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Useful Community Plus
October 24, 2019

In This Issue: What Ripple Effects Mapping
Could Do for You, Source-of-Income Laws, New Website Content
Visit us at www.useful-community-development.org


New On the Useful Community Development Website This Month

This month we created these new pages by answering questions from site visitors on the following topics:

best way to identify community needs quickly, an interesting read about a church wishing to open its doors to a culturally, racially, and economically diverse set of neighborhoods surrounding it

homeowners rights with code enforcement, a topic that receiving a lot of interest from our readers right now

code enforcement entered home

can a town enforce deed restrictions, which concerns a zoning ordinance provision requiring that a certain land use not be prohibited by deed restriction

minimum hours of operation in a commercial zoning district

neighborhood commercial changed to commercial zoning without notice

an idea for a community development consultant practice centered on businesses

can neighbors create an HOA to fight existing deed restrictions?

density credit assignment

adverse possession or easement road, about a road on private property used by the public for 15 years

grandfather clause claimed to permit outdoor storage of fertilizers

some allowed to buy out of deed restriction while others are told that is not an option


Is Your Community Ready for a Source-of-Income Law?

Several suburban communities on our radar have enacted source-of-income laws in the last two or three months. A "source of income" discrimination law prohibits landlords from turning down otherwise qualified renters who are using housing choice vouchers or other governmental programs as full or partial payment of their rent.

The annual Poverty and Race Research Action Council update on this topic is an exhaustive resource for those of you seeking examples and arguments for enacting such a law in your community or even state.

We hope you won't let landlords use housing vouchers as an excuse for racial or economic discrimination.


Feature: What's Ripple Effects Mapping, and Why Should You Care?


You can use a tool called ripple effects mapping to create a thought-provoking visual display of the effects of a community program or project and to tease out a deeper level of impacts that participants or stakeholders observe.

A stone thrown into a lake creates ripples, and the ripple effects mapping technique asks people who have participated in or observed a program to talk about the immediate effects of the program on them, then the secondary consequences of their participation for themselves or the community, and then possibly a third set of "ripples" out from the central program.

This technique originated with university experts on program evaluation, but we maintain that you can adapt this tool to end-of-project celebrations or end-of-the-year wrap-up sessions without considering it a part of a formal evaluation process. If you need community development program evaluation, though, because of your organization's policy or because a funder requires evaluation, try a structured version of this process.

Five Times That Ripple Effects Mapping Will Be Especially Useful

1. The special contribution of this technique is its suitability for grassroots groups, teens, rural development settings, and groups where there is a language or literacy barrier, or where questionnaires and such would seem too formal and perhaps beyond the comprehension of the program participants.

2. Another advantage of this technique is that it works well when a program did not have a well-defined methodology with numerical benchmarks set forth in advance. It is especially relevant to experimental projects.

3. A third advantage is that some people are visual learners, and this type of evaluation or wrap-up is much more effective for them than a wordy discussion.

4. The diagram that results from a ripple effects mapping session becomes a new permanent tool of communicating about the program to those who were not involved.

5. A visual representation of what has been accomplished, or what did not work as intended, becomes a powerful catalyst for further discussion about the next steps. If the program worked well, it becomes a celebratory graphic.

How to Do It

Ripple effects mapping as practiced thus far seems to involve only one session attended by both program participants and other stakeholders. One facilitator and one note-taker are needed. Here are the elements of the agenda:

1. Peer-to-peer interviews. Some pioneers of this technique have suggested that this activity requires a total of ten minutes for a pair of people to ask one another a set of structured questions prepared beforehand by the facilitator. We think that for most groups that idea is rubbish, and that given ten minutes, very few duos would get down to business. If people don't know one another well, give the pairs ten minutes to get acquainted with some type of open-ended question that is of no real consequence to your program, and then hand out the "real" question or questions you would like participants to answer. This question should be central to qualitative information you want to know about the impact of the program on the participant. We assume you have numbers already, but you would like to understand nuances you cannot or did not measure.

2. Sharing of the results of the peer-to-peer interviews. We suggest half an hour for this activity, with the note-taker and facilitator both writing furiously. Alternatively, you could use a recording system to capture this conversation, and have the facilitator concentrate on asking any probing questions necessary to make sure this communication is clear.

If time is short, use the peer interviews as an ice-breaker with no further function, and skip the group sharing of the peer interview material. The next two steps are more important.

3. Actual "mapping" or diagram-making. You probably need an hour or even two hours for this activity. The facilitator or recorder will draw a circle in the center of several butcher paper sheets posted next to each other, and write the name of the program or activity in the center.

The facilitator then would invite participants to mention a personally observed effect of the program, emphasizing that this could be an intended or an unintended effect. Whoever is drawing will place that effect appropriately on the diagram.

The facilitator then will ask what caused, led to, contributed to, or simply preceded the effect. This list is drawn onto the diagram as a second ripple. If the group can identify precursors to the secondary ripples, you will have a third level ripple to add to the chart.

When the group seems to have exhausted that subject, the facilitator will move on to another effect until the group pauses.

A skilled facilitator will continue to ask the group open-ended questions about what else happened as a result of an effect already on the diagram. Those who attend should be encouraged to speak up if their idea is not accurately depicted. During this process the facilitator will want to invite others to challenge assumptions and comments if they disagree; often this cross-talk leads to the identification of additional ripple effects. Contradictory ripple effect impacts on individuals and the community are very common in community programs.

Using the participants' own words and ways of expressing themselves on the diagrams is critical. Don't let a facilitator or note-taker rephrase the raw input any more than absolutely necessary to make it understandable later. Retain colorful words and phrases.

4. Group reflection. In this final phase of the event, which may require as much as an hour, the facilitator should allow free discussion of what people think of the exercise, what surprised them, what pleased them, or what distressed them. Allow questioning of words and phrases that people used.

The facilitator should insist that the discussion incorporate new information gained in the previous hour and promote discussion that builds community rather than tearing down other people's ideas. As this hour progresses, the facilitator gently moves the conversation to helping the group identify what should happen next, and whether this no doubt colorful and messy "map" can help to communicate with some outside group.

If conversation about next steps is slow, the facilitator can use different language to ask whether the program affected the community, whether it fulfilled its pre-determined purpose, and whether the unintended consequences were helpful or harmful to the community.

An Example of Successful Ripple Effect Mapping

Having worked on a couple of these events so far, we think part of the secret is the involvement of program participants themselves in planning the event and recruiting the participants. While "just regular folks" will appreciate being consulted at all in program evaluation, it is their engagement in preparing for the mapping event that will assure that the facilitator is fully prepared for the ripple effects exercise.

The proponents and pioneers of the ripple effect mapping suggest perhaps 12-20 people as the ideal size for this group, although we caution that this really depends on how large your program was, and how many different types of program participants or outside stakeholders have been involved.

For example, we successfully engaged 49 people in this activity. We started at 2 p.m. on a Friday by expanding the peer-to-peer interviews to two rounds, each consisting of five minutes for getting acquainted and five minutes each for the two interviews. This made a total of half an hour for the entire peer-to-peer interview warm-up activity, and we skipped the report-out phase after these interviews. We allowed two hours for development of the map diagram. We then offered veggies, mixed nuts, and those yummy brownies people had glimpsed as they entered and started the "what's next" reflection and discussion after the 15-minute break. We terminated the discussion after one hour, promising to follow up with anyone who still wanted to make a point.

Depending on the formality and finality needed, you might decide that follow-up interviews are needed with some or all participants in the mapping exercise to assure that their thoughts were fully and accurately captured.

Comparing REM to Other Techniques

If ripple effect mapping (REM) is part of a formal evaluation process, the results ultimately will be transferred to either mind-mapping software, some of which is available free online, or to a spreadsheet where the columns can mimic the two or more ripples outward from the central idea. But sometimes the diagram is the product, and our experience is that the messy handwriting actually is part of the charm when a resident group will use the map as a communication prop.

Those skilled in group technique will recognize that ripple effects mapping is simply mind mapping with a twist--it is the mind of a group that is being mapped. You also may see that the peer interviews that kick off this event are a type of appreciative inquiry, in which people are asked to focus on one another’s best potentials instead of deficits of individuals or a community. Obviously this technique also owes a debt to open-ended questioning and qualitative research in general.

Note that this technique is primarily visual. If you are seeking detailed storytelling, other methods of debriefing a project or program may be more suitable. One that you could check out is called the most significant change method.

If you need to take a deeper dive into this technique or use it as all or part of a formal evaluation, you can download a manual. You will find that often ripple effect mapping has been tied into capital analysis, so be prepared to encounter that train of thought, which we are not discussing here. (Capital here means one of the seven types of capital encompassed in something called the Community Capitals Framework. These capitals include built, cultural, financial, human, natural, political, and social capital. Read more about it here).

We also see similarities with the asset-based community development approach, of which we are proponents. If you are not familiar with this idea, we suggest you start there.


Feel free to contact us about any detail on our site. See you in November.


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