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Metamorphosis Project Measures: A Step-by-Step Guide for Measuring Communication Connections and Civic Engagement

The path to effective communication and high levels of engagement in a neighborhood starts with understanding the community. How connected do people feel to their residential area? How civically engaged are they? How do stories travel between residents, community organizers and geo-ethnic media outlets? Are the conditions that would allow for collective action at a local level in place? To answer those questions, the Metamorphosis team has developed a number of measurement instruments: sets of questions for residents that assess different aspects of their integration and engagement in a local community. Here we will introduce you to four of the most central Metamorphosis measurement tools.

You can go directly to their individual pages or read a short explanation of the ideas behind each tool.

Go directly to our instruments:

Read a brief description of the ideas behind our measurement tools:

Neighborhood Storytelling Networks

Storytelling is the way people construct a common vision of their community. Telling stories about the neighborhood is what turns residents from "the people who live at a particular address" into community members. All communication channels you can think of (face to face conversations, gossip, getting the news, talking over the phone, sending letters, connecting to the Internet, etc.) provide means for neighborhood storytelling.

Telling stories happens at different levels. Mass media produce narratives about the society at large.  Geo-ethnic media and community organizers tell stories about specific geographic areas and ethnic groups. Residents exchange stories about the neighborhood with their family members, friends and neighbors.  Our measurement instruments will help you learn about the connections of residents to the three key types of community storytellers: other residents, media and local organizations. Social ties between residents are essential to the way messages spread and information is acquired in a community. Geo-ethnic media are also critical as they can guide the way people think about their community: from its boundaries (What is the area that I think of as "my neighborhood"?) to specific features (Is my neighborhood safe? Are the schools good? Are officials doing their job well?). Community organizers play a role by bringing people together, pointing out important issues and telling stories that may mobilize residents for action.

 Our research has shown that strong ties between storytellers (or what we call an integrated storytelling network) are associated with high levels of civic engagement. Furthermore we know that when a person is connected to one neighborhood storyteller, that also stimulates connections to the other neighborhood storytellers.

In many of the LA neighborhoods that we have studied, however, we see a breakdown of communication along ethnic lines. There are multiple separate storytelling networks as residents selectively connect to neighbors, media and organizations based on ethnicity.

Take a look at our measure: integrated connection to the storytelling network (ICSN). It will help you look into the relationship between the resident connections to local media, their ties to community organizations, and their interpersonal contacts with neighbors.  

Civic Engagement

Our framework suggests looking at civic engagement as composed of three important elements: neighborhood belonging, collective efficacy and civic participation.

Belonging measures the attachment of a resident to their neighborhood. It captures two important aspects: (1) the way people feel about their neighbors and (2) the way people interact with their neighbors. Residents who are well connected to the neighborhood storytelling network are likely to have high levels of belonging. Ties to other residents or community organizers, for example, may motivate a person for everyday acts of neighborliness.

How do we measure belonging? Click here.

Perceived collective efficacy refers to people's idea about the ability of their community to get together and solve local problems. It reflects the extent to which people feel they could count on their neighbors to work on a common cause. Strong connection to the neighborhood storytelling network and a high sense of belonging make for a higher perceived collective efficacy.  Exchanging stories about the neighborhood and feeling connected to the community give residents the sense that they are a part of a group that can tackle difficulties when they arise.  

How do we measure collective efficacy? Click here.

Civic participation is the extent to which a person is involved in their community. Highly involved residents will devote time, money and expertise to activities that have an impact on their neighborhood.  This may include for example donating, attending city council meetings or participating in protests. Again, integration into the neighborhood storytelling network is critical here, as it gives people the opportunity to learn about local issues and problems. This knowledge is a necessity for an informed civic participation.

How do we measure civic participation? Click here.

Return to the toolkit.


Additional Information

If you'd like to learn more about these concepts, you can take a look at  the following Metamorphosis papers:

Ball-Rokeach, S.J, Kim, Y.C. & Matei, S. (2001). Storytelling neighborhood: Paths to belonging in diverse urban environments. Communication Research, 28, 4, 392-428.

Cohen, E.L., Ball-Rokeach, S.J., Jung, J.-Y., & Kim, Y.C. (2002). Civic actions after September 11th: Exploring the role of multi-level storytelling. Prometheus, 20, 3, 221-228.

Kim, Y.C. (2003). Storytelling Community: Communication Infrastructure and Neighborhood Engagement in Urban Places. (dissertation) August, 2003.

Kim, Y.C. (2003). Communication resources, urban space, and civic engagement. Paper presented to the International Communication Association Communication Association Conference. San Diego, CA: May 23-27, 2003.

Kim, Y.C., & Jung, J.-Y. (2002). Geo-ethnicity and civic engagement: From a communication infrastructure perspective. Paper presented to the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. Chicago, IL: August 16-19, 2002.

Matei, S., & Ball-Rokeach, S.J. (2002).Belonging across geographic and Internet spaces: Ethnic area variations. In B. Wellman & C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.). The Internet in everyday life. (pp. 404-430). Oxford, UK: Blackwells.

Matei, S. (2001). The Magnifying Glass Effect. Negotiating Individualism and Community on the Internet. (dissertation) May 2001.

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