ioby Cleveland and ioby Detroit are about to launch!
Before they do, we wanted to shed a little light on what happens in preparation for our work in a new city, what we call our “Phase 0.”
We believe there is no off-the-shelf solution for building neighbor-led change in a given community; each neighborhood has its own unique history, opportunities, challenges, and civic landscape. The research and conversations in Phase 0, which can last a few months to over a year, help us better understand whether and how our platform and services can best contribute to the citizen-led work already taking place in a given community. That way we can make sure we are adding to, rather than duplicating or competing with local groups.
What Phase 0 looks like
We begin our research by examining a variety of materials, including existing and recent reports from the local civic landscape from all sectors, and macro-level demographic and philanthropic data from the US Census and The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Synthesizing all of this helps clarify our understanding of the social and economic structures at work, and prepares us for an in-depth series of conversations.
We conduct up to 70 interviews with resident leaders in and around our target neighborhoods. Interview subjects include nonprofit leaders, grassroots funders and grantmakers, longtime residents, neighborhood organizers, and many others. These conversations are crucial in helping ioby to identify the context, opportunities and challenges involved in working in the city.
Potential partner identification
Informed by what we learn through research and conversations – and by what we’ve learned from early experiences in New York, Miami, and Memphis – we then identify potential partners who have a strong reputation of meaningfully engaging with community, experience working with asset-based community development, and a number of other areas of alignment with ioby’s mission and work.
How can we tell our services will be helpful?
Although anyone from any neighborhood across the US can use ioby’s platform and services, we are looking to grow our presence deliberately in cities, like Cleveland and Detroit, which meet these initial criteria:
- There has been a history of disinvestment;
- People of color make up more than a third of the population;
- Civic leaders are interested in taking an innovative approach to supporting community-led and place-based projects;
- Civic leaders value authentic civic engagement, and are interested in building leadership capacity within communities;
- Civic leaders are interested in achieving and measuring social, economic and public health outcomes as components of a long-term vision for sustainability.
Beyond these criteria, we look at a few factors to help us understand the opportunities and challenges in a neighborhood. This understanding will give us a more nuanced sense of the civic landscape and help us strategize our approach. We ask:
- Is there a strong attachment to place among residents? Do residents demonstrate a sense of ownership of and belonging to their city, including knowledge of history and services; social ties; and a sense of security, hope and pride?
- Is there a cooperative environment that encourages collaboration among organizations, where collaboration is born out of a mutually enforced creative or strategic ethos rather than from an external force like a funder?
- Does the local government have strong ties to the social sector, either through interpersonal relationships or formal partnerships?
- Is there a high demand for services, including unincorporated or informal networks of leaders who could benefit from ioby’s fiscal sponsorship and capacity-building support?
- Is there project area alignment, meaning leaders in the social sector who are engaging in areas of work that ioby supports (e.g. placemaking, tactical urbanism, food, safer streets, etc.)?
- Are there strong community development intermediaries that act as intermediaries for directing funds from city government to the neighborhoods?
- Is there a higher than average participation in charitable giving?
- Is there a citywide sustainability plan with which ioby can help align citizen-led projects?
These questions form the framework for our research and conversations with civic leaders and potential partners. While we don’t require a strong “Yes!” in every category, in general the more positive the findings, the more likely our platform and services will be seen as a valuable asset to citizen leaders. These questions are also designed to identify areas of particular challenge, such as low charitable giving or a city administration with little interest in citizen engagement, that might mean significant barriers to our model working in a given city.
We’ve completed Phase 0 in Both Detroit and Cleveland, and have found that both provide key opportunities for our platform and services to work in tandem with, and support, ongoing citizen leadership.
We’re thrilled to take the next steps in both of these amazing cities!