That Wonky Stuff: What is Phase 0?

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.


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What Phase 0 looks like

Initial Research

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!

More on ioby Cleveland

More on ioby Detroit