Take Initiative

Take the Initiative to Promote a Planning Process


Create a beginning checklist for the planning. This document can list people to talk with, research to conduct, and more. The checklist should fit the community and its issues (see Appendix B for an example).

Consider what resources might be drawn upon to support the effort. A civic group, bar association or other entity might offer to provide leadership, logistical, or technological support. A local university might offer expertise or facilitation services. The U.S. Justice Department’s Community Relations Service (“CRS”), which has intervened in volatile community conflicts for over 50 years, can offer expertise (see other ideas in Appendix A). The idea is to create an entity that will enable the planning and sustain its implementation, even when public resources are tight.


Compared with all the other disasters for which communities must create emergency management plans—natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, etc., as well as man-made ones—civil unrest often receives a lower priority.  If communities undertake any such planning, they often delegate responsibility to the police department to create a plan to restore order. But civil unrest often takes its greatest toll on the social fabric of the community. If that unrest stems from residents’ concerns of racial or ethnic injustice, for example, destructive tensions or unresolved conflicts may deepen civic division. Therefore, the planning process should be broader than determining police practices to restore order; it might examine, for example, how community members communicate and interact across different sectors of the community – be it dialogue among faith-based groups or neighbors confronting homeless citizens situated on their streets –and how those persons can work together to meet the needs of all members of the community.



Ideally, such planning will be undertaken jointly by public officials working side-by-side with other community leaders. However, in practice it may be difficult for public officials to sustain the kind of long-term commitment to the process and relationship-building that is required. There are other challenges as well. Public officials may fear that they are acknowledging community division when they announce they are planning for potential civil unrest. Deciding what to call the effort is important. Framing the process in a positive tone is helpful. Community leaders may also fear that planning will only lead to deeper community division or that they might make a misstep in discussing volatile issues such as racial division.  But the consequences of the failure to plan may be more devastating.

Therefore engaging a group of community leaders to provide their visible leadership to initiate and sustain the process can be a long-term benefit to the community. Community leaders – drawn from civic organizations like business and bar associations, universities, inter-faith groups, and advocacy groups – can provide the impetus to convene a planning effort and facilitate a planning initiative that engages both public officials and a broad cross-section of community leaders.

The planning will be productive only if key public officials participate, but the other community leaders can initiate the planning process and assume risks associated with initiating the planning effort. When convening leadership comes from the broader community, it may enable broader participation from those who might be concerned with the small “p” politics of the endeavor. Also, some leaders will participate and help only in response to an invitation and only if persuaded that the planning will be conducted responsibly.

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