Problem Solving Model

Principles of Community Development

  • Promote active and representative citizen participation so that community members can meaningfully influence decisions that affect their situation.

  • Engage community members in problem diagnosis so that those affected may adequately understand the causes of their situation.

  • Help community members understand the economic, social, political, environmental, and psychological impact associated with alternative solutions to the problem.

  • Assist community members in designing and implementing a plan to solve agreed upon problems by emphasizing shared leadership and active citizen participation.

  • Disengage from any effort that is likely to adversely effect the disadvantaged segments of a community.

  • Actively work to increase leadership capacity, skills, confidence, and aspirations in the community development process.

Essential Elements of the Community and Economic Development Program

critical to the development of trust relationships with local constituencies who would adopt new innovations and community strategies for addressing issues and problems.
  • Community Advisory Committee the CEDP, in each of its targeted communities, has created a variety of community advisory committees, composed of local "stakeholders," to assist in: identifying local concerns, developing implementation strategies (education, research and public service), identifying resources to implement proposed strategies, evaluating implementation, and--when necessary and desired--transferring the project into the community. Advisory committees hold a broad-based membership and are often organized through an interest/skill survey. This survey assists us in identifying local concerns and in involving citizens/organizations in areas of identified interest. They also assist in identifying relevant organizational interest and potential co-sponsors. In some situations, the Community and Economic Development Program is able to interact with existing advisory committees or constituent groups, such as neighborhood councils, organizational coalitions and public task forces.

  • Research into Alternative Models once specific problems have been identified, the Community and Economic Development Program generally engages the community in understanding the problems more fully and identifying possible solutions and alternative models to address these concerns. This generally is where the traditional research efforts of an academic institution came into play. Models from other communities are examined, literature searches are conducted, and research projects are initiated. Throughout this process, however, the community is involved and the findings of these activities are shared with the community for their assessment and possible action.

  • Local organizational co-sponsors are important elements of the model. They reduce the potential of duplicating existing services, contribute to the planning and implementation of innovative programs, and serve as critical stakeholders in evaluating new strategies. They are also potential ongoing sponsors of projects, thus demonstrating a commitment to long-term problem solving beyond the initial start-up period.

  • Intervention Strategies based on the community-identified need and an examination of what strategies other communities have initiated to address this need, the community development specialist, in cooperation with their advisory committee, initiates an appropriate intervention strategy. In the past, these strategies have included innovative demonstration projects, non-formal education programs, and direct technical assistance.

  • Community Facility in selected communities, the CEDP manages a facility that "incubates" community-based organizations whose missions are similar to those of the CEDP. Such an incubator facilitates the creation of new community arrangements that can serve unmet needs by providing a supportive environment for the early stages of organizational development. The facility serves as a community focal point providing both visibility for the university and an off-campus laboratory for student and faculty research, education, and public service activities. The facility also implies a long-term commitment, which is critical to urban problem solving and the establishment of local community/university partnerships.


  • Primary Activities of the CEDP:

    With over three decades of experience in community and economic development, the CEDP has developed an extensive portfolio of projects, concepts and strategies. These fall into seven categories:

    1. Training
    2. Technical Assistance
    3. Capacity Building
    4. Networking
    5. Demonstration Projects
    6. Applied Research
    7. Professional Development

    For the purposes of developing taxonomy of applied theory, these are described as unique activities; however, experience has shown us that they are interrelated and often sequential in application. It is not unusual for a particular project to generate activity in two or three of the categories described. We have developed some projects in which training, technical assistance and capacity building occur simultaneously; in other cases, however, a project will clearly fall into a single category. The activities are briefly described below.

    Education has long been recognized as an important tool for social change. This is particularly the case in democratic societies that seek to create empowered and self-sufficient individuals and communities. Societies that fail to create an informed and active citizenry are at best doomed to make ill-informed decisions regarding community issues, and at worst may be subject to the will of an informed elite whose actions dictate the nature of our communities. An educated and aware public facilitates sound decision-making and preserves the democratic values of self-determination and individual responsibility. Through educational training opportunities, communities can gain access to needed information.

    Since the 1970s, the CEDP has organized and hosted, with the support of communities and organizations across the state, well over 150 conferences, workshops and seminars. These are generally non-formal, adult educational activities that assist individuals and organizations in gaining the skills and information essential to solving specific issues. The content and format of such training programs are determined, through a participatory planning process, by the community itself. Past training events have examined critical community development issues ranging from leadership development, increasing homeownership, and community and economic development, to national and state public policies affecting the quality of life in our communities. The instructors/presenters are drawn from among practitioners in the community with important knowledge/skills, as well as from the academic and public policy community.

    Participants in training programs gain relevant skills in specific areas, increase their awareness and understanding of the causes of particular issues, are often able to identify alternative solutions to a particular problem, and learn about strategies to mobilize the resources necessary to implement successful community development projects. Recently, the CEDP has hosted a number of "teleconferencing" events utilizing modern telecommunications technologies with community-based groups to facilitate the exchange of information and skills across the state and the nation.

    Technical Assistance
    Technical assistance activities conducted by the CEDP are "time-specific tasks focusing on a specific content issue." The expertise to conduct technical assistance typically resides in consultants or experts, often brought into the community for a specific activity. When the task is completed, the expertise/knowledge generally leaves the community. Technical assistance is an activity that is inherently product-oriented rather than process-oriented.

    Examples of technical assistance include assistance with grant applications, community specific land-use and economic development plans, market analyses, legal assistance, architectural drawings, and financial packaging. Depending on a community's needs and capacities, and the resources available, the CEDP provides a broad range of technical assistance to community-based organizations.

    The provision of training and technical assistance for citizens and their organizations is critical to the development of healthy, sustainable, democratic communities. In facilitating the use of university and community resources to address the problems confronting our most challenged neighborhoods, the CEDP is engaged in offering relevant training and quality technical assistance with communities. The CEDP remains committed to the belief that empowered and informed local citizens working collectively on issues of mutual concern are essential to the successful development of our communities.

    Capacity Building
    Capacity building activities are those activities designed to improve the ability of citizens and their organizations to solve immediate specific problems and also improve their ability to solve future community problems. The expertise needed to conduct capacity building activities may reside with local citizens or in outside consultants/experts. However, successful capacity building always results in an improvement in the skills of local individuals and organizations that is sustained over an extended period of time. Using the well-worn biblical metaphor, when one is engaged in capacity building, you are not only getting a fish, "you are learning how to fish."

    Capacity building is process-oriented as well as product-oriented. This is in contrast to technical assistance activities, which are product-oriented. The outcomes of capacity building often include improved organizational structures, increased and improved citizen participation, greater community/organizational self-reliance, improved leadership abilities, and in general stronger community-based organizations at the local level which are more successful in addressing local concerns. The aim of capacity building is to enable individuals and organizations to continue to learn and grow. When successful capacity building is accomplished, the power of active and engaged citizens to bring about positive social transformation is improved.


    Networking is the process of identifying and developing relationships with others for the purpose of establishing ongoing communication, cooperation, and/or mutual assistance. Successful networking typically occurs in three stages: identifying the relevant relationships, developing those relationships, and utilizing the relationships to enhance the effectiveness of specific endeavors. Working effectively with communities generally involves working together with a large number of other organizations or individuals. Networking serves to build relationships with others who may have information, expertise, access, or resources required for the successful implementation of community and economic development strategies.

    More than a quarter-century of involvement with a wide variety of community-based organizations, political leaders, and involved citizens has resulted in an extensive network of relationships that contribute to the effectiveness of the CEDP and similar groups. Many students new to CEDP bring with them their own existing networks, which can be utilized to further the mission of the CEDP.

    Demonstration Projects
    Demonstration projects represent the most extensive activities undertaken by the CEDP within the community. As the name implies, demonstration projects manifest new problem-solving strategies, technologies, and institutional models in real-life settings. Demonstration projects are innovative applied experiments that attempt to exhibit cutting-edge problem solving strategies with the community while simultaneously building the capacity of the community to sustain this problem solving method if necessary and desired.

    Successful demonstration projects may result in new institutional arrangements that are capable of addressing specific community needs over an extended period of time. Demonstration projects sponsored by the CEDP are generally implemented through a series of stages, including: conceptualization, resource mobilization, implementation, evaluation and transference to the community. For a demonstration project to be successfully transferred to the community, participation by the community throughout these stages is critical.

    Few institutions exist in our society with the capacity and the responsibility to generate and apply new ideas to address community problems. The ability to design experiments based on sound evidence and "best practice" is a unique role generally reserved to institutions like universities. However, universities cannot help communities become self-sufficient by doing for them what they are quite capable of doing for themselves. At the end of a successful demonstration project where the community has been fully engaged in all phases, the continuation of the initiative is well within the capacity of the community. This may result in the creation of a new institution within the community or the reorganization of existing groups. Recent examples of this include such projects as the Michigan Resident Leadership Network (MRLN) and the Food Movers Project in Lansing.

    Applied Research
    Developing and implementing successful applied research activities that address the problems of distressed communities is an important and unique function of university outreach. The CEDP defines applied research as "the thoughtful creation, interpretation, communication, or use of knowledge with the community, based in the ideas and methods of recognized disciplines, professions and interdisciplinary fields." What qualifies an activity as applied research is that it is keenly informed by the accumulated knowledge in some field, the knowledge is skillfully interpreted and applied, and the activity is carried out with intelligent openness to new information, debate and criticism. The integration of the knowledge-generating capacity of the university with the knowledge, skills and aspirations of the community is a critical element of successful applied research in an organization committed to a set of community development principles.

    The anticipated outcomes from successfully implemented applied research activities include: a greater awareness of alternative strategies to address specific issues; an increase in the community's awareness of the economic, social, political, environmental, and psychological impacts associated with alternative solutions; a heightened ability to recognize potential root causes of community concerns; and an improved capacity to develop and implement effective public policy initiatives that address the causes of community decline rather than the symptomatic treatment of persistent problems.

    Examples of applied research projects conducted by the CEDP range from case study analyses to extensive theoretical analysis and model development. An example of the former, where specific models of community problem solving are identified and described from throughout the state, nation and the world, is the Resident Initiatives in Public Housing project conducted in 1994. The latter category, involving extensive theoretical analysis and model development in order to assist communities to more fully understand the causes of their distress, is typified by the ongoing Community Income and Expenditures Model.

    The applied research activities of a university outreach program are often the most challenging to implement. Past community experience with university-based research has unfortunately rarely resulted in any direct positive impacts on the lives of people. Citizens and their organizations are rightfully leery of "studies" which are conducted by "experts" on "subject populations" for somebody else's benefit. Community leaders have a legitimate grievance against scholarship that sees them as subjects rather than partners in the discovery and application of knowledge. However, applied research conducted in a spirit of mutual self-respect and benefit has the demonstrated capacity to transform our efforts to solve local problems. It is in this spirit of true partnership that the CEDP extends its research capacities to communities throughout Michigan.


    Professional Development
    In addition to the activities described above, the CEDP is also actively engaged in the training and education of graduate students as future community development professionals. These professional development activities include training for incoming students in the fundamentals of community development, supervised experience in the implementation of ongoing CEDP projects, and specialized training in specific skill areas through inservices and seminars.

    The CEDP offers the rare opportunity for students to participate in all phases of community development initiatives, including the start-up, implementation, completion, and transference of projects to the community. However, because not every student will be involved in all of these stages in the course of carrying out his or her regularly assigned duties, interaction among students involved in the various CEDP projects and programs is critical to taking full advantage of this opportunity. In order to optimize professional development opportunities, CEDP encourages students to build and maintain networks of communication and mutual support with other students, CEDP staff, and members of local communities.

    Other specific professional development activities available to CEDP students include opportunities to engage in research and program evaluation projects, contribute to publications, attend conferences and seminars, and network with local community leaders, agency representatives, or politicians.