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Community Mobilization: What Is It and How Does It Work?

When a problem impacts an entire community, addressing it requires the whole community. When every part of a society works together, change can happen.

Community mobilization is a process that brings together different societal factions to deal with something such as a health crisis, a social problem, or an environmental issue. Everyone gets involved, including local, national, and federal government groups, NGOs, religious groups, businesses, and individuals. Benefits of community mobilization include the sharing of resources and funding; more effective problem-solving; better representation of voices within the community; and accountability.  How does community mobilization work in practice? What steps are needed for it to be successful?

Mobilization in action 

Community mobilization is based on participation, so the goal is to get together as many members of the community as possible to create, implement, and monitor initiatives/programs. When everyone participates, there’s a better chance of programs meeting everyone’s needs. Self-mobilization is when community members decide to take action and develop a plan, while it’s also common for outside organizations (such as government agencies or nonprofits) to come in and encourage participation.

Community assessment and dialogue

The first step is starting a dialogue within the community. Building a strong foundation and organized structure is essential to successful programs and initiatives. As an example, the CDC and their SEE (syphilis elimination effort) initiative, recommends first performing a community assessment to find out what’s already being done about the issue, who is involved, what hasn’t happened, obstacles, and so on. The goal is simply to get a clear, well-rounded picture of the issue’s current reality from a variety of perspectives.

Building a community coalition

With a better idea of what’s being done and what still needs to be done to solve the issue, it is now possible to build a community coalition of those who want to participate. This includes anyone and everyone who wants to be involved, such as:

  • Independent activists
  • Business owners
  • Faith-based leaders and groups
  • Health professionals
  • Local nonprofits
  • Political leaders
  • Federal organizations

Open communication between all the members is important. No one should feel shut out or ignored. At the same time, strong leadership is also necessary. Leadership should not rule over everyone else, however. This position is more about serving as a facilitator and monitor of everything that’s going on. This person (or people) needs to be an excellent communicator, extremely organized, and able to unite community members with different perspectives in the work towards a common goal.

Define goals, strategies, and methods of evaluation

With a coalition formed and leadership chosen, it’s now time to define goals and strategies. Everyone should be allowed to contribute. Goals should be achievable and divided into short-term and long-term. Chosen strategies should be supported by resources (such as funding) that the coalition already has or that it can get. It’s also important for the coalition to identify all the resources needed and decide who will be responsible for obtaining them. The coalition will also need to establish a method for evaluating progress.

Other examples of community mobilization

Community mobilization is most represented in health initiatives from groups like the CDC, Mercy Corps, and the World Health Organization. Communities don’t usually respond well to external groups coming in and just telling them what to do, especially where health is concerned, so that’s likely why community mobilization is so important for long-term change.

Community mobilization has often been used to address diseases like HIV, which bears a strong social stigma. A big part of community mobilization in this case is getting community members together to figure out how best to deal with the stigma, how to accept HIV as a major issue, and how to encourage counseling, testing, and condom use. Just about any issue that affects a community can be dealt with using community mobilization, such as teen pregnancy, emergency preparation, food security, gun laws, literacy rates, and more.

Benefits of community mobilization

Community mobilization has a lot of benefits. When people and groups come together, they are more likely to address the denial of an issue in a more effective way. They can put pressure on a government to change laws and policies. Community mobilization can also empower people by giving them a voice and the opportunity to actively participate in making change a reality. Being able to share resources also helps facilitate more effective solutions and prevents overlap between organizations and their goals. With pooled resources, a coalition can achieve a lot more together than if the resources were broken up.

Community mobilization requires good communication, good leadership, organizational structure, resource mobilization, and monitoring/evaluation structures. All effective community mobilization efforts implement similar steps, whether they’re focused on health, political policies, or another issue. When a community comes together instead of toiling apart, great changes are possible.