Improve Community Attachment

Contributed by Mark A. Glaser and Corinne Bannon, Wichita State University

Community attachment encompasses factors such as the services and infrastructure the community offers, the level of residents’ civic involvement, emotional wellness, how open the community is to different types of people, and how socially connected individuals are to family and neighbors. Research has shown community attachment to be correlated with higher citizen willingness to pay taxes and stronger local economic development.

In order to improve community attachment, government should provide leadership that promotes symbiotic relationships between community and government. Symbiosis occurs when citizens are willing to join with government to define public concerns and to develop solutions where public and community resources are applied collaboratively.  Research indicates that issues of community, trust, and willingness to pay taxes are intertwined.

Building a symbiotic relationship hinges on four issues: relational community, demonstrated trust, performance-based trust, and socio-geographic community. More about how to enhance each of these is presented below in descending order of importance.

Relational Community

Relational community is the extent to which both citizens and government are willing to: (1) rise above self-interest and do what is best for the community, (2) act in ways that promote a sustainable community and that preserve the future, (3) advance social equity by creating opportunity for all members of the community. When citizens believe that they and other community members are willing to put community interest above self-interest and contribute to a relational community, they are considered “attached” to the community. Research shows that the vast majority of citizens expect government to lead in building stronger communities and improved quality of life – or, in other words, create relational community. Research also indicates that citizens who are attached to their community are more likely to see government in a positive light, including positive images of performance, and are more willing taxpayers. Below are a few points on how to build relational community.
  • Government should practice the behavior that it expects from citizens. When public agencies respond to the demands of narrow bands of self-interest, they create more of the same.  
  • Public agencies who involve citizens in the development of a community-based rather than a government-based strategic agenda have the authority granted by citizens to reject demands made by those who are driven by narrow self-interest.
  • Relational community can have a reciprocal relationship with demonstrated trust. Work on demonstrated trust may help build a relational community.

Demonstrated Trust and Citizen Engagement

Citizens should be involved in strategic budget decisions and government should articulate how it intends to invest public dollars and should demonstrate that it has invested public dollars as planned. Demonstrated trust focuses on measures of process. Research indicates that citizens who believe that government demonstrates that it can be trusted are much more willing taxpayers in support of public investment. Below is advice for improving demonstrated trust.
  • Citizen engagement processes should inform and encourage citizens to evaluate their basic values and priorities.  Citizens who are informed through engagement processes that incrementally build understanding can become competent advisors to government.      
  • It is important that the media be involved and informed, much like citizens, in community-building processes.
  • Research finds that relational community and demonstrated trust go hand in hand.  When government demonstrates that it can be trusted, it strengthens commitment to relational community.       
  • Government should continuously demonstrate that it can be trusted.

Performance-Based Trust and Citizen Engagement

Performance-based trust is the extent to which citizens feel that the investment of tax dollars produces desired outcomes. Citizens’ images of the performance of government are driven by an amalgamation of experiences including media reports. Research reveals that citizens who feel that government has earned performance-based trust are more willing taxpayers. Some points for building performance-based trust include:

  • Government credibility is advanced when it shows connections between the investment of public dollars and positive community outcomes.
  • Research indicates that there is a moderate to strong connection between performance-based and demonstrated trust in the minds of citizens, and a moderate connection between performance-based trust and relational community. Hence, improving these aspects of the symbiotic relationship will have reciprocal impacts on performance-based trust.

Socio-Geographic Community: Neighborhood

Citizens who are attached to neighborhood are more willing to join with neighbors and local government to co-produce improved neighborhoods. Points to bear in mind when seeking to build socio-geographic community include:

  • Neighborhoods can form the building blocks of community if their actions are tied to an overarching community agenda.
  • However, neighborhoods can also fragment the community and encourage civic isolation if not weaved into wider community strategy.

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