Citizen Participation in Neighborhood Organizations in Poor Communities and Its Relationship to Neighborhood and Organizational Collective Efficacy

By Ohmer, Mary; Beck, Elizabeth | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Citizen Participation in Neighborhood Organizations in Poor Communities and Its Relationship to Neighborhood and Organizational Collective Efficacy


Ohmer, Mary, Beck, Elizabeth, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


Collective efficacy describes residents' perceptions regarding their ability to work with their neighbors to intervene in neighborhood issues to maintain social control and solve problems. This study examines whether citizen participation in neighborhood organizations located in poor communities is related to neighborhood and organizational collective efficacy among residents. The results indicate that the more residents participated in their neighborhood organization, the greater their level of organizational collective efficacy, but not neighborhood collective efficacy. The results of the current study will help support social workers and other community practitioners understand how to effectively facilitate citizen participation in ways that enhance collective efficacy in poor communities. Implications for social work practice and research are discussed.

Keywords: neighborhood collective efficacy, organizational collective efficacy, citizen participation, neighborhood organizations, poor communities, community practice, community level research

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In recent years, there has been a revitalization of community-based social work strategies that seek to enhance citizen participation and build the capacity of residents to address problems in poor communities (Johnson, 1998; Schott, 1997; Weft, 1996). These strategies have been used to confront a variety of issues, including those that pertain to at-risk youth, unemployment, affordable housing, crime and safety, and urban blight (Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh & Vidal, 2001; Murphy & Cunningham, 2003).

Citizen participation is the active, voluntary involvement of individuals and groups to change problematic conditions in poor communities, and influence the policies and programs that affect the quality of their lives or the lives of other residents (Gamble & Weil, 1995). Citizen participation has enhanced the effectiveness of community-based social work strategies by strengthening resident participation in democratic processes, assisting groups in advocating for their needs, and building organizational and community problem-solving resources and capacities (Chaskin, et al., 2001; Johnson, 1998; Schorr, 1997; Weil, 1996).

Despite the potential of citizen participation, the barriers to facilitating it can be substantial, including the multiple demands on an individual's time. Wandersman and Florin (2001) argue that a major resource of small voluntary organizations, such as neighborhood organizations, is the participation of its members, including their time and energy which must be mobilized into active involvement and performance of tasks. Therefore, it is important that residents believe they have the capacity to make a difference. Collective efficacy is a term used to describe residents' perceptions regarding their ability to work with their neighbors to intervene in neighborhood issues to maintain social control and solve problems (Wandersman & Florin, 2000). Collective efficacy is a broad term and can be conceptualized as both a neighborhood and organizational process. Neighborhood collective efficacy is defined as the connection of mutual trust and social cohesion along with shared expectations for intervening in support of neighborhood social control (Sampson & Raudenbush, 1999). Organizational collective efficacy is defined as an organization or group's perception of its problem-solving skills and its ability to improve the lives its members (Pecukonis & Wenocur, 1994). While there is considerable research demonstrating the positive effects of neighborhood collective efficacy on neighborhood conditions, including crime and safety (Sampson, Morenoff & Gannon-Rowley, 2002; Sampson & Groves, 1989; Rankin & Quane, 2002), less is know about the connection between citizen participation and neighborhood and organizational collective efficacy (Chavis, Florin, Rich & Wandersman, 1987; Perkins, Brown & Taylor, 1996; Sampson & Raudenbush, 1997). …

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