The White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative Report (pdf; July 2011) summarizes the knowledge and experience base for building neighborhoods of opportunity. These neighborhoods are described as ones in which improved educational and developmental, commercial, recreational, physical and social assets are sustained by local leadership and lead to improved well-being and community quality-of-life. The idea of using social marketing to change neighborhoods and communities may seem absurd to people who believe that social marketing is ONLY about behavior change (or worse yet, using social media). Yet, the five strategies outlined in this report reflect many of the core ideas in our discipline. See if you can recognize them from the descriptions in the report.
1. Resident engagement and community leadership. “It is critical for leaders to understand residents’ views of the neighborhood, particularly the neighborhood’s needs and assets, and how residents want their neighborhood to change. Revitalization efforts involving, and in some cases led by, community members create a sense of ownership of the challenges, and help ensure the path forward is relevant, accountable, and sustainable.” (p. 5)
2. Developing strategic and accountable partnerships. “To create deep and lasting change in the community, high-quality interventions must be linked to address interrelated problems. This requires the development of strategic partnerships to achieve identified goals, as well as share accountability for the intended outcomes. Some key elements for effective partnerships are clearly defined roles and agreement upon a common vision, theory of the change, and theory of action.” (p.6)
3. Maintaining a results focus supported by data. “Data should not only measure population-level outcomes, but should also drive the development of the other elements identified in this report - engaging neighborhood residents, establishing strategic and accountable partnerships, securing and sustaining diversified partnerships, and investing in capacity building… data is a critical tool for building cross-agency accountability systems and tracking progress against desired results.” (p. 7)
4. Investing in and building organizational capacity. “Building and managing data systems, recruiting and retaining staff, and developing resources are examples of organizational capacity that take money, time, and energy. Developing these capabilities should be a key strategy of organizations pursuing comprehensive neighborhood revitalization, rather than afterthought.” (p. 8)
5. Alignment of resources to a unified and targeted impact strategy. “Communities with comprehensive revitalization efforts strategically align their resources in targeted geographic areas to move the needle to reduce poverty and neighborhood distress… targeting limited resources rather than spreading them thinly across an entire city offers greater returns, especially in high-poverty neighborhoods.” (p.8-9).
Two of the core social marketing elements are easily identified:
"Programs should be audience-centric; that is, based on understanding the people to be served by the program, having insights into how they perceive the problem and possible solutions in the context of their everyday lives, and engaging them to be co-creators and eventual owners of relevant solutions.
Audience engagement, from who is sitting at the policy table to who is sitting across from a teacher, is both a core value and outcome for success. It becomes part of a common framework for understanding and implementing programs with population-wide benefits."
You may also recognize the call for integrated collaborations across multiple sectors of the community. Yet, the challenge is to identify a common way to frame the problem, the hopes of the community and a strategy to achieve them (the theories of change and of action). As I pointed out in ”The change we need,” a social marketing approach would lead to strategies that include:
"… a set of integrated activities that analyze, design for, implement and evaluate programs that specifically address (1) products, services and behaviors that will improve individual and social well-being; (2) realign incentives and costs to facilitate behaviors for the individual and social good; (3) create opportunities and improve access to beneficial products, services and places that encourage and support behavior change; and (4) employ state-of-the-science communication strategies and tools to promote and support positive change at all levels of society - individuals, families and other social networks, organizations and communities."
Of the five strategies in the report, the issue of capacity building is one many social marketers totally overlook in their programs. Indeed, as I noted in my talk Designing for Change in Public Health Programs at the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing & Media, the entire arena of services marketing is, with few exceptions, completely ignored in social marketing despite the fact that most sustainable activities require changes in how services are designed and provided. More of us need to be using marketing to improve services in our communities, not just designing messages and products, to initiate and sustain positive individual, community and social change.
If you want to use social marketing to expand your scope of impact from individual behaviors to community or social indicators, this report may help you rethink your models of change and practice. Yes, there are many gaps in their analysis and many steps between recommendations and implementations. But those are precisely the areas in which social marketers have so much to offer.