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Community Action Roadmap Step 3: Build Relationships

Link to Home page of Community Action Roadmap    Link to Overview of Community Action Roadmap     Link to Step 1 Prioritize Goals and Concerns     Link to Step 2 Identify Levers for Change     Link to Step 3 Build Relationships     Link to Step 4 Develop an Action Plan     Link to Step 5 Make Your Case     Link to Step 6 Build Momentum for Change     Link to Resources in Community Action Roadmap
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Once your community has prioritized goals and identified agencies to contact and avenues to pursue, the next step is to build a coalition of supporters who can help make positive change happen. Relationship building can occur on several levels at the same time. 

Review the relationship-building areas below. Note areas where you already have strong support as well as areas where you would like to invest in building stronger relationships. 

Check Your Ports Primer

Review the following sections again to refresh your memory on the agency and regulatory structure for your issues. This framework will help ensure you identify partners in each sector with expertise or authority related to your issue.
How Ports Work: 3.1-3.3
Land Use and Transportation: 5.1-5.2
Local and Regional Economy: 6.1 and 6.3
Environmental Impacts: 7.2-7.4

  • In the community. Reach out to other organizations that may interact with residents on different issues. These groups may include unions and health care, youth, family support, faith and sports groups. Ask to join their meetings to share information and ask people for their support.
  • With adjacent communities. Adjacent communities may sometimes seem a world away due to different demographics or infrastructure barriers such as rail lines, highways or industrial superblocks. However, putting differences aside and joining forces to tackle an issue that affects  both communities can be an effective way to promote change on tough issues. City staff working in outreach, planning, social services and grants can help identify community leaders in adjacent neighborhoods.
  • With liaisons and opinion leaders. Chambers of Commerce and neighborhood associations are structured as liaison organizations between communities and local governments. Their staff and members can be helpful partners, particularly if they already have working relationships with local agencies and decision-makers. 
  • With agency staff who may have relevant expertise, resources or programs. While staff may not have the authority to make the desired changes, they may be able to provide technical expertise, programs and grant assistance that can help. They can also be an internal champion for your issue at their agency. View EPA regional staff as your initial and primary contact who can also connect you with other agencies to assist locally.
  • With elected officials, commissioners, agency leaders and decision makers. Their bigger-picture perspective can help you identify additional resources as well as new partnership and capacity-building opportunities.
  • With other community stakeholders, including businesses, schools and environmental organizations. Consider linking up with schools and businesses that have a vested interest in the issue. Partnering with a local environmental group with a successful track record of advocacy and engagement can also work well.
  • With port staff and decision makers. Building trust between the community and a port can be challenging if the port has not been receptive to community concerns in the past. A respectful tone can reduce defensiveness and encourage productive communication. 

Look for creative ways to help port staff engage effectively with community members, understand issues from the community’s perspective, and become invested in helping. For example, taking staff on a tour to look at an issue in the field can be more effective than putting them on the spot at a large public meeting.  Working with management at the port to expand training in community engagement beyond public relations staff can help increase productive conversations between project managers at the port and surrounding communities.

Finally, many ports have environmental offices, community relations or public affairs staff who can offer a “lay of the land” assessment for community members about existing environmental partnerships, initiatives and programs related to their concerns. Staff can help community members plug into existing projects, deepen their involvement, and build relationships to help the port and community members accomplish shared goals.

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Special Note

In many communities across the United States, stakeholders have advocated for years to reduce pollution from local port operations with little or no discernable success. This document recognizes that a lack of time and resources is often a reality in communities. Taking these steps and achieving outcomes can be more challenging in some communities than it will be in others.

Listen Well. One reliable way to build support is to ask for input. When sharing information, whether with your neighbor or the mayor, ask what they think of the issue, what they recommend to help resolve it, and who else to talk to. Identify areas of common interest. 

Acknowledge Anger about the Past. There is a lot of history related to where ports are located, who lives near ports, and how some communities are disproportionately exposed to related pollution. This history may result in deep-seated anger from near-port residents. Acknowledging this anger is important and necessary, but need not prevent constructive dialogue, problem solving, pollution reduction and community investments moving forward.

Connect on Common Ground. Not everyone may be eager to work closely with you at the beginning. Remember that regardless of your new contact’s current perspective or position on your issue, they are a potential ally. Find common points of connection around which to build a cordial relationship. 

Stay in Touch. Always follow up with new contacts. Thank them for their support and keep them posted on status and events. Stay committed to your goals, and be positive. Establishing dialogue and trust is extremely important.

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Try it Out!

  1. Who are the influencers in your community?
  1. Which stakeholders are already supporters?
  2. Review the list of potential supporters above. Who else could you connect with to build support, resources and influence for your issue? Use a chart like the one below to capture opportunities for new relationships. As you move forward, continue to update the contact sheet you started in Step 2.
Potential Supporter (name, and organization) What kinds of support could this person offer? Are there opportunities to offer them mutual support Who can help build this relationship? What strategy(ies) should we use to share our community's perspective?

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                                                             Step 4: Develop an Action Plan »