Help for Neighborhood Serving Organizations

One of the major challenges that organizations face in working in neighborhoods involves the tension that people can experience when they are working together to achieve important, but hard-to-reach goals. Tension comes from uncertainty about success, multiple (and sometimes conflicting) ideas about issues, long hours, and disappointments when things fail to go well. It can make it harder for people to work together as the tension mounts. Sometimes one disagreement or conflict can turn into a seemingly endless series of them. This type of situation undermines the group’s efforts at the same time that it undermines individual’s wellbeing and effectiveness.

A group of us working on the Promise Neighborhood Research Consortium would like to see whether a new approach to these issues that has been developed in psychology could be useful for helping organizations working in high-poverty neighborhoods. Based on our own experience with this approach and the research that has been reported on it, we think that it could be very helpful. It could reduce the tension occurring amongst neighborhood residents and local organizations and, at the same time, could help everyone become more supportive of each others' efforts to make a difference.

The approach is called Cultivating Flexible Minds. It involves helping people to take a new and different approach to their own ideas and those of other people while they come together around a set of explicit values. This work has already been shown to (a) decrease stress among teachers and counselors, (b) increase people’s openness to innovation, (c) strengthen respect and caring within organizations, and (d) increase organizations’ effectiveness.

The PNRC would like to work with a small number of neighborhoods to try this approach with neighborhood organizations and neighborhood residents. For interested neighborhoods, we offer a set of workshops for people that demonstrate new ways of dealing with stress and group relations. The workshops also provide organizations a set of evidence-based practices for increasing trust and support among organization members and residents of neighborhoods. We want to carefully evaluate the impact of these workshops because only by evaluating them will we be able to find out if they are helpful and make them better every time we do them. If you are interested in exploring having the PNRC work with your organization or neighborhood, please contact Tony Biglan at tony@ori.org or Jean Kjellstrand at jeank@oslc.org.