The stages of community life

The stages of community life

Posted on September 15, 2016 by Beth Doyle

Throughout 30 years of his career in public innovation, Rich Harwood, founder of The Harwood Institute of Public Innovation, has seen some communities make great progress while others do not. He wondered why this was happening.

After deep exploration, his research revealed that communities go through stages. From that, he developed Community Rhythms: The 5 Stages of Community Life, a part of the Harwood approach.

Each stage has different implications for how to help a community move forward:

The Waiting Place: People sense that things are not working right but they cannot clearly define the problem.

Impasse: The community has hit rock bottom and there is a sense of urgency; people are tired of waiting.

Catalytic: Steps are being taken by small numbers of people and organizations that are almost imperceptible, but the actions are giving a sense of hope.

Growth: People begin to see clearer signs of how the community is moving forward and leadership is expanding.

Sustain and Renew – The community is ready to take on, in a deeper and more sustained way, the tough, nagging issues that may have been tackled but not adequately addressed.

In the following video, Rich Harwood shares common mistakes and what to do in each stage. He further illustrates that we must be honest about what stage our community is in and to calibrate our strategies accordingly. We can’t skip a stage, and we can’t create all the change we want all at once. But if our choices are intentional, change is possible, and we can make progress together.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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