Last weekend I posted this article, showing a seven step planning process that I think is essential for solving complex problems at the neighborhood and/or community level. Today I’m going to outline steps in this process that I’ve developed, and have been following for the last 20 years.

  1. Use Maps to show indicators of where help is needed.

Austin-two-mapsI started trying to use GIS maps to show locations of non-school tutor/mentor programs in Chicago in 1993. As I did, I added layers of information showing where they are most needed, based on poverty, poor schools, violence, etc.  The tools for mapping data have changed vastly since then, but the need to start with a map has not changed. Without using a map it’s too easy to “pilot” strategies in one place, while ignoring all the other places where help is needed. It’s too easy to provide resources to high profile neighborhoods, and/or high profile organizations, and miss most of the places and organizations where the same help is needed.  Click here and here to journey through the many resources and ideas I share about using maps. 

2. What help is needed? Who are the service providers?


This concept map shows that people living in poverty have many different needs. If there are no resources easily available to a youth or family, those needs are not being met. My focus has been on making organized, non-school, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs available to k-12 youth in high poverty neighborhoods. This is just one of many needs that must be included in a planning process.

3. What help do kids need to move from first grade to first job? How do volunteers add value?


This concept map shows that at each stage of growing up, kids need a variety of supports.  Volunteers who become part of well-organized, on-going, tutor/mentor programs can have a direct impact, but also can have a much larger impact by helping organizations and communities make more of these resources available in different neighborhoods.

4. What programs are already operating? How can we help each be great at what they do?


I formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993, at the same time as myself and six other volunteers were forming a new site-based tutor/mentor program to help 7th grade inner city youth move through high school and toward college and careers.  120 programs responded to our first survey and we plotted their addresses on maps, to show where they were located. We put this in a printed Directory and began to mail it to local programs, philanthropists, media, etc. We also used the list to invite leaders together every six months for a networking conference in Chicago.  I started a print newsletter to share information that I was learning. I took this to the Internet in 1998.  The maps and Directory were  intended as a planning tool that leaders in business, philanthropy, government, media, etc. would use to help fill all poverty neighborhoods with great programs.  It became a resource parents, volunteers, educators and social workers used to find programs in different neighborhoods.



Getting this information was just the first step in a four-part strategy. Getting more people to support tutor/mentor programs in every neighborhoods with time, talent, and dollars, on an on-going basis, was the second step in the strategy. Without advertising dollars, or celebrity leaders, this is just as difficult as gathering the information. However, if we want great programs in all poverty neighborhoods, we need to help them get the resources needed to be great!  This focus on helping everyone get funds, not just my own organization, has always set my efforts apart from what others are doing. 

5. This information has to be updated every year. More people need to be part of the connection/analysis effort.


My organization started with no money, and raised money every year, from many different sources, to operate our site based program, and to lead the Tutor/Mentor Connection. Money was never very consistent, or generously available. Thus, the survey process ranged from sending printed surveys, which enabled us to create this searchable platform, to making phone calls to determine if programs were still operating. This list of more than 200 Chicago area programs needs to be visited every year, just to make sure all web sites are still working, and programs are still operating. The technology hosting the map platform also need updating (urgently since 2013).

This pdf essay shows that this information collection should be a shared effort, involving people in every community area, including students.

UniversityTMCThis blog article, with pdf, invites universities to take a strategy role, in collecting information, and in digging deeper to understand the differences between programs, the challenges, and ideas that can be shared to help every program constantly improve.

ENOUGHEnough Is Enough. How many times have you read this in the media following an act of violence?  This graphic, along with the graphic above, showing intern work since 2005, was done by college students who spent one week, to a full year, working with my organization in Chicago. The graphic at the left animates a learning process that could be taking place in many groups, in any community, resulting in more people, better informed, and more motivated to take actions that build and sustain needed programs in communities areas where map indicators show more help is needed.

6. The role of intermediaries


This is one of many graphics, and blog articles, where I’ve illustrated my role as an intermediary, and where I’ve suggested that people from business, colleges, other youth organizations, philanthropy, etc. can take the same role.

7.  While there are many many mapping indicators, few are mapping service providers


This concept map provides links to many of the indicators sites in my library. A research project could be just building a more extensive library than mine.  However, in the Race-Poverty map above, I show many needs. Others need to be surveying communities to learn who already fills these needs. and what areas of a city they serve.  I just focus on non-school tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. I’ve piloted the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago, this map from a article, shows that every major urban area in the country faces similar problems. A map of the world showing the 100 largest cities, would show the same need on a global basis. Thus, the people who apply these ideas could be located in many different places, applying them to many different cities.


8. This requires commitments of funding and talent that continues for many years.  While many wealthy people donate millions of dollars in every election cycle, what will it take for the same people to donate a much smaller pool of dollars to this research process?

Hopefully, when someone decides to take on the research and intermediary role that I’ve just described, they first say “Who already is doing this? Can I help them, instead of creating a competing organization?  Can I link my efforts to their efforts, to create a greater effort?”

Unfortunately that has not happened too often in Chicago.  Thus, my final piece of advise is “Don’t Reinvent the Wheel. Do your homework first, then support what’s already in place. As a last resort, start something new.”

If you’re interested in learning more, or adopting these ideas, I’m on Twitter @tutormentorteam and on Facebook, too. Let’s connect.