polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

LISC Launches Community Development Institute

by Katia Savchuk

The gap between research and practical tools for community improvement got a little smaller last week. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which supports community development organizations across the United States, launched its Chicago-based Institute for Comprehensive Community Development (ICCD) on April 20. The Institute will serve as a base for applying research and lessons from the field to develop initiatives and public policies and for educating community development practitioners.

It hopes to be "the locus where practice and theory meet, and where experimentation and innovation – grounded in real-world experience – flourish."

The Institute is a big step in the right direction. Knowledge gained through efforts on the ground is typically lost in little-read reports or at most shared with a small group of conference participants. Although they operate under a national umbrella, even the thirty LISC offices don't do a lot of horizontal exchange. The Institute has the potential to institutionalize lessons learned in hundreds of communities across the country and serve as a focal point for practitioners and researchers.

One of the Institute's most interesting features is CommunityCollab, an online networking and discussion forum for community development practitioners. The Institute's website also offers webinars, case studies and other resources. The Institute will also publish a Journal of Comprehensive Community Development written for and by practitioners, researchers, funders and policymakers.

LISC is well poised to bring together disparate groups working across the country because it plays an intermediary role, strongly rooted in localities but connected to a national network. The organization is also well-established (it was founded in 1979) and has strong links with universities, policymakers and philanthropists. And they put "comprehensive" in the title for a reason - LISC takes a holistic approach that looks at long-term solutions to the interconnected challenges that communities face. LISC took the lead in comprehensive community development with its Sustainable Communities program, launched in Chicago in 2003 and now under way in 20 cities.

Most experts agree that comprehensive initiatives are the way to go, relative to narrow, project-based efforts. Yet they are full of challenges, difficult to evaluate and have yielded mixed results. ICCD has the potential to help bring the community development field together to learn from the past and move the field forward.

Credits: Photo from LISC.