The Working Smarter in Community Development Project is based in the Department of Urban Studies + Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where community development and learning from practice have been central foci of our teaching, research, and public service for over 40 years. MIT professor Xavier de Souza ("Xav") Briggs created the project, and many others contributed to the site's development as an online resource for the field. This is one of many projects that reflect MIT's pioneering "open courseware" effort to democratize learning worldwide, bringing powerful ideas and global approaches into reach at no or low cost to the learner.
This project was made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which invited Xav to run a series of workshops that would bring together practitioners and researchers to reflect on fundamental questions about community development's goals, values, strategies, and impact. Working with the Local Initiative Support Corporation's Chicago office (LISC-Chicago), the Foundation aimed to make a major, ten-year commitment to community development in selected neighborhoods in Chicago, the foundation's hometown. That multi-faceted initiative is called the New Communities Program. Foundation staff wanted to help push the field as a whole forward through the effort to address the complex questions facing the Chicago initiative: How would we know whether the investments were worth it? How might diverse and ever-changing neighborhoods with diverse interests define "success" in community development? And more.
We held the workshops at MIT and Harvard University at 2004 and 2005 and then focused on distilling the lessons and organizing a useful website for self-directed learning (as opposed to simply writing up the workshop proceedings and distributing them). The knowledge-in-action briefs, learning guides, and other special features of this site are the result. Along the way, we engaged students who were helping to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, workshop participants and many other friends of the project, an innovative web design and practitioner learning team led by MANOVERBOARD and the Design Studio for Social Intervention, and others. Our site is a companion to The Community Problem-Solving Project @ MIT. Both are housed under MIT's Center for Reflective Community Practice.
Special thanks go to Susan Lloyd and Julia Stasch at the MacArthur Foundation for funding and other support to make the Working Smarter project and its workshop series possible and also for hosting the October 2004 workshop, to the LISC-Chicago team for sharing their experiences and keeping us focused—as much as possible—on practice in the field, to guest participants at our workshops, to Rafael Lopez, Kiara Nagel, and Gretchen Weismann for producing and recording the workshops so diligently, to Jennie Pakradooni and Jesse Kaminsky for wonderful design and operations support to get the site built and launched, and to Lisa Mayer and Ceasar McDowell for supporting the development of our project, beyond the workshops, as an online resource. Andrew Boardman, Michael Barrish, and Rob Peagler were the hardworking wizards behind our website design and logo. Cynthia Briggs, Prue Brown, Robert Chaskin, Mary Pattillo, Jim Riccio, Todd Swanstrom, Garth Taylor, Bill Traynor, and Karen Walker provided generous feedback on draft briefs.
To all of them, my deepest thanks.
Xavier de Souza Briggs
Founder and Director
Working Smarter in Community Development Project
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.