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John S. and James L. Knight Foundation: Community Engagement

Case Overview

After a strategic planning effort identified “community engagement” as a strategy for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in its 26 communities, FSG was engaged to strategically define community engagement and give the foundation a tangible, practical, and operational plan for implementation.

The Challenge

Under a vision of informed and engaged communities, Knight wanted to build the capacity of its communities to actively and effectively engage in the community’s areas of interest. While the Knight board and senior staff accepted community engagement at a conceptual level, they awaited a practical expression of what community engagement would mean for the Knight Foundation and its grantmaking in order to proceed.

Approach & Solutions
FSG’s approach took a holistic view of the community engagement field – from the top down as well as from the ground up – in order to advance Knight’s practical understanding of what it means to be a place-based funder in the community engagement space. This understanding, coupled with greater clarity about the values driving Knight’s interest in community engagement work, provided a concrete, tangible structure for Knight’s work going forward.

Knight Foundation and FSG selected one location – St. Paul Community Engagement program – to test hypotheses on community engagement and answer the following questions:

  • Why is the Foundation pursuing a place-based Community Engagement strategy (e.g., what values are driving the development of the Community Engagement program?)?
  • What might a place-based community engagement a strategy look like on the ground, in a practical, tangible sense? What might an evaluation framework to guide strategy implementation look like?
  • How might the strategy be rolled out in different Knight communities?
FSG facilitated the development of a three-year community engagement strategy and evaluation framework for St. Paul, enhanced the analytic capacity and adaptive leadership orientation among program staff, and furthered the Foundation’s understanding of what it meant to develop, implement and manage a place-based community engagement strategy.

Ultimately, the Knight Foundation was able to say “this is what we mean when we talk about community engagement.” They had a clear definition of the values driving the Foundation’s investment in the space, a clear definition of “what’s in and what’s out” and a practical, strategic approach to developing place-based community engagement strategies in its eight communities.

About The Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers.

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