Reading List: Working with Your Community

By Priya Chhaya posted 09-30-2020 15:47


During the summer, we sent out a reading list intended to encourage our readers to expand how they thought about diversity, inclusion, and equity in the work we do to save historic places. For our next reading list, we take a look at articles and tools about building a more equitable community engagement process.

Like the first list, these resources are meant to open up discussion and kick start conversations about how we do our work in towns, neighborhoods, and communities across the country. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a starting point of crowdsourced references, including a few articles and a report from the National Trust’s  Preservation Leadership Forum. As always, if you have something to add please join us on Forum Connect to continue the discussion.


This list was devised to consider the broader lens of community engagement and how we approach that work from a variety of different directions. The piece from ESRI is included to encourage preservationists to consider the technological tools at hand that help support this work (make sure to check out the digital first community engagement strategies under “Tools.”) The final link is a recent podcast from the New York Times about community engagement around a school in New York City. While at first glance it doesn’t appear to be directly related to the work of preservation, the series illustrates the ways in which community engagement can often fail those that regularly have their voices silenced.

Article: How to Put Racial Equity at the Center of Neighborhood Investment (Kimberly Burrowes, Urban Wire)

Webinar: Arts-based Strategies for Organizing Communities and Strengthening their Social Fabric (Policy Link)

Article: Community Engagement for Racial Equity During COVID-19 (Rebecca Lehman, Margot Bordne, Clinton Johnson, ARCGIS Blog)

Article: Most Public Engagement Is Worse Than Worthless (Ruben Anderson, Strong Towns)

Journal Article: Remixing as Praxis: Arnstein’s Ladder Through the Grassroots Preservationist’s Lens (Andrea Roberts & Grace Kelly, Journal of American Planning Association)

Podcast: Nice White Parents (Serial, New York Times)

A visitor stands in front of a panel at the 2018 exhibition Little Havana Mi Importa


Sourced from National Trust field staff, articles, and other preservationists, each of these tools are a deep dive into strategies that put equity, dialogue, and deliberation first as part of community engagement practice. From strategies, manuals, and direct training this list is worth considering as we reshape some of the core tenants of preservation practice.

Atlanta Community Engagement Playbook: “This playbook is designed for those with a shared interest in building successful engagement processes and reaching higher levels of community engagement. Higher levels of engagement mean that residents own and take leadership over civic change, rather than just observing or even providing feedback.”

Racial and Equity Tools: Civic or Community Engagement: “Civic and community engagement includes strategies to organize individuals for collective action, as well as strategies to make sure that all voices in a community are heard as part of inclusive decision-making. These strategies can help build various kinds of social capital. That is, they can increase the extent to which residents in a given place can turn to each other and to community institutions for support, and the extent to which they are able to influence or control decisions that affect their lives.”

Collective Impact Principles of Practice: “Informed by lessons shared among practitioners who are implementing collective impact in the field, we outline the Collective Impact Principles of Practice, a new resource that we believe can guide practitioners about how to successfully put collective impact into action.”

How to Approach Digital First Community Engagement: From Bang the Table this resource “walks you through the common challenges, opportunities and pitfalls you may face while providing practical strategies and advice to help you build a successful digital-first engagement practice for your organization.”

Resource Guide on Public Engagement: From the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation “When done well, these techniques create the space for real dialogue, so everyone who shows up can tell their story and share their perspective on the topic at hand. Dialogue builds trust and enables people to be open to listening to perspectives that are very different from their own. Deliberation is key to public engagement work as well, enabling people to discuss the consequences, costs, and trade-offs of various policy options, and to work through the emotions that tough public decisions raise.

Community Guide Training Hub: From the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University this training hub supports CPD’s mission to “improve the way our community is able to talk through complex issues so that we can arrive at better decisions. Deliberation requires open spaces for citizens to come together, good and fair information to help structure the conversation and skilled facilitators to guide the process.”

Case Studies on Preservation Leadership Forum

These examples are all illustrative of how important planning and process are in the work of historic preservation. In a recent post for Forum, Heather Bailey and Amy Loewenstein Scanlon take us through the intentional process for building an inclusive preservation plan that was representative of the full history of Madison, while the pieces by Adriel Luis and a Q&A with staff at Montpelier look at how sites and organizations should approach working with underrepresented communities as we work to tell the Full American story. The final link is to a press release that talks through the work of the National Trust and many local partners to build the first comprehensive master plan for Little Havana. Through an incredibly inclusive process that included talking to thousands of residents and stakeholders this plan is one example of the results a proper community engagement process can bring.

Priya Chhaya is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.