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Keywords:

  • community organizing;
  • community development;
  • systems change;
  • qualitative research;
  • civic participation

ABSTRACT

Community organizers and activists draw on multiple traditions of community building and collective action in attempts to galvanize change. The diversity of perspectives on social change processes indicates corresponding differences in perspectives on systems and what is required to change them. Twenty-two in-depth interviews with community organizers and activists in the Midwestern USA were conducted to identify differences in perspectives on systems change efforts. Four models used by organizers were identified: action/issue-centric, identity-centric, relationship-centric, and organizing-development. Strategies for recruitment, issue selection, leadership determination, and action were compared across models. Analyses revealed that some models might be better suited to action on certain issues (e.g. identity-centric models when organizing around homelessness), whereas others may have advantages for use in certain settings (e.g. relationship-centric models in congregations). These findings suggest that practitioners and scholars should pay close attention to contextual factors and focal issues when determining strategies for creating systems change. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.