Best Practices in Community Assessment

“Community need and description” in the Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) Request for Proposals (RFP) ranking criteria accounts for about ten percent of the overall EPA EWDJT proposal evaluation. Conducting comprehensive and carefully planned assessments may aid in responding to many other ranking criteria as part of the proposal review process. Meaningful assessments need to begin early as they become the basis for developing partnerships, recruitment strategies, curriculum development, and placement strategies.

Community assessment activities often include:

  • Assessing the neighborhood to determine location, prospective participants, and environmental justice issues.
  • Assessing stakeholders to identify and develop neighborhood partnerships.
  • Verifying community organization interest and involvement.
  • Identifying and establishing neighborhood leveraging opportunities.
  • Pinpointing special factors and designations attributed to target areas.

ASSESSING THE NEIGHBORHOOD TO DETERMINE LOCATION, PROSPECTIVE PARTICIPANTS, AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ISSUES

It is not sufficient to simply pull data from the mayor’s office or Internet that provides the demographic information asked in the RFP. Special attention needs to be given to prospective participants most deserving and likely to succeed. Retention and placement are highly dependent on the quality and determination of program participants. Special populations to target may include:

  • Women interested in nontraditional trades.
  • Ex-offenders.
  • Specific underserved ethnic groups.
  • Any or all of the above.

Additional issues to consider relate to students in the classroom.

  • Can instructors and students be successful with large classroom disparities?
  • To what extent will remedial education and life skills education be necessary?
  • Can underserved youth work and learn with older mature participants?
  • Will cultural disparities inhibit team building?
  • Could gang or criminal history cause classroom disruptions?

Each of these issues could influence training, retention, and placement and should be considered when targeting prospective applicant populations.

EPA defines environmental justice (EJ) as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA’s goal is to provide an environment where all people enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making.” 

The EWDJT program contributes to environmental justice goals and objectives by providing environmental training to disadvantaged community residents so they can secure local employment opportunities created by economic redevelopment remediation.

ASSESSING STAKEHOLDERS TO IDENTIFY AND DEVELOP NEIGHBORHOOD PARTNERSHIPS

Partnering with local stakeholders, community groups, community leaders, service providers, and employers during the planning process is essential. (See Building Partnerships for more details.) It is important that all of these groups are active in the target community under consideration.

Recruiting stakeholders in the prospective target community provides many benefits during planning and program development, especially when they actively participate in the process. Stakeholders to be included in the community assessment efforts include city offices such as:

  • Economic development
  • Health and environment
  • Community development
  • Brownfields
  • Human services
  • Labor and workforce development
  • City council representatives (especially in the target community)

The location of community development corporations may additionally influence the location of the proposed target communities.

VERIFYING COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION INTEREST AND INVOLVEMENT

Developing an EWDJT program in a community with little or no interest in the program is a waste of time and resources.

Identify:

  • Community groups
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Fraternal organizations
  • Community nonprofit organizations
  • Local chambers of commerce

These organizations need to participate in the grant development process. Confirm that they are willing to help in awareness, recruitment, and placement activities. Hold community meetings prior to making final decisions regarding the impacted community. This will serve to help identify local interest in the program.

IDENTIFYING AND ESTABLISHING NEIGHBORHOOD LEVERAGING OPPORTUNITIES

Leveraging opportunities should be considered as part of the community assessment. Training and student support services can be provided by local community colleges, universities, training consultants, and fire and first responder teams. Workforce Investment Boards and affiliates, Goodwill, Salvation Army, YouthBuild, Strive, Conservation Corps, and other training and outreach organizations are located in many underserved neighborhoods. It is important that leveraging service partners are active in the proposed target community.

A community stakeholder list can be large, and it requires a significant effort to identify and organize. However, systematic research will provide information to develop a detailed program plan that includes references, partnerships, employer relationships, and other important factors.

PINPOINTING SPECIAL FACTORS AND DESIGNATIONS ATTRIBUTED TO TARGET AREAS

Do not overlook special factors that affect community residents such as enterprise zones, redevelopment zones, community development projects, plant closures, chemical spills, or accidents. These special factors should be considered as part of the community assessment. Since they are public and newsworthy issues, they are easy to identify.