Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Social Work

Additional Affiliations

Brown School of Social Work

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Lessons from various policies and programs both in the United States and international development have led to a knowledge base concluding that an engaged community is a critical component for developing a thriving community. This is based on a premise that even in the modernized world community still has a role to play along with government and the market in their own development. Community’s role is further highlighted in areas such as low-income urban neighborhoods where both the government and the market may not be able to fulfill all the needs.

Research has followed by trying to understand why people engage in community activities. Studies have highlighted various individual and organizational attributes that motivate people to engage. Most studies take a linear view and don’t take into account how the dynamics of internal processes and external environment may affect motivation over time. Without a dynamic perspective, it is difficult to understand what sustains community engagement. Not only engagement but sustained engagement is critical to accrue benefits for both individual and the community. This study is designed to shed light into that very question: what are the processes that lead to sustained or eroding engagement over time?

The study was conducted in the empirical context of community gardens in a low-income urban neighborhood. Key informant interviews were conducted with gardeners from different community gardens in the neighborhood. The data was used to understand the context for the establishment of the gardens. The data was also used to revise a system dynamics model that was previously built based on theories of collective action, community garden literature, and other models. The system dynamics approach entails creating a structure of feedback loops, creating a computer model based on that structure, and analyzing the simulation results to understand the relationship between the structure and the behavior it produces.

Based on the narratives, the model had eight main structures: gardeners, land, activities, quality of community garden, rules, trust, social relationships, and partners. The interaction between these sectors was based on several feedback loops which were grounded in the narrative. The model was able to produce both sustained and eroding community engagement. Among others, developing partnerships and how the various attribute of the garden such as quality, the amount of work, and social relationships played an important role in sustaining engagement.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Gautam Yadama

Committee Members

Aaron Hipp, Peter Hovmand, Shanta Pandey, Jason Purnell


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7DN43BR