Phase 1: Assess

What It Is

Drawing from the principles of action research and popular education, the Assess phase is when the network embarks on a deliberate and structured journey of “seeing” the community anew. The initiating organizers/organization and network members articulate what the network needs to learn, collect data through a variety of assessment methods, creatively analyze all that is discovered, and ultimately organize the outcomes to define a path for social change. 

Unlike most assessments—conducted as a precursor to the process itself—here the Assess phase happens as a community and plays a central role in relationship and knowledge building. Through this process, the network gains new language, skills, insights, and values for strengthening the design and implementation of solutions. 

The Assess phase also includes foundational steps that the initiating organizers/organization must take for setting up the overall approach, such as budgeting, creating documentation and evaluation systems, and making preliminary decisions about geographical boundaries.

Why It’s Important 

In this phase, network members engage in honoring, exploring, and documenting local knowledge—amplifying voices marginalized by services and systems being cast as the primary holders of knowledge and expertise. In the end, this phase creates the opportunity for the following:

  • Thinking critically and creatively about why things are as they are and the possibilities for how things could be different
  • Identifying what is powerful and effective about the community and what untapped opportunities can be built upon
  • Identifying community members who can speak to the way things are, have influence, and engage others 
  • Deepening relationships and people’s commitment to a social change process 
  • Gaining a nuanced understanding of the community for designing solutions that address domestic and sexual violence

How It Works

What’s Happening to the Network

In the initial Assess phase, the network is young and small, with primary and foundational relationships being forged. In this and future cycles of the Assess phase, the action research methodologies become powerful community organizing tools, with many of the community members who are engaged by the research (youth, adults, and/or organizational leaders) often becoming network members themselves. 

Messy Truths    

This is the phase that most people want to skip—either because it feels too technical, because they feel like they already know the community, because they want to move right to “action,” or all three. If the “research” aspect intimidates or bores you, relax in knowing that there is a whole guide to walk you through the process in a fairly easygoing way (see The Assess Guide). If your team dislikes the idea of being out in the community conducting a survey, remind them that there are other support roles they can play. If you think you already know your community, think again—there is far more to discover! MOST IMPORTANTLY, until you learn to see what you’ve never noticed before, you cannot fully break open the potential of this process. It is through this experience that your team builds a critical new way of seeing and engaging with the community.