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Mediating Structures and Their Role in the Pre-Professionalization of Community Economic Development

Prepared by

Gareth Green

Submitted to Dr. Gertrude MacIntyre in partial fulfillment of the requirements of MBAD500

Shannon School of Business Cape Breton University Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

Friday December 17, 2010

An Introduction to the Pre-Professionalization of CED Community economic development (CED) is an ever evolving field of study which, as a result of the most recent economic slump, is gaining much mainstream attention. With the popularization, so to comes the demand for those with the education and background to perform these functions in industry. Whether it is in public, private or third-sector organizations these professional roles are increasing in demand. For students transitioning to practitioners, however, there is a need to translate higher education into industry, or theory into practice. The mediating structures needed to accomplish this will be discussed at length, and by using an example of how this pre-professionalization can occur through the use of mediating structures will be illustrated. The field of CED is often more popular in the midst of hard times, when economic uncertainty is commonplace. This unpredictability is the valuable fuel source for the modern engine of CED growth. According to Alex Usher (2009), the Director of Educational Policy Institute Canada, these tough times generally bring with them an increase in post-secondary enrolments as a result of the desire to invest in oneself for the future. CED initiatives can benefit from this situation by leveraging these conditions to build and foster relationships between community needs, and institutional capabilities. The involvement of educational institutions provides the platforms for the pre-professionalization of CED practitioners. Students are allowed to translate their theoretical foundation into practical applications. Before discussing this community-institution relationship and the pre-professionalization of CED, a further elaboration of CED is necessary. CED Deconstructed CED is concerned with the individuals and community but more importantly, recognizes that these are interconnected and for success to occur, participation of these actors must be the active variety. The more conventional approaches to CED must confront the various problems which are faced most often by communities, such as unemployment, poverty, environmental 2

decline and generally, the loss of community control in respect to many types of decision making. In order to put the theory into context, each element of CED will be examined in order to understand how this pre-professionalization is occurring. A community is a collective that has formed, united and empowered by a shared meaning, but bound by no specific location or specific geography. This very definition, by nature, forces students and practitioners to leave behind their preconceived notion of community, which has historically been, specific to the neighbourhood in which one lives. Economics are the mechanics by which the previously mentioned community can sustain itself and prosper going forward. It is incorrectly assumed, however, that not-for-profit groups are removed from the need to have economic success to be sustainable. Economics in the CED equation inherits its importance from the need for resources and generation of revenues in order to remain a viable entity. Economic benefits can be accrued by communities operating in all types of organizations, whether it is the for-profit, not-for profit, public or private sectors. It should be noted, though, that philanthropy can play an important role in CED, but should not be considered the sole economic resource to ensure sustainability. Development is not to be seen as some form of aid to a community in despair, but should be considered a process by which community members are empowered and responsible for the growth, sustainability and enhancement of the community to which they belong. The mission-critical element in this area is continuous improvement, perpetual optimization, and an on-going feedback-loop. As each element of a CED initiative or relationship continues, there are always areas for improvement, and as such the development component must be seen as a process, as opposed to an event. This is a fundamental requirement for healthy development. With the above description of each element in the CED equation, it is now possible to broaden out the discussion as it relates to industry, and the pre-professionalization of CED. By previously deconstructing each element of CED we begin to see that this approach not only recognizes, but embraces the fact that economic, environmental and social challenges cannot 3

be solved by any single solution. The CED approach must be viewed as a moving target. In order to have a lasting impact that can accomplish such dynamic objectives, all efforts and solutions must be designed for sustainability and have the ability to adapt. Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming obsolete and may fall victim of poor long term planning. The sustainability aspect of CED is drawn from mobilizing an engaged community who shares a purpose, and the collective power to see it succeed. Industry today is becoming frequently reliant upon a variety of CED initiatives, projects, and organizations to provide key infrastructure and/or support. This emergence of a mutually beneficial relationship is permeating beyond industry and into educational institutions. This leads to universities as a central player in the pre-professionalization of CED. As a result, platforms are developing and simultaneously providing safe places for students to translate theory into practice. This pre-professionalization as it were, allows for students to transition into the field, not yet as professionals, but as credible practitioners in CED. These universities are becoming mediating structures who are successfully attracting students, faculty, funds and community partners, all with the interest of furthering the field of CED. It is these safe places that will enable the next evolutionary development in the field of CED. For example, a relationship in industry such as this began when Walmart invited students who were part of a group, which will be discussed later, to review the energy efficiencies in its stores. As a result of this success, Walmart has developed a program that enables students to deliver projects designed to create economic opportunity by helping others make environmentally sustainable personal and business decisions. John Lawrence, Walmart Canadas Director of Corporate Social Responsibility declared this partnership of enterprise and students as a success by saying there is absolutely no question that our business has improved as it has become more sustainable. We have shown that you can be business-friendly and environmentally friendly all at once, which is an important message for young students.1 A


community of like-minded environmentally conscious students were able to use their theoretical know-how, and translate it into defined results. Walmart was able to leverage this group of students and their creative insight, which in turn provides an opportunity for students to participate in a project of great importance. This group of students leveraged their universities implied communal resources through a program, which has become a global platform in the preprofessionalization of CED. Mediating Structures There are four streams for mediating structures to travel.2 These are comprehensive approaches to community development, in general, which first seek to resolve more basic needs before tackling the more complex needs of a community. First, there are community development structures, which center on empowering the poor and aim to enlighten their path to self-awareness. Only once they are aware of their plight and the factors which have enabled their descent, can they set about changing their circumstances; albeit slowly, and generally over a longer period of time. Second, there are community organizing structures whose centralized dictum is that local control is the path to accomplishing what is best for the community. In this stream, what is best for the community will not be imposed upon it by outsiders unless the goals are nurtured by its citizens. Third, there is community education which structures are often needed in order for the members of the community to truly understand what the potential benefits of a program might be. Community members must understand that the education or re-learning is for the betterment of the community. Galbraith (1990) points out that as long as the goals of a CED initiative are being established by the community, this obstacle will be overcome with less resistance. Last, and as a culmination of the above types is a hybrid of structures; community economic development. This, the most comprehensive and ideal approach is best suited only once the most basic of

Adapted from Community Enterprises as Mediating Structures, The Third Option, Community Economic Development CDRom, Presented by CED Institute, Cape Breton University.

needs have been met. As Maslows hierarchy of needs illustrates, there are basic, necessary needs that must be met before higher order functions can be addressed. CED is no different; once the community has conquered its basic challenges so too can they confront and defeat its more complex issues at hand (Berger and Neuhas, 1977). The simple fact here is that mediating structures shift the community problem solving focus from that of a reactive nature, to a proactive environment. This phenomenon creates a potential need to diversify among the previously mentioned types of projects. Diversification of approaches will be dictated by the situation a particular community is facing. In order to successfully develop and deliver a program, it must be understood what such a program can do for the community. As it relates to the pre-professionalization of CED and the relationships that educational institutions maintain with a given community, there are numerous types of mediating structures that have developed in order to enhance this process. Some formed intentionally, others organically. Each has been formed with specific objectives in mind and to accomplish a specific outcome. At the root of these mediating structures is a simple premise; to make available, the resources for individuals and communities to enhance their quality of life and increase their societal value. The following organizations are but a mere example of mediating structures: Community development corporations Non-profit and notfor-profit initiatives Worker co-ops Credit unions Universities Community centres Land trusts Neighbourhood associations Communitysupported agriculture

Usnick, Shove, and Gissy (1997), have identified the more common forms of mediating structures which support the pre-professionalization of CED, at the university level which include: student technical assistance, class-based technical assistance, and university department research service assistance. These structures serve as the beginning step in the 6

process of the pre-professionalization of CED. Students will eventually become practitioners, and credible projects with measurable outcomes are an essential guidepost for the student on the journey to becoming a successful professional practitioner of CED. There is no one ideal structure, but each does have its advantages. Student technical assistance relies on graduate level students with expertise in a particular field, and the CED project allows the student to apply their theoretical knowledge. This is a win-win situation for both the student and CED initiative, as the student is able to fulfil program requirements to satisfy their educational requirements, and at the same time it is usually a cost-effective way for a community to tap into leading edge knowledge. The advantage to this approach is that its timeline can range anywhere from few months to a few years. These graduate level projects will ideally satisfy a thesis requirement while contributing to the solution of a variety of CED problems which require a vast amount of dedication and research. Class based technical assistance can be another valuable approach to integrate theory with practice. As each semester is completed, so too must each project come to an end. There is inherently less sustainability within a class-based structure, but this can be overcome if the project maintains a routinely updated succession plan. Similar to the use of a business plan, a succession plan can minimize the time the next class must spend to simply become familiar with the progress and direction of an initiative. By having a succession plan for an ongoing initiative, there is a continuous feedback loop which will enable the optimization process to occur regularly. This is not to say that this type of mediating structure is any less valuable, in fact it can be of significant value to CED projects which do not require a lengthy incubation period. In many cases, a shortened initiative period can improve the results, by maintaining interest and the sense of urgency for all involved. If at all possible these efficiencies will be maximized by this structure and will help to minimize delays in progress. It would also be reasonable to assume that over time, and with the additional input of a diverse group of people, the direction of an initiative may change, or spur a new project all together. This helps to reinforce the fact 7

that one of the most valuable inputs in any initiative is the people. This is most true because unique and creative people bring unique and creative perspectives to each potential solution available. University department research service agreements take the community-institution partnership to another level. Under the supervision of a faculty member, a graduate student will commit to a paid internship and enter into an agreement that they perform specific tasks which lead to a known goal of the community. In these cases, the community generally has a defined need but lacks resources. Through an agreement with an educational institution, a graduate level student will be retained to see it accomplished. In these cases, not only do the students and communities have reason to succeed, but by operating under the guise of a university or college, implies that the partnership is wholly supported from the leadership of the institution. Again, the students fulfil program requirements and communities see an objective accomplished. A successful initiative may lead to future partnerships or grow into something larger. Over time there is the potential for participating institutions to become known and sought after to provide quality research services. As an added benefit, these successful relationships tend to benefit the school financially. Due to the constant need for increased resources in the educational system, these programs have the ability to attract such funds, from government and industry as well. Also, successful programs may also attract faculty and students. There is clearly a wide variety of potential partnerships whereby students skills and abilities can be leveraged to create win-win relationships. At the heart of this pre-professionalization of CED, is an imperative to look at organizations and CED programs on the leading edge of the movement. To remain at the forefront, the feedback loop that must exist within each CED initiative, that same process of optimization should be implemented by the safe places within which students are applying their theoretical knowledge. 8

SIFE as a Mediating Structure for CED While it is valuable to be aware of the range of mediating structures, the key characteristic of the pre-professionalization of CED, will occur with the university as a central anchor. However, the students at a particular university or college will invariably enter into collaborative partnerships with many of the structures mentioned earlier. There are numerous university based programs that move forward community economic development. To provide a focused and thorough look at a successful organization with CED as its mission, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) will be examined. SIFE projects span a variety of topics including market economics, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, personal success skills, environmental sustainability and business ethics. While focussing on a defined community need, teams adapt their approach to the diverse needs of people in different communities. In collaboration with a given community, the students conceive, develop, and execute a variety of projects in order to improve the lives of those in the community in which they serve. There have been projects in Canada which resurrected once forgotten industries, such as textiles in remote, but culturally rich regions. There are teams in Africa sharing irrigation knowledge to underprivileged communities in order to empower locals in the development of sustainable community agricultural initiatives. In more developed regions, projects focus on serving the underrepresented in society, such as homeless teen, promotion of literacy, or financial awareness, and so on. Among the objectives of teams, are aiding aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve success, teach the unemployed skills to find quality employment, and bring economic development to struggling neighbourhoods. Not only does SIFE operate with CED in mind, but it is also an incubator for future professionals in the business world. With an emergence of the third sector as a popular destination for graduates, they are also growing a credible platform for the pre-professionalization of CED, and allowing it to build momentum. SIFE teams are led by student groups and operate as non-profit organizations. They have established governance structures which generally include faculty advisors, an advisory 9

board comprised of local entrepreneurs, professionals and academia, and are part of a global network of teams from all corners of the world. This platform enables the students to apply their knowledge, leverage the skills and peer-networks of their universities, advisors and faculty, all with the goal of developing projects to improve the lives and empower the members in the communities in which they serve. According to promotional literature, SIFE brings together a diverse network of university students, academic professionals and industry leaders around the shared mission of creating a better, more sustainable world through the positive power of business. By contributing their talents to projects that improve the lives of people worldwide, SIFE participants are demonstrating that individuals with a knowledge and passion for business can be a powerful force for change.3 The competitive nature of enterprise is celebrated and showcased, through regional, National and International competitions. Teams compete for the right to have their efforts labelled as, best in breed in a series of competitions. The critical factor which determines a successful project is one which meets its defined objectives, solves a need in the community, and has measurable outcomes. For example, consider a conference on financial literacy and student budgeting will be used. If per se, that conference is attended by 100 people, this is deemed an output. If 50 of those 75 successfully create, adhere to and improve their budget, that is another outcome. These results would be measured using participant surveys and seek to root out the understanding and behaviours before and after the conference. To take a simple example such as this seems benign; however this project was so successful, that it led to an invitation by the office of Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, to present the program and its results to the National Task Force on Financial Literacy.4




While this is single example of the success a project can accomplish, what should be mentioned is that for the most part, SIFE projects are scalable, meaning they can be broadened out to a wider audience in the same community. Also, they are franchiseable, meaning that with some minor modifications other SIFE teams have the capability to implement them within their own respective community. Establishing a new program by learning from the successes of another is a simple way to accelerate the progress of such initiatives. In the shift towards the pre-professionalization of CED, it is apparent that SIFE members are given a safe place to apply what they have previously learned. Where community economic development is concerned with the pre-professionalization of CED, there is an added value to this platform. Not only is the application of theory facilitated, but additional learning will occur in the field, such as overcoming community-specific challenges or objections. The resulting outcome is a program that has a global perspective with the flexibility and responsiveness of a community-based organization. There are, however, some limiting factors on the effectiveness of SIFE as a platform for the pre-professionalization of CED. The potential for project-fitting -where a project is developed and pushed to the community- is ever present. As is stressed in CED theory, the community must guide the projects which are to be implemented. SIFE target communities simply require a shared meaning and the most successful teams will determine their programmes once an invitation is made by the community to do so. The succession planning mentioned earlier, is vitally important for all SIFE initiatives. There is a 3 or 4 year cycle from the time an undergrad starts and completes a program and because of this, there is constantly a churn of team members. While this leads to increased opportunities to expose more students and delegate increased responsibilities, it increases the need for strong institutional memory in order to maintain the vision of the team. This institutional memory cannot be learned or taught, it must be experienced. Similar to any professional endeavour, these initiatives, organizations, or communities can only be as good as their management. If the leader has no following, there is 11

no leader at all. Without this buy-in from the community and SIFE team members, the relationships will deteriorate until they are no longer productive. The Value of Mediating Structures in the Pre-Professionalization of CED It is apparent that there is a great amount to be discovered about the various mediating structure which enable the pre-professionalization of CED. While this pre-professionalization of CED may be something of a new phenomenon, it should be clearer now that its role will become more prominent in the future. This is due, not only to the beneficial relationships between students and organizations, but the viability of CED as a career path. This will enable the progression from students, to pre-professionals, to professionals in CED. With such a wide variety of organizations being involved in CED, numerous participants can become potential future employers for todays learners. Focusing on one particular organization highlights a platform for the pre-professionalization of CED, but there are numerous similar organizations waiting to be discovered. Each mediating structure will have its advantages and deficiencies, but through continuous improvement and optimization, all aspects of an initiative, partnership, or organization must be perpetually enhanced. The fundamental requirement of all mediating structures is a focus on the people. Once this is established, communitys needs may be addressed and the necessarily varied points of view will provide creative solutions. The field of CED will be advanced through the eventual professionalization of the field. The critical platform for this to occur will be the availability of quality mediating structures for students to transition into professionals.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Berger, P.L. & Neuhaus, R.J. (1977). To empower people: the role of mediating structures in public policy. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research Galbraith, M. (1990). The nature of community and adult education. New directions for adult and continuing education, #47. Usher, Alex. (2009). Will the recession have an impact on higher education? Globe and Mail, January 29, 2009. Usnick, Russell; Shove, Chris; Gissy, Francine. (1997). Maximizing community development through collaboration. New directions for higher education, #97.