Core Concepts & Terms


Agitation is the art of challenging a person to be true in their self and to act on their self interest. It is about taking the time to challenge someone through love and concern for another in a safe, free space and done in the context of a relationship.

Accountability is being responsible to those with whom you work. In a community one is accountable to other community members for commitments, promises, and actions.

Celebration and Closure ensures that we recognize the successes of our public work projects and acknowledge our efforts. They are a vital part of the organizing process.

Citizenship is about every member of the community being responsible and accountable for what happens in their community and the community being responsible to the individuals within it. Citizenship has no regard for age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, national borders, etc. Community can range from a neighborhood to a sense of global humanity.

Community is often defined by geographic location, but it can also be something more abstract such as a process, interactions, feeling, structure, other areas. Individuals  with the same or similar cultural backgrounds may identify as a community. As organizers, it is important to allow participants to define and describe community in their own terms.

Critical Reflection is an essential component of community engagement, volunteerism, and public work. Critical reflection is the active and careful consideration of beliefs and knowledge in light of the experience. It involves the interpretation of events in such a way that challenges our beliefs, connects the experience to our worldview, works to develop our civic skills and helps us find relevance in our work.

Democracy is the governance or work of the people through deliberative and collaborative conversation and action. It requires active participation of citizens to be successful. 

Diversity is essential to effectively solve public problems. We must learn to listen, appreciate, and find common ground to work with others who are different, but who are affected by the same pubic issues and problems.

Evaluation & Assessment are used to review and understand a program, event, or project in a critical way. These two tools are used to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the structure of a program, while also used to determine the growth and learning of participants.

Free Spaces are places where people can express themselves, honestly disagree, and work together to take public action. Free spaces are successful when people build relationships with each other on which to base these discussions.

House Meeting is a guided, small group discussion held in a free space that allows people to get to know one another's self-interest deeply. One form of a house meeting is an issues caucus  -  a meeting where members can champion the problem and/or issue they would like the group to focus on by making a passionate public presentation. Through house meetings, groups can discover collective interests from which they can launch their issue selection process.

Identity describes how we each use categories, labels, and experiences to define and identify ourselves. We each exist at the intersection of many identities, which may include gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, race, nationality, ethnicity, age, religious affiliation, body size/shape, occupation, learning styles, parental status, etc. Our identities - static and fluid - influence how we develop relationships and interact with others.

One-to-Ones are strategic meetings used to discover another person's self interests, motivations, and visions, and how they intersect with your own.

Politics is the process of negotiation involving power and public decision-making (e.g. bargaining, thinking strategically, etc.) by ordinary people in their communities. Power is the ability to act; the ability to influence people, institutions, or processes. One can increase their power by building relationships with other people and organizing around common interests and goals.

Power Maps are visual representations of power in your community that include the people and organizations with both institutional and relational power.

Privilege and Oppression are derived from societal power structures and are generally identified as systemic. Privileges are often referred to as unearned; something you are born into, or with, that grant you access to resources and other advantages. Oppressions are identified as unjust, meaning that they are unwarranted, or for no cause of the person's actual personhood or actions. Oppression can be denied or limited access to resources and other advantages.

Problems & Issues lie at the heart of organizing. Problems are broad areas of concern that need to be broken down into actionable issues. Issues are bite-sized action-oriented and feasible solutions that address those larger problems.

Public Relationships are comprised of people operating with a collective interest to create public projects and to participate in public work Participating in one-to-ones aid in developing public relationships that can serve in the development of public projects effectively.

Public Work/Action is the work of ordinary citizens, who together, solve public problems and create public, tangible products in communities. By "public" we mean people coming together in a free space to develop common interests.

Research in community organizing, takes multiple forms: traditional, experiential, and relational. Traditional research includes collecting information from books, journal articles, credible internet sites, and more. Experiential research is the collection of information through direct methods like analyzing photos, making observations, conducting surveys, etc. Relational research is conducted through meetings between two or more people including one-to-ones, house meetings, focus groups, interviews, and more.

Root Causes are the social or institutional systems that reinforce the problems we see manifesting in our communities. Root causes are discovered by using the 5 Whys Technique, successfully asking "why" problems and issues occur at least 5 times.

Self-Interest is about the self among others; it is what makes a particular person or group connected to an issue or problem. Self-interest can be understood as the intersection between your core value and our shared democratic values, equality, justice, freedom. dedication to the common good, etc. Self-interest motivates individuals to act. Collective self-interest is the intersection of two more people's self-interest.

Social Justice is both a process and a goal; it is a commitment to a socially just world and the committed actions to make that world a reality. The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs which includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure... Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others, their society, and the broader world in which we live.

Strategy is an idea, a conceptualization of how a goal could be achieved. A tactic is an action you take to execute the strategy, they are the tools you use to achieve your goals.

Tension is the space between what we experience in the world and how we would like the world to be more just. It is a place of transformation where we feel anger and discomfort before we are motivated toward action.

Values are the morals that guide you and how you engage with the world (they may be from family or your religious institutions or friends or others). Core values are what you are willing to fight for and to become unpopular for. Core values are often derived from the intersection of three concepts: our identities, our values and learning about, witnessing or experiencing violations of these values and/or identities.

World As It Is, World As It Should Be. To understand "the world as it is" means that you are practical, you understand the true motivation of people, the power dynamics involved around an issue, and therefore you can creatively problem solve issues as you move toward "the world as it should be."