Behavior Change Case Study: Cleveland Neighborhood Progress – The Racial Equity & Inclusion Initiative

by Apr 23, 2019Behavior Change Blog Series

Kate O'Brien, Senior Writer for Meeting of the Minds

Kate O'Brien is a consultant and writer for Meeting of the Minds. A collaborative consultant focused on facilitation, coaching, and capacity building, Kate supports an array of change agents and their transformative work in communities across the United States.

Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


Cleveland Neighborhood Progress is a nonprofit intermediary leading the revitalization of neighborhoods across Cleveland, Ohio. It impacts the community by providing financial support, training, and capacity building efforts to community development corporations (CDCs), supporting and performing placemaking activities that improve residential, commercial and greenspace properties, and delivering economic opportunity programming to ensure city residents can thrive where they live.

Established thirty years ago, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress is an organization rooted in activism and organizing. In 1977, just after the Community Reinvestment Act was passed into law, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress came into being as a means for ensuring that Cleveland was free of the practice of racial redlining– that is, banking institutions’ avoidance of lending to, or investing in real estate projects in, low and moderate-income communities and communities of color. “A continuous thread running throughout this organization’s history has been the struggle to reconcile the organization’s roots with its efforts to support human development, and its efforts to support real estate development,” says Erika Anthony, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s Vice President of Government Relations, and leader of the organization’s racial equity and inclusion initiative.

In the wake of the 2014 police killing of twelve year old Clevelander Tamir Rice, Erika began encouraging Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s staff and leadership to reflect with greater intention on the ways racism has framed the field of community development. Erika and her team wanted to make explicit for the whole city the ways that Cleveland’s present day patterns of gentrification, displacement, and cultural and socioeconomic segregation—along with police brutality and so many other systemic injustices—mirror the real estate redlining practices that helped define and justify the organization’s founding mission. Erika says there was a burgeoning sense that, as an intermediary community development organization, the team needed to look into the mirror and ask: “How do we take this line of questioning from conversation to action?”.

The Cleveland Neighborhood Progress team prioritized efforts to develop a common lexicon among its staff and board members around the concept of systemic racism and the dynamics rooted in it. “We needed and wanted to hold ourselves accountable. We said, ‘let’s acknowledge that systemic racism is at the root of the dynamics we see today, and explore how that should impact our work going forward’,” says Erika. With that guiding question as their north star, Erika and her team developed and established the Year of Awareness Building, which kicked off in January 2017.

“The Year of Awareness Building was very much a starting point for our continuing efforts to embed racial equity and inclusion as a central organizing principle of a holistic approach to community development,” says Erika. “To truly accomplish our vision for Cleveland’s neighborhoods, we know that Cleveland Neighborhood Progress must ensure that all residents— especially historically disadvantaged members of the community— feel connected to the fabric of their neighborhoods; have equal access to opportunities; and are meaningfully engaged in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.” The team envisioned a year-long effort that would be grounded in the delivery of carefully designed trainings, which Cleveland Neighborhood Progress saw as an important vehicle for growing and galvanizing a broad community of people around this shared vision for a Cleveland in which everyone can thrive.

Through a professional network recommendation, the team learned about the Racial Equity Institute (REI), an alliance of trainers, organizers, and institutional leaders who have devoted themselves to the work of creating racially equitable organizations and systems, and help individuals and organizations develop tools to challenge patterns of power and grow equity. Cleveland Neighborhood Progress developed a partnership with REI in order to invest in and grow a cohort of Clevelanders who would come to share a common awareness of systemic racism and language for it, and then incorporate this awareness and language into their day to day lives and behaviors.

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress secured funding to support the REI team coming to Cleveland on a monthly basis to conduct half-day and full-day racial equity and inclusion trainings. The REI trainings that took place during the Year of Awareness Building initially were offered to Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s staff and leadership, CDCs in the Cleveland Neighborhood Progress network, and leaders from allied organizations and institutions, including some of the largest and best-known in the city. Using their “Groundwater approach”, REI training leaders facilitated group learning and development through the use of a metaphor designed to help practitioners at all levels internalize the reality that we live in a racially structured society, and that this reality is what causes racial inequity.  

From the very beginning of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s yearlong effort, the racial equity trainings were met with overwhelming enthusiasm. “Participants were characterizing their training experience as deeply emotional and life-changing,” says Erika. “Because their experiences were so profound, and because of the way the trainings were structured, participants came out feeling compelled and equipped to take action in their own work and personal lives.” The early trainees began telling other folks in their social, familial, and vocational circles about their experience, and soon, demand for more trainings rose across Cleveland.

By the end of the Year of Awareness Building, nearly 1,500 people representing over 200 Cleveland-based organizations had participated in either half-day or full-day trainings with REI, a far larger reach than the team had anticipated at the outset of its work. After receiving such positive feedback from training participants, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress set its sights on broadening the racial equity and inclusion conversation citywide. Based upon the community’s overwhelming response to the trainings in 2017, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress decided to continue the trainings in 2018 with its Year of Deeper Awareness and Action. By the end of last year—two years after the Year of Awareness Building first began—3,159 people, representing 709 organizations across Cleveland, had participated in a racial equity training.

The team was pleased to see the impact of the REI trainings on participants’ behaviors unfold so quickly. “As more and more trainings took place,” Erika says, “organizations across Cleveland began taking up the mantle of awareness raising through development of thematically-related events and programs.” While some were spearheaded by or in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, a number of these events and programs emerged following an organization’s leader participating in an REI training.

Examples of events co-branded with the Year of Awareness Building include: an art exhibit focused on redlining and segregation in America; a film series; book clubs; and book discussions. These new practices and events pushed the opening of the racial equity conversation into the lives of everyday community members, practitioners, and the institutions surrounding them in ways it hadn’t ever been before. And, the work to reach even more people continues in a creative, multi-faceted fashion.

In parallel with teeing up the racial equity trainings for Clevelanders, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress focused its efforts internally on operationalizing and embedding racial equity within all aspects of its organization. Toward that end, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress leaders made behavior changes of their own, beginning with adaptation of their existing grant programs to explicitly name and support racial equity and inclusion work. For example, for their 2017 Neighborhood Solutions Award program— a small, competitive grant funding program for Cleveland-based CDCs seeking to bring a concept or idea to bear, or to enhance something they’re working on— the theme centered in its call for proposals was racial equity and inclusion. Leaders of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s larger grant program, the Strategic Investment Initiative, began soliciting detailed information from grant applicants about how they frame their mission, work, and approach through a racial equity lens.

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress continues to sustain the impact of this work by launching new programming and continually modifying existing efforts to reach an ever-broader audience. For instance, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and REI introduced and added a training specific to Latinx people and their associated challenges with systemic racism, which are distinct from those associated with the experience of African Americans. In the fall of 2018, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress launched a traveling interactive exhibit at the Mount Pleasant NOW CDC called “Undesign the Redline”, which explores the history of race, class, housing policy, and how that legacy continues to shape our communities today. Three organizations will host the exhibit for the rest of 2019.

Hack Cleveland, an initiative of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, recently convened a scope-a-thon, a day-long collaborative event where technologists and problem-solvers get together with local community organizations to understand their challenges and develop relevant tech and data solutions; Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s kickoff event focused on criminal justice reform. Cleveland Neighborhood Progress also convened Creative Fusion, a means for bringing together artists to focus on new ways to use and visualize Greater Cleveland neighborhood data through art. Also this year, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress will partner with ThirdSpace Action Lab to help organize the REI trainings for the community.


Behavior Change Analysis

The approach taken by Erika and the Cleveland Neighborhood Progress team to develop and drive a racial equity and inclusion initiative is as multifaceted as it is inspiring. In developing and nurturing the projects and partnerships that comprised the Year of Awareness Building, the Cleveland Neighborhood Progress team appears to have drawn from many aspects of the EAST and MINDSPACE frameworks.

Although there are many defining facets of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s initiative, for purposes of this project, the behavior change analysis will focus on the development, promotion, and expansion of the Year of Awareness Building. This work provides a great example of what it takes to reach with intention across a community in order to connect meaningfully with people from all walks of life, and to instigate change. This is the work of changing hearts, minds, and behaviors related to critically important issues in our society.

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress made the trainings very EASY for willing participants to access.

Anyone who expressed interest could sign up for a racial equity training. If cost appeared to present a barrier to an aspiring participant, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress subsidized the cost with scholarship funding it had set aside for such purposes.

In terms of the racial equity training itself, REI made it easy for participants to see the dynamics of power and gate-keeping by continually prompting them to reflect on the power and gate-keeping capacity they hold in each and every setting, whether faced with a vocational leadership decision, a challenging social exchange, or otherwise.

The multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted, and inclusive approach to the racial equity training also made it easy for participants to see themselves in the work, and to find their own path for taking action to promote racial equity and inclusion. Erika says, “We tell participants that whatever your protest medium, frame it through a racial equity lens.”

The Cleveland Neighborhood Progress team made the REI training ATTRACTIVE to would-be participants by making the training low-cost, and by offering aspiring participants the prospect of joining a training alongside a network of engaged community members, activists, and some of Cleveland’s most prominent and influential leaders from the city’s largest and best-known institutions.

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress made the racial equity training SOCIAL by encouraging nonprofit leaders to assemble and send a delegation of board and staff members from their organizations; by inviting leaders to purchase a block of participant slots for their teams; and by engaging participants in cohorts that nurtured the possibility of a profound experience shared with another. Erika says, “Many people who went through a racial equity training developed deep relationships with their cohort members. They’ve come to know others in the community beyond their own cohort who have completed the training, too.” This deep shared experience has helped build lasting relationships, along with a shared desire to do something, whatever their position in the community. “Folks come away knowing that everyone has a role to play in dismantling white supremacy,” she says.

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s efforts were and are relevant and TIMELY.

This community-wide work grew out of an increasing sense of urgency across the city following social and political unrest happening both nationally and locally, reflected in the growing movement and visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement in communities across the United States, and magnified by local issues such as the police shooting of Tamir Rice, and the City of Cleveland’s Consent Decree issued by the Department of Justice.

The Cleveland Neighborhood Progress team also relied heavily on positioning leaders from prominent Cleveland organizations as participant MESSENGERS and ambassadors who shared with others about their racial equity training experience via word-of-mouth. In addition to inspiring their peers, colleagues, and friends to join in the effort, these leaders used their influence to help their own organizations to take a deep dive into racial equity and inclusion work following their own training experience.



Because systemic racism can be as invisible to people as the air we breathe, the work to build awareness about it, and to establish a culture of commitment to racial equity, is inherently disruptive. It is iterative, too, requiring persistent vigilance and continual effort on the part of each individual to step outside their emotional zone of comfort, where most human beings seek to dwell by default. This work requires nuanced strategies for bringing to each heart and each mind an awareness about dynamics that most people are socialized to not see. Thus, factoring into such strategies knowledge of typical human behavior and the biases inherent in the human brain is essential for doing this work effectively.

In taking a multifaceted partnership approach to awareness-raising, the team at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress has shown that with persistence and thoughtfulness, change is possible. The legion of people and institutions now committed to disrupting systemic racism and realizing racial equity is growing across Cleveland thanks to Erika and her team, and the energy and resolve of this movement shows no signs of stopping. Please visit to learn more about this bold and inspiring organization and its work to realize lasting social change.


Special thanks goes to Erika Anthony of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress for her willingness to be interviewed for and participate in this project.

The theoretical basis for the Behavior Change Blog Series is informed by two mnemonic frameworks shown in detail below. The MINDSPACE framework is a list of the elements that inform cognitive biases and human behaviors, while the EAST framework is a list of directives that are derived from MINDSPACE and help inform strategies for influencing behavior change in humans. These two frameworks were established by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a social enterprise based in the United Kingdom.


MINDSPACE Framework EAST Framework
Messenger – We are heavily influenced by who communicates information to us. Make it Easy – Harness the power of defaults, reduce the ‘hassle factor’, simplify messages.
Incentives – Our response to incentives is shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as reference points, aversion to losses, and overweighting of small probabilities. Make it Attractive – Draw people toward preferred behaviors, design rewards and sanctions to maximize effect.
Norms – We are strongly influenced by what others do. Make it Social – Show people the norm, use the power of networks to encourage and support, encourage people to make a commitment.
Defaults – We “go with the flow” of pre-set options. Make it Timely – Prompt people when they are most likely to be receptive, consider immediate costs and benefits, help people plan their response.
Salience – Our attention is drawn to what is novel and also to what seems relevant to us.
Priming – We are often influenced by subconscious cues.
Affect – Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions.
Commitments – We seek to be consistent with our public promises, and to reciprocate acts.
Ego – We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves.


Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.


  1. We need this in Portland Oregon. We need 2 grow gov. to get rid of discrimination in housing; equity for all.
    Norman SMITH, and Robert HILL Plaintiffs,
    PORTNOMAH PARK CORPORATION HOA, NINA O’MAILIA 11507 SE Flavel St. Portland Oregon 97266, and BOARD OF DIR PORTNOMAH PARK CORP Becky Nakasone – Vice President, Holly Crossen – Secretary, Maureen Meisner – Treasurer, Lisa Powell – Landscaping, Chris Blood – Maintenance, Noel Nakasone – Maintenance back up, Rebecca Walter – Alternate.
    IN CIRCUIT COURT OF OREGON 1. COMPL.(Violation of Fair Housing Act; Breach of Fiduciary Duty; Breach of Covenant; Nuisance) FEE AUTHORITY: ORS 21.160(1)(C)
    PRAYER AMOUNT: $362,350.00 COMPLAINT – 1
    2. The Portnomah subdiv. is , ORS Chapter 94. 3. The Corp. gov. by board of directors.
    4. Defend. Nina O’Mailia serves on board of dir.of Corp. 5. corp. is subject to the Decl. CCRs Portnomah Park recorded in 1973 in Deed Records of Multnomah County Book 937, Pg. 1768. COMPL. 2
    Artic. II, Sect. 1 of CC&Rs fix sewer lines . Article IV, Sec 2 promote health, safety, and welfare, upkeep of the common areas & sewer lines
    7. Pursuant to the CC&Rs, the Corp obligated to maintain, repair, sewer line. 8. On 1/1719, the sewer line failed & flooded home owned by Smith and Hill. 9. Plaintiffs called board.
    COMPLAINT -3 10. Corp refused to fix sewer line,clean up sewage.
    (Breach of Covenant / Declaratory Relief) COMPLAINT -4
    14. The CC&R’s require the Corp to repair sewer lines. 2nd CLAIM
    Against Corp Board of Dir.(Private Nuisance) 5 Property was flooded with raw sewage Plaintiffs suffered discomfort, annoyance, nconvenience, and injury 20. , damaged 12,350.00.
    The CC&Rs fix the sewer lines
    24. By failing,Board of Dir. has breached fiduc. duties 25. damages $12,350.00. 4th clm
    Nina O’Mailia 11507 SE Flavel St. Portland, OR 97266 (Viol. Fair Housing Act, ORS 659.421A)
    COMPLAINT -7 ORS 659.421A can’t interfere with right to enjoy use gay
    28. Defendant O’Mailia’s acts and omissions, violated ORS 659.421A • By sending a text to Plaintiffs Exhib.1 in response maintenance request common property of Portnomah Park, that reads in part: “I don’t care if you and your husband are disabled . . . [C]an you believe this fag we need to get him out of our neighborhood”; •O’Mailia told Plaintiff Smith: “You better watch your back, you are going to regret everything;” • Throwing rocks at the windows of Plaintiffs’ Property • On one occasion, entering Plaintiffs’ Property & refusing to leave ,calling Plaintiffs “stupid fucking faggots.”

    Same story as New York

  2. Very thoughtful and inspiring, Kate! Great case study. Go Cleveland. Thanks for writing this up! Lot to learn from their experience.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Middle-Mile Networks: The Middleman of Internet Connectivity

Middle-Mile Networks: The Middleman of Internet Connectivity

The development of public, open-access middle mile infrastructure can expand internet networks closer to unserved and underserved communities while offering equal opportunity for ISPs to link cost effectively to last mile infrastructure. This strategy would connect more Americans to high-speed internet while also driving down prices by increasing competition among local ISPs.

In addition to potentially helping narrow the digital divide, middle mile infrastructure would also provide backup options for networks if one connection pathway fails, and it would help support regional economic development by connecting businesses.

Wildfire Risk Reduction: Connecting the Dots

Wildfire Risk Reduction: Connecting the Dots

One of the most visceral manifestations of the combined problems of urbanization and climate change are the enormous wildfires that engulf areas of the American West. Fire behavior itself is now changing.  Over 120 years of well-intentioned fire suppression have created huge reserves of fuel which, when combined with warmer temperatures and drought-dried landscapes, create unstoppable fires that spread with extreme speed, jump fire-breaks, level entire towns, take lives and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, even in landscapes that are conditioned to employ fire as part of their reproductive cycle.

ARISE-US recently held a very successful symposium, “Wildfire Risk Reduction – Connecting the Dots”  for wildfire stakeholders – insurers, US Forest Service, engineers, fire awareness NGOs and others – to discuss the issues and their possible solutions.  This article sets out some of the major points to emerge.

Innovating Our Way Out of Crisis

Innovating Our Way Out of Crisis

Whether deep freezes in Texas, wildfires in California, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, or any other calamity, our innovations today will build the reliable, resilient, equitable, and prosperous grid tomorrow. Innovation, in short, combines the dream of what’s possible with the pragmatism of what’s practical. That’s the big-idea, hard-reality approach that helped transform Texas into the world’s energy powerhouse — from oil and gas to zero-emissions wind, sun, and, soon, geothermal.

It’s time to make the production and consumption of energy faster, smarter, cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient. Business leaders, political leaders, the energy sector, and savvy citizens have the power to put investment and practices in place that support a robust energy innovation ecosystem. So, saddle up.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This