How Communities Work Together: Learning from the Chicago Community Networks Study

How Communities
Work Together

Learning from the
Chicago Community
Networks Study

How do community groups collaborate to improve schools, address violence,
and rebuild homes and businesses? What strategies do groups take to connect
with each other to improve their communities? Are some forms of collaboration
more effective than others?

To answer these questions, we must understand how organizations work together, what interorganizational networks look like, and what they can accomplish for individual groups and communities. Networks help community groups implement projects, respond to crises and opportunities, and mobilize for change. At the same time, we know from experience and research that some kinds of community networks may be more effective than others.

The Chicago Community Networks study is an unprecedented opportunity to explore and examine how networks are structured and how they function. Conducted in nine Chicago neighborhoods the study takes a mixed-methods approach, combining formal social network analysis with in-depth field interviews in an extensive effort to measure how community organizations collaborate on local improvement projects and how they come together to shape public policy.

Over the course of the next year, this series will explore:

How networks improve or hinder the power of individual community groups
How networks promote effective partnerships among organizations
How partnerships can unite people within diverse communities and join together different communities
How networks change over time

In this Series


An introduction to MDRC’s Chicago Community Networks study, a description of collective action and community life, and an explanation of how social network analysis can deepen our understanding of neighborhood responses to local problems. Read more »


Part Two
This feature explores different ways to consider power in social networks of neighborhood organizations, illustrating how power is configured differently across Chicago neighborhoods and demonstrating how these local patterns can help communities respond to local challenges. Read more »


Part Three
This feature explores comprehensiveness in community development partnerships in Chicago neighborhoods, and shows how comprehensiveness can help neighborhoods work together to build needed affordable housing and improve schools. Read more »


Part Four
This feature explores how partnerships can both sustain themselves and adapt in the face of external events. Read more »


Part Five
This feature offers users the opportunity to interact with the Chicago Community Networks data set through a series of customized network maps that show interrelationships among organizations according to selected neighborhood characteristics and network statistics. Read more »

Further Reading

Chicago Neighborhood Networks
Stability and Change

Network Effectiveness in Neighborhood Collaborations
Learning from the Chicago Community Networks Study

The Promise of Comprehensive Community Development
Ten Years of Chicago’s New Communities Program

Beyond the Neighborhood
Policy Engagement and Systems Change in the New Communities Program

Dynamics of Neighborhood Quality in Chicago
An Analysis of the Interaction among Quality-of-Life Indicators from the New Communities Program Evaluation

2017. “How Communities Work Together: Learning from the Chicago Community Networks Study.” New York: MDRC.