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Course Syllabi

Organizing Communities and Public Policy

Carmen Sirianni
Heller School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare
Brandeis University
Editor-in-Chief of the Civic Practices Network.

This course is designed for graduate students in social work and the social sciences. The course is structured around fourteen 3 hour class sessions.


This course examines the processes of organizing and empowering communities, and how these are linked to public policy in the United States. A broad range of approaches will be examined, and cases will be drawn from diverse arenas: community organizing and community development, civic environmentalism, health and human services, and civic journalism.

The process of civic innovation will be placed in the context of debates on social capital, and on the limits of the welfare state and the public lobby regulatory regime. The dual focus will be on:

  1. building community and civic capacities for problem solving; and
  2. developing public policies that reinforce this and expand active and responsible roles of citizens.
Students will be expected to engage in active and collaborative learning, particularly in presenting case studies and connecting these to underlying analytic issues and policy options.

Required Texts

Helen Ingram and Steven Rathgeb Smith, Public Policy for Democracy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1993.

Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar, Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood. Boston: South End Press, 1994.

Paul Adams and Kristine Nelson, eds., Reinventing Human Services: Community- and Family-Centered Practice. Hawthorne: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995.

Jay Rosen, Getting the Connections Right: Public Journalism and the Troubles in the Press. New York, Twentieth Century Fund, 1996.

Articles will be on reserve in Goldfarb Library, and reproduced as needed. Many case studies are also be available online on the Civic Practices Network (CPN) (http://www.cpn.org) and related Web sites. CPN is a collaborative project of the Heller School's Center for Human Resources, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and other national and local partners.

We will amend the readings somewhat as the course proceeds in response to emergent student interests and ongoing projects.

Course Requirements

1. Case presentation and leading class discussion: at least twice during the semester, students will be expected to present case studies from the readings and/or their own projects, and lead a discussion connecting these to broader analytic themes and policy options. Cases can be presented in teams.

2. Final Paper (approx. 20 pages). A case study, or group of related case studies, of community empowerment and civic innovation, framed in the context of the broader challenges and limits of policy making in a specific arena. Towards the end of the semester, we will schedule a series of workshops for updating each other on our progress and producing valuable work that can be utilized in the professional and community settings in which we find ourselves.


I. Social Capital, Civic Innovation and Public Policy for Democracy

Sept. 9, Sept. 16

Community organizing and civic innovation in the U.S. since the 1960s. The relationship between social capital and civic innovation. The context of the crisis of the welfare state, the limits of the public lobby regulatory regime, advocacy and interest group representation. The promise and obstacles of a "public policy for democracy."

Introducing ourselves: what brings us to this topic? in what arenas have we been active as professionals and practitioners? how do we expect our work in this course to contribute to ongoing projects, practice, research?


Helen Ingram and Steven Rathgeb Smith, Public Policy for Democracy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1993, chapters 1-4 (Smith and Ingram, Marc Landy, Deborah Stone, Ingram and Schneider).

Robert Putnam, "The Prosperous Community: Social Capital and Public Life," The American Prospect 13 (spring 1993), 35-42.

John McKnight, The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits (New York: Basic Books, 1995), pages 91-123.

Bruce Jennings and Mark Hanson, "Commodity or Public Work? Two Perspectives on Health Care" Bioethics Forum (Fall 1995), 3-11.

Daniel Yankelovich, "The Debate that Wasn't: The Public and the Clinton Plan" Health Affairs 14:1 (spring 1995), and responses by Drew Altman, Karlyn Bowman, Mark Goldberg, and Uwe Reinhardt.

For Further Reading on Topic I

Robert Putnam, "The Strange Disappearance of Civic America," The American Prospect 24 (Winter 1996), 34-48.

James Coleman, "Social Capital," chapter 12 of Foundations of Social Theory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990, 300-21.

Theda Skocpol, "Unravelling from Above: Civic Associations in America," The American Prospect 25 (Spring 1996).

Carmen Sirianni, "Citizen Participation, Social Capital, and Social Learning in the United States, 1960-1995," Keynote Address to the National Public Policy Education Conference, Farm Foundation: Increasing Understanding of Public Problems and Policies (1995), 21-35.

Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry Brady, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

David Mathews, Politics for People: Finding a Responsible Public Voice. Champagne: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1994. Politics from the Politicians' Perspective, an excerpt, is available online.

James Morone, The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government. New York: Basic Books, 1990.

Harwood Group, Citizens and Politics. Washington, D.C.: Kettering Foundation, 1991.

Jonathan Rauch, Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Government. New York: Times Books, 1994.

Cass Sunstein, "The Enduring Legacy of Republicanism." In Stephen Elkin and Karol Edward Soltan, eds. A New Constitutionalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, 174-206.

Ingelhart, Ronald. Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, chapter 10.

Harry Boyte, Benjamin Barber, Will Marshall, and Carmen Sirianni, Civic Declaration: A Call for a New Citizenship. Dayton: Kettering Foundation, 1994.

Lewis Friedland and Carmen Sirianni, "Critical Concepts in the New Citizenship: A Report to the Pew Charitable Trusts," December 1995.

II. Community Organizing and Assets-Based Community Development

Sept. 23: no class (Yom Kippur), Sept. 30, Oct. 7, Oct. 11

The legacy of Community Action. Community organizing since Alinsky, and congregation-based organizing and public leadership development in the Industrial Areas Foundation. Community development and community assets-based approaches. Public-private partnerships, comprehensive approaches, Empowerment Zones, community visioning, neighborhood associations' role in formal city governance.

Community Organizing and Contemporary IAF Approaches (9/30)


Ernesto Cortes. Jr., "Reweaving the Fabric: The Iron Rule and the IAF Strategy for Power and Politics," in Henry Cisneros, ed., Interwoven Destinies: Cities and the Nation. New York, Norton, 1993, 294-319.

Warren, Mark, "Creating a Multi-Racial Democratic Community: A Case Study of the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation," paper presented to the conference on Social Networks and Urban Poverty, Russel Sage Foundation, March 1-2, 1996.

Harold McDougal, Black Baltimore: A New Theory of Community. Chapter 7: "Community Building in Partnership," 136-59 (Temple University Press, 1993).

Investing in People: The Story of Project QUEST. San Antonio: Communities Organized for Public Service and Metro Alliance, 1994.

Community Development and Assets-Based Models (10/7)


Brophy, Paul. "Emerging Approaches to Community Development." In Cisneros, Henry, ed., Interwoven Destinies: Cities and the Nation. New York, Norton, 1993, 213-30.

Mitchell Sviridoff and William Ryan, Investing in Community: Lessons and Implications of the Comprehensive Community Revitalization Program. Report to the Surdna Foundation, January 1996.

Medoff, Peter and Holly Sklar, Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood. Boston: South End Press, 1994.

Reference resource

John Kretzman and John McKnight. Building Communities from the Inside Out. Evanston: Center for Urban Affairs, Northwestern University, 1993. An invaluable reference guide, now widely used in the field.

Urban Democracy and Community Collaborations (10/11)


Ken Thomson, Jeffrey Berry and Kent Portney, "Kernels of Democracy: Lessons from the Ford Foundation Citizen Participation Project," Lincoln Filene Center, Tufts University, 1995.

Derek Okubo, Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook (Denver: National Civic League and Alliance for National Renewal, 1996).

Marston, Sallie. "Citizen Action Programs and Participatory Politics in Tuscon," in Ingram and Smith, Public Policy for Democracy.

For Further Reading on Topic II

Harry Boyte, Commonwealth: A Return to Citizen Politics. New York: Free Press, 1989, chapters 6-7 (81-126). For versions of these chapters, see East Brooklyn Congregations Build Nehemiah Homes and Baltimore's Commonwealth of Schools.

Samuel Freedman, Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church (New York: Harper Collins, 1993.)

Paul Osterman and Brenda Lautsch, Project QUEST: A Report to the Ford Foundation (MIT Sloan School of Management, January 1996).

Gary Delgado, Organizing the Movement: the Roots and Growth of ACORN. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1986.

_______. From the Ground Up: Problems and Prospects for Community Organizing. New York, Ford Foundation, 1993.

_______. Beyond the Politics of Place: New Dirctions in Community Organizing in the 1990s. Oakland, Applied Research Center, 1994.

Felix Rivera and John Erlich, Community Organizing in a Diverse Society, second edition (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995).

Eisen, Arlene. A Report on Foundations' Support for Comprehensive Neighborhood-Based Community-Empowerment Initiatives. New York: The New York Community Trust, 1992.

Berry, Jeffrey, Kent Portney, and Ken Thompson, The Rebirth of Urban Democracy. Washington, D.C.,The Brookings Institution, 1993.

Greenstone, J. David and Paul Peterson. Race and Authority in Urban Politics. New York, Russell Sage, 1973.

Severyn Bruyn and James Meehan, Beyond the Market and the State: New Directions in Community Development. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.

Horwitt, Samuel, Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky, His Life and Legacy. New York: Knopf, 1989.

Karapin, Roger. "Community Organizations and Low-Income Citizen Participation in the U.S.: Strategies, Organization and Power since the 1960s." Paper Prepared for the American Political Science Association Annual Meetings, New York, September 1-4, 1994.

Krumholz, Norman and John Forester. Making Equity Planning Work. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1990.

Marston, Sallie and George Towers. "Private Spaces and the Politics of Places: Spatioeconomic Restructuring and Community Organizing in Tuscon and El Paso." In Fisher, Robert and Joseph Kling, Mobilizing the Community. Newbury Park, Sage, 1993.

McCarthy, John and Jim Castelli. Working for Justice: The Campaign for Human Development and Poor Empowerment Groups. Washington, D.C., Aspen Institute, 1994.

Mollenkopf, John. The Contested City. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1983.

Peterson, Paul and J. David Greenstone. 1977. "Racial Change and Citizen Participation: The Mobilization of Low-Income Communities through Community Action." In Robert Haveman, ed. A Decade of Federal Antipoverty Programs. New York: Academic Press.

Skerry, Peter. Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority. New York, Free Press, 1993.

Vidal, Avis. Rebuilding Communities: A National Study of Urban Community Development Corporations. New York: New School for Social Research, 1992.

David Chrislip and Carl Larson, Collaborative Leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.

Ronald Heifitz, Leadership Without Easy Answers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.

John Clayton Thomas, Public Participation in Public Decisions: New Skills and Strategies for Public Managers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.

John Bryson and Barbara Crosby, Leadership for the Common Good: Tackling Public Problems in a Shared-Power World. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992.

Marvin Weisbord, Discovering Common Ground. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1992.

III. Civic Environmentalism and the Limits of the Public Lobby Regulatory Regime

Oct. 14, Oct 21.

Citizen participation in the new environmental regulation of the 1970s, and its limits. The emergence of civic environmental approaches and grassroots challenges in the 1980s and 1990s. Environmental and community dispute resolution, estuary management conferences, citizen coalitions, watershed councils, deliberative regulatory cultures, open planning, good neighbor agreements, right-to-know laws, environmental justice, risk communication, voluntary and participatory siting, civic partnerships. Innovation within states, and federal agencies (EPA, Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers). The problem of policy design: the case of Superfund.

Civic Environmentalism and Its Diverse Models (10/14)


Kim Herman Goslant, "Citizen Participation and Administrative Discretion in the Cleanup of Narragansett Bay," Harvard Environmental Law Review 12 (1988), 521-568.

Setting Priorities, Getting Results: A New Direction for the Environmental Protection Agency: A National Academy of Public Administration Report to Congress (Washington, DC: NAPA, 1995), 105-118 ("New Roles for Local Governments, A New EPA Focus on Communities").

Barry Rabe, "Beyond NIMBY: Participatory Approaches to Hazardous Waste Management in Canada and the United States," chapter 32 in Critical Studies in Organization and Bureaucracy, eds. Frank Fischer and Carmen Sirianni (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 622-43.

League of Women Voters Education Fund, Groundwater Protection: Organizing for Action. Washington, DC: LWVEF, 1994.

Environmental Justice, Citizen Action, and Toxics Policy (10/21)


Mark Dowie, "Environmental Justice," chapter 6 of Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995.

Landy, Marc and Mary Hague. "The Coalition for Waste: Private Interests and Superfund." In Michael Greve and Fred Smith, eds., Environmental Politics. New York, Praeger, 1992, 67-87.

Valelly, Richard. "Public Policy for Reconnected Citizenship," in Helen Ingram and Steven Rathgeb-Smith, eds., Public Policy for Democracy (Washington, D.C.: 1993).

Hird, John. Superfund: The Political Economy of Environmental Risk. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, chapter 9 ("Reforming Superfund").

For Further Reading on Topic III

DeWitt John, Civic Environmentalism. Washington, D.C., Congressional Quarterly Press, 1994.

James Crowfoot and Julia Wondolleck, Environmental Disputes: Community Involvement in Conflict Resolution. Washington, D.C: Island Press, 1990.

Reich, Robert. 1988. "Policy Making in a Democracy." In Robert Reich, ed. The Power of Public Ideas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Fiorino, Daniel. 1989. "Environmental Risk and Democratic Process: A Critical Review." Columbia Journal of Environmental Law 14, 501-547.

Folk, Ellison. "Public Participation in the Superfund Cleanup Process," Ecology Law Quarterly 18 (1991), 173-221.

Barry Rabe, Beyond NIMBY. Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1994.

Robert Bullard. 1994a. Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color. San Francisco, Sierra Club Books.

Dryzek, John. Discursive Democracy. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Landy, Marc, Marc Roberts, and Stephen Thomas, The Environmental Protection Agency: Asking the Wrong Questions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, chapter 5, "Passing Superfund" (133-71). (Also an expanded 1995 edition.)

Roy, Manik. "Pollution Prevention, Organizational Culture, and Social Learning," Environmental Law 22:1 (1992), 189-251.

Gottlieb, Robert. Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. Washington, D.C., Island Press, 1993.

Carmen Sirianni and Lewis Friedland, Civic Environmentalism: Social Learning and Public Policy. Civic Practices Network, Environment section.

Adolf Gundersen, The Environmental Promise of Democratic Deliberation. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

Hadden, Susan. A Citizen's Right to Know: Risk Communication and Public Policy. Boulder, Westview Press, 1989.

Hadden, Susan. "Public Perception of Hazardous Waste," Risk Analysis 11 (March 1991).

Harris, Richard and Sidney Milkis, The Politics of Regulatory Change: A Tale of Two Agencies. New York, Oxford University Press, 1989.

Harris, Richard. 1989. "Politicized Management: the Changing Face of Business in American Politics." In Harris and Milkis, eds. Remaking American Politics. Boulder: Westview Press, 261-286.

Stuart Hill, Democratic Values and Technological Choices. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992.

Press, Daniel. 1994. Democratic Dilemmas in the Age of Ecology. Durham, Duke University Press.

Shannon, Margaret. "Managing Public Resources: Public Deliberation as Organizational Learning." Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1989.

Williams, Bruce and Albert Matheny, Democracy, Dialogue and Social Regulation. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995.

IV. Community and Civic Capacities in Health and Human Service Reform

Oct. 28, Nov. 4, Nov. 18 (Nov. 11 is Veterans Day, no class)

The legacy of participatory health planning and community-based approaches. Values-based public dialogue, grassroots bioethics movement, and state reform efforts. The Clinton health plan and the possibilities of democratic participation. Liberal communitarian, and civic capacity approaches, Healthy Communities initiatives. The empowerment tradition in social work. Clients as collaborators, co-producers, and citizens. Feminist practice. The politics of contracting.

Community-Based and Health-Decisions Approaches to Reform


In addition to previous ones by Jennings and Hanson, and Yankelovitch James Morone, The Democratic Wish. New York: Basic Books, 1990, chap. 7: "The Reconstruction of Medical Politics."

Michael Garland, "Light on the Black Box of Basic Health Care: Oregon's Contribution to the National Movement Toward Universal Health Insurance," Yale Law and Policy Review 10:2 (1992), 409-430.

Lawrence Brown, "The National Politics of Oregon's Rationing Plan," Health Affairs (Summer 1991).

Willard Gaylin, "Faulty Diagnosis," Harper's, Oct 1993, 57-65.

Harry Boyte, Nancy Kari and Bruce Jennings, Health as a Civic Question. Washington, D.C.: The American Civic Forum, 1994.

Pauline Vaillancourt Rosenau, "Health Politics Meets Postmodernism: Its Meaning and Implications for Community Health Organizing," Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 19:2 (Summer 1994), 303-333.

Social Services and the Empowerment of Communities


Paul Adams and Kristine Nelson, eds., Reinventing Human Services: Community- and Family-Centered Practice. Hawthorne: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995. Selected chapters.

Claire Reinelt, "Moving Onto the Terrain of the State: The Battered Women's Movement and the Politics of Engagement," in Myra Marx Ferree and Patricia Yancey Martin, eds., Feminist Organizations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 84-104. For another version, see Working with the State: The Texas Battered Women's Movement and the Politics of Engagement. on CPN.

"Should Clients Have Control Over the Policies of the Agencies?" An exchange between Ezekiel Hasenfeld and Alfreda Iglehart, in Controversial Issues in Communities and Organizations, eds. Michael Austin and Jane Isaacs Lowe (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1994), 188-98.

Rebuilding Communities, Renewing Democracy: Weaving Youth and Civic Development. A Report of the Proceeding of the Wingspread Conference: Emerging Best Practices: Weaving the Work of Youth and Civic Development. Racine, WI, March 1-3, 1996.

Steven Rathgeb Smith, "The New Politics of Contracting: Citizenship and the Nonprofit Role," in Helen Ingram and Steven Rathgeb Smith, Public Policy for Democracy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1993, chapter 10.

For Further Reading on Topic IV

Ezekiel Emanuel, The Ends of Human Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991, chapters 5-6.

Theda Skocpol, Boomerang: Clinton's Health Security Effort and the Turn Against Government in Politics (New York: Norton, 1996).

Theda Skocpol, "The Rise and Resounding Demise of the Clinton Plan," Health Affairs 14:1 (spring 1995), 66-85, and comments by Hugh Heclo, James Mongan, and Margaret Weir.

James Morone and Gary Belkin, eds., The Politics of Health Care Reform, Duke University Press,1994. (essays by Stone, Skocpol, Peterson, Morone, Schlesinger/Lee, Jacobs, McBride/Leiman).

Starr, "What Happenned to Health Care Reform?" The American Prospect, photocopy (Winter 1995).

Howard Leichter, "Rationing of Health Care: Oregon Comes out of the Closet," in Howard Leichter, ed., Health Policy Reform in America: Innovations from the States. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, 117-46.

Bruce Jennings, "Counsel and Consensus: Norms of Argument in Health Policy," in Frank Fischer and John Forester, eds., The Argumentative Turn in Policy Analysis and Planning. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, 101-14.

Daniel Callahan, "Symbols, Rationality and Justice: Rationing Health Care," American Journal of law and Medicine 18:1-2 (1992), 1-13.

___________. What Kind of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Barbara Bryant Solomon, "Community Social Work Practice in Oppressed Minority Communities," in Samuel Taylor and Robert Roberts, eds., Theory and Practice of Community Social Work. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985, 217-57.

Barbara Levy Simon, The Empowerment Tradition in American Social Work. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

___________. "In Defense of Institutionalization: A Rape Crisis Center as a Case Study," Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 9 (1982), 485-502.

Steven Rathgeb Smith and Michael Lipsky, Nonprofits for Hire: The Welfare State in the Age of Contracting. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.

McKnight, John. The Careless Society: Community and its Counterfeits. New York, Basic Books, 1995.

V. Civic Journalism

Nov. 25, Dec. 2

Journalism's crisis of legitimacy, and the rise of a "public journalism" or "civic journalism" movement. Framing and policy discourse. The obligations of journalism to effective public life, community dialogue and problem solving. Building community capacities to engage the press in civic journalism projects. Case studies in print and broadcasting media.


Jay Rosen, Getting the Connections Right: Public Journalism and the Troubles in the Press. New York, Twentieth Century Fund, 1996.

Lewis Friedland, "Public Journalism and Social Capital: the Case of Madison, Wisconsin," in Ed Lambeth, Esther Thorson, and Philip Meyer, eds., Assessing Public Journalism. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1997.

Lewis Friedland, Esther Thorson, and Stephen Chaffee, Civic Journalism: An Evaluation of Four Cities. Report to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 1996.

Jan Schaffer and Edward Miller, eds., Civic Journalism: Six Case Studies. Washington, D.C.: Pew Center for Civic Journalism, 1995.

For Further Reading in Topic V

Davis "Buzz" Merritt, Public Journalism and Public Life: Why Telling the News is Not Enough. Hilsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1995.

Arthur Charity, Doing Public Journalism. New York, Guilford Press, 1995). Edward Miller, The Charlotte Project: Helping Citizens Take Back Democracy. St. Petersburg: Poynter Institute for Media Studies, 1994.

Project on Public Life and the Press, New York University, Case Studies 1994.