Community development analyst answers: What does it take to create lasting change?
Departing Working Places analyst shares advice for building collaboration
Jessica Grant-Domond spent the last three years working closely with residents of smaller cities and rural areas across Vermont and Connecticut to promote collaboration and strengthen local economies. Now the former senior community development analyst in the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Places initiative is departing the Bank to start a new career chapter.
Before she left, Grant-Domond shared some lessons learned about what it takes to create lasting improvements in a community – including why humility, patience, and flexibility are essential.
Real change takes time and ongoing support
One common challenge across communities is that it often takes more time than people hope to create long-term change, said Grant-Domond, who worked in the Bank’s Regional & Community Outreach department.
“The timeline for creating community change often runs differently than people would like it to,” she said. “It’s so ingrained in our society to want instant results, but ultimately it can take a decade to see significant outcomes or impacts.”
She added that it’s critical to set realistic expectations about timelines among community members and funders. This helps them realize that lasting success may not be established in just two or three years.
“It’s important to understand that success is reliant on continued support and community investment,” she said.
A humble approach and willingness to learn go a long way
Grant-Domond said her approach to community development is shaped by her background in community social psychology. She said she reminds herself that new team members or colleagues may make assumptions about her based on her role or organization.
“When we’re working with a new community, we can’t expect that we’re going to be immediately accepted or trusted,” she said. “I think it’s key that we enter with humility and reflect on how others may perceive us.”
It’s also important to remember that every community has a unique history that informs residents’ reasoning and actions, she said.
“Sometimes people who work in community development may assume that we’re the experts, but we can learn a lot from the residents who have spent years in a place,” Grant-Domond said.
Supporting local leaders – and future leaders – is critical
“Local leaders are the lifeblood of community change,” Grant-Domond said. “Ultimately, these are the people who are the most invested in their communities.”
Besides recognizing and supporting these leaders, it’s important to encourage them to delegate work to their team members, she said. This helps decrease the risk of burnout and establish a pipeline of engaged residents.
“That’s a step in the direction of sustainability: All of that community knowledge isn't housed within one person,” she said.
Grant-Domond added that local leaders are often extremely busy and working with limited resources, so it’s best to take a supportive, positive approach – rather than shaming them about any shortcomings or problems.
“Yes, it’s important to set expectations,” she said. “But mutual support should be a part of those expectations. When that happens, we’re able to accomplish more together.”
Don’t be afraid to slow down
Grant-Domond said her work has taught her the importance of pausing occasionally instead of pushing past the concerns or questions of team members.
“Constant pushing can lead to plans or outcomes that people may not be completely comfortable with,” she said. “Sometimes it’s necessary to step back and reevaluate a strategy, or how team members are working together.”
Grant-Domond said taking a moment to slow down and reflect has also helped her see how even communities that seem different from each other can benefit from sharing their experiences.
“Sometimes there’s a belief that urban centers and rural areas are at odds because of different resources or demographics,” she said. “But there’s plenty of lessons to share and so much that we can learn from one another.”
Read more about the Working Places initiative on bostonfed.org.
Watch a video series co-authored by Grant-Domond about the core principles of Working Places on bostonfed.org.