusteeship of the involved agencies was analyzed according to the economic, social, and religious characteristics of the members. The agencies that responded most readily to a cooperative plan were those whose trustees shared economic, social, or religious identification. Least cooperation was found among agencies where the trustees differed significantly in their economic characteristics, their social patterns, and their religious preferences. The perhaps obvious conclusion is that planning success is more likely if agency boards are already on friendly and intimate social terms. If they are not, coordination is still possible, but it takes less comprehensive forms and must safeguard more sharply the separate identities of the groups from which the trustees are drawn.

It sometimes happens that the informal patterns of trustee association and the formal planning structures coincide. This would occur when trusteeship of the involved agencies is in the hands of a single social and economic class and the planning structures are dominated by the same class. This obviously would provide the optimum environment for the integration of programs. Unfortunately, it also leads to narrowness and restriction, for by definition subgroups not in the social pattern of association would be excluded. As a result, most community planning groups have evolved structures which include diverse subgroups. The consequence is that some of the informal interaction essential for coordinated planning takes place ontside the formal planning structure.

3)  A planning structure.–The two factors thus far discussed are largely in the nature of preconditions for successful integration. These cannot be brought about in any short period of time. However, these circumstances do not limit the prospects for rational planning; they only set some of the conditions which need to be reckoned with. Given a readiness in agencies to change somehow, due to social forces and intimate friendliness among the policymakers of each agency, there still remains the choice of direction that a specific plan should take. It is in this limited but vital area that formal and rational community planning makes its greatest contribution. For this, four essential tools were identified. The first of these is the existence of a central or community-wide planning structure. This may seem self-evident to those of us in planning, but it is not a self-evident conclusion in all of society. What emerged sharply in the research is that where a community-wide planning mechanism does not exist, it has to be created before agencies can be brought together.

Such a planning organization is essential because it provides a meeting ground on which independent groups can test out their actions. It is not sufficient to say that there needs to be a planning structure. What kind serves the purpose we have in mind? We conclude that the effective planning structure for coordination is one with a history of encouraging cooperation among agencies. It is one that has risen above local rivalries by taking a wider view. In the unsuccessful cases, the central planning structure was found to be identified with the aims of one institution as against another, or identified with certain social or economic groups as against others in the community.

From this analysis we can infer certain things. Perhaps most important is the function performed by this type of benign and accepting planning agency. At the minimum, it provides an arena in which special interest groups can relax their single-minded attention to internal agency goals. This more neutral arena becomes especially important when we recognize that cooperation frequently invokes threats of merger, of “being swallowed up,” of domination by other organizations, of infringement of autonomy. A planning organization with a reputation for objectivity and commitment to cooperative action can do much to allay these fears and anxieties and build the foundation for future relationships.

Out of this emerges an image of the effective planning agency. It is one which has a few principles and holds to these firmly but takes few stands on details. As an organization, it has tensile strength to channel the energies, money, personalities, and enthusiasms of the many groups that make up the community. It does so in “the best interest of the community.” The absence of this image is a serious flaw in any effort to extend cooperation or coordination among agencies.

Within this general context, the central planning mechanism serves three purposes:

a) It provides a channel of communication. It it a means by which new ideas can be disseminated, objections tested, counterproposals understood. This diffusion of new ideas is essential to community planning. In the successful cases, channels of communication led through the council or federation. In the less successful cases, communication did not flow through the federation or the planning structure and there was no alternative available.

b) The structure provides a forum for negotiations. If we accept the idea that social welfare agencies have their own sovereignties and that cooperation requires agreement among these sovereignties, then a planning structure provides a neutral forum through which negotiations can be carried out without threatening the integrity of any of the parties. To serve this purpose, the planning structure cannot be just one other power group with competing plans to be argued out in the forum. Instead, it needs to provide the arena in which the contradictory influences can be reconciled. In the cases studied the planning structure served the essential purpose of holding before the contending parties the goal of broader community needs which rose above any individual agency. This was done without specifying all the requirements of these broader community goals.

c) It is a springboard for leadership. In every planning operation, some leadership is required which takes a wider and more comprehensive view of community requirements than is possible from the standpoint of an individual agency. Relatively few lay or professional leaders are unaffected by their primary commitment to one agency or one institution. The few in each community who attempt to understand the problem of all agencies fairly and objectively, or to view community needs as broader than the aims of any one agency, require some organizational base from which to speak on equal terms with all other leadership. It is difficult for a board member to speak for broad community interest without undercutting his commitment to a specific agency. As soon as this commitment to the specific agency is undermined the prospect of that person’s retaining his leadership in the agency is diminished. The central planning structure provides an additional base from which statesmen can speak with confidence.

This rather bland view of central planning applies only to coordination. When the community goal is to meet a need with new resources, the planning functions may be quite different.

4) The role of leadership.–The term “leadership” is frequently used, but its definition is elusive. This research did not attempt to analyze individual characteristics, but it did clarify the unique contribution which individual leadership still plays in a highly organized culture. In each city one or two individuals, usually laymen trustees, were identified by all respondents as playing the central leadership role. In each, one individual, without contradiction, originated the idea for some new relationship among the institutions well in advance of any formal or professional study. These individuals were policy-makers and held positions of social and financial eminence. They were the architects of the final plan.

Effective leadership can be identified in the successful cases. The successful leaders for coordination were capable of respecting the goals of several agencies. Their plans joined together many separate interests. They were trusted by diverse subgroups regardless of the ethnic, cultural, social, or economic differences which divided them. These leaders frequently emerged from the oldest settled group and were located in the highest rank of social and financial influence. For reasons not identified by this study, they were also trusted by other groups in the community. Respondents attributed this unique capacity to a lifetime of effort to become familiar with all the facets of community life and, in part, to a real acceptance of, and esteem for, differences of opinion.

In the cases of failure, the central leadership was sometimes feared but not trusted by certain groups so that the ability really to cope with diversity was lacking. Similarly, this leadership was likely to be committed overwhelmingly to the interests of one agency or one approach and was incapable of building bridges between the competing views of several parties. Successful leadership seems to be indentified with the willingness to support in part the aims and aspirations of several organizations while at the same time finding a place for this part in a larger community pattern of service.

Negotiating skill was the final characteristic associated with successful leaders. In the effective cases, negotiations were conducted over a period of months or years. This involved more than power and control. It included an adjustment to age-old grievances and suspicions and a frank give-and-take to find an acceptable balance among argumentive groups. The successful leader for coordination is patient, aware of multiple alternatives, sensitive to group aspirations and agency needs, and creative in devising new combinations to deal with the differences which obstructed the planning.

The characteristics thus far identified were found among both professional and lay leadership. Unfortunately, the study did not discriminate clearly between the roles of each. The most that can be said now is that further research is required to determine whether or not there are distinctive professional characteristics which can be identified.

A footnote may be worth adding. Leadership is frequently coupled with a discussion of the function of personality in planning. We frequently find that failures are attributed to the personalities of leaders-they are somewhat difficult, arbitrary, self-centered, unpredictable, and so forth. Similarly, the ideal characteristics sought after are maturity, balance, community-mindedness, intelligence, and so on. In this investigation, all the respondents accepted the human vagaries of welfare leadership as a normal condition of planning. Success depends upon locating a few persons who are capable of dealing with these essentially difficult and uncontrollable personality characteristics. The solution does not seem to lie in the imposition of ideal standards for welfare leadership which will reduce the idiosyncrasies of personality; but rather in the location of a limited amount of leadership capable of working with these idiosyncrasies.

5) The use of expert studies.–In each community the planning agency undertook special studies of needs and retained outside consultants to help it shape final plans of action. This would seem to confirm the importance of expert consultation and study as an integral part of planning. This was tested through the views of the key leadership in each community. In their opinion, the expert studies and the consultants brought in from the outside, played a useful but not a vital part in the planning, a minor rather than a major role. In each instance, the local users of surveys retrospectively decided that they had already located the character of their problem and determined upon the general outlines of their solution, namely, coordination, before the studies were initiated.

The main contribution of the surveys was to test or confirm the beliefs of local leadership as to deficiencies and as to needs. Thus, the surveys reinforced local judgment. In some instances, the outside expert’s review was presumably more objective and gave a certain wider sanction to what was essentially local thinking.

The expert studies appeared to have been uniformly ineffective when it came to making specific proposals for cooperation. Given a sentiment for reorganization which was confirmed by study, how shall this be translated into reality? Should certain groups of patients be cared for in a hospital or in a home for the aged? What kind of beds should be built by whom and where? Should a rehabilitation program be developed within a hospital or in an adjoining building? This study suggests that experts do provide answers to such questions on the basis of general knowledge and professional logic, but experts differ and choices exist. The choices are determined by local history, local conditions, and power distribution. The outside expert is in no position to evaluate these clearly or to make effective choices.

Communities which accepted expert recommendations as a detailed blueprint made the least progress. Success was encountered in those communities which used the expert advice as a point of departure for local negotiation and policy-making. In these instances, the expert tended to clarify issues, posed questions in a broad context, and illuminated the consequences of certain choices. They did not offer blueprints.

Indirectly, the use of outside experts facilitated the resolution of internal conflicts. When specific plans are projected by “an outside expert,” they can be defended and attacked with a minimum taking of sides by the local leadership. Certain local rivalries and antagonisms can be directed as by a lightning rod toward the outsider, and a course of action can be found. After this emotional period, rational negotiation can frequently proceed more smoothly among local leadership.

Certain contributions may be made by expert studies which are not properly evaluated by local consumers. Certainly, the expert’s reports present a clear foundation for wider planning. Expert studies can draw attention to the broad spectrum of community services which are required and thus go beyond the special institutional interests of each agency. For example, all the surveys called attention to the need for organized home-care programs. This could be compared to the tendency of the seven communities under study to overemphasize institutional care. What appears to happen is that some horizon-opening views of visiting specialists are incorporated as the views of local leadership and may not be fully credited to the specialist.

Whether the contribution of expert studies is wide or narrow the result of this research suggests that the use of outside experts needs to be reassessed in local planning. This is not to imply that they should be used less but that they can be used differently, with emphasis upon their horizon stretching and their consultative contribution. This is to be distinguished from the more traditional expert role in which the outsider is invited to give a blueprint for action.

6) The use of incentives.–Social work is reluctant to use the term “incentives in planning,” and yet it is a fact that promises of financial support, capital fund raising, appeals to civic pride, and the promise of more prestigeful responsibilities for some trustees or professionals, are all incentives and all are used in community.organization. The research indicates that the use of incentives has a valuable but limited effect on the course of planning. Even where large financial sums are involved, their effectiveness is limited.

It appears that planning for cooperation can be furthered by financial or other inducements (such as additional prestigeful responsibility) if a general meeting of minds has been reached. The withholding of financial support does not prevent coordination if the agencies seek it, and financial incentives alone cannot bring about coordination. But incentives can be used to speed up the change in programming once the direction has been accepted as satisfying the agency’s aspirations. Where the central plan calls for a major redirection in an agency’s work this will be successful only to the extent that the redirection is related to the agency’s underlying aspirations. Where the redirection does not have this characteristic, incentives are not an effective integrating tool.

Incentives are not limited to financial grants. Planning organizations, it is true, commonly think of incentives as an offer of funds to pay the costs of certain operating programs. However, appeals to civic pride can be effective incentives as well. Agencies which for long years have offered substandard services can sometimes be induced to change programs provided they thereby acquire a more prestigeful position in the complex of community agencies.

Sometimes, minor agencies can be influenced by an association with a larger and more influential one. Thus, some kinds of institutions are attracted by association with a large teaching agency. However, there are distinct limitations to this type of gratification. As a matter of fact, if one of the involved agencies is too powerful in a community and has too much prestige, this may have a boomerang effect and actually repel other agencies whose cooperation is sought. The reasons are not far to seek. A small agency may prefer to retain its smallness and independence rather than be overshadowed and dominated by a very powerful companion or sister agency.

Incentives can sometimes be translated into personal terms. Thus certain leadership may receive the reward of election to a more influential board in the community or to higher office. The result may be to ensure the cooperation of such leadership in the joint planning. These are matters difficult to identify, and they are seldom expressed as crudely as I have put it. And yet, a careful review of the record suggests that in some instances, individuals are offered the inducement of wider community responsibility or election to more responsible community positions with the implicit if not explicit understanding that they will cooperate in certain objectives.

This review of experience in seven communities may shed some light on certain key elements in one type of planning-that for coordination. The report does not claim any long-standing validity for its conclusions. Rather it is offered as a way of approaching our urgent task-how to develop a body of workable theory for community organization practice and education.

Planning to alter community welfare or health programs is a complex and subtle process. It touches the deepest roots of society, the way institutions organize their affairs, and the power relationships which bind many diverse groups together in a voluntary but cohesive community. There are few short cuts to action. While broad principles are known, the techniques for action have seldom been evaluated systematically. Planning remains more of an art than a science. It remains to be seen whether science can enrich the art.


1) The complete study, which contains fifteen section reports, was directed by Franz Goldmann, M.D. The author acted as consultant on community organization and planning.

Source: Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Welfare (1961) pp. 128 – 145. –The proceedings of annual meetings of the NCSW, 1874-1983, are available on the web thanks to a digitization project undertaken by the University of Michigan Library, with assistance from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota.  The web site for this resource is:

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