An Examination of Community Organizing Processes to Assess the Potential for Increasing Innovation in Practice

Open Access
Sterner, Glenn Earl
Graduate Program:
Rural Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 15, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Diane Krantz Mclaughlin, Dissertation Advisor
  • Theodore Roberts Alter, Committee Member
  • Kathryn Jo Brasier, Committee Member
  • Leland Luther Glenna, Special Member
  • Thomas S Lyons, Special Member
  • community development
  • rural sociology
  • community engagement
  • community organizing
  • innovation
  • social networks
The emphasis of this research is to examine opportunities for rural residents to maximize the potential for innovation within community organizing processes associated with community development initiatives. This dissertation brings together community, community field, and innovation literatures to frame community development work as a form of innovation. The first objective of this project is to document rural community organizing processes for community development in four communities, and compare them to an innovation process conceptual framework. The second objective is to examine the role of social networks in these community organizing processes, in order to suggest potential modifications to these networks to more effectively catalyze innovative ideas to address community-identified issues. These two objectives were accomplished through research utilizing a multiple case study methodology. Data were collected through archival research and key informant interviews in four rural communities, Blissfield and Portland in Michigan, and Clearfield and Titusville in Pennsylvania. These communities were identified through their participation in the Main Street Program, which requires communities to engage in a community organizing process prior to acceptance into the program. The community organizing processes and the social networks utilized within them were analyzed according to the innovation process conceptual framework and findings presented. Finally, concluding remarks on the research findings, future opportunities for research, and policy implications were presented.