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Landscape of Alternatives

The Landscape of Alternatives Project

The Landscape of Alternatives Project is a community care research initiative. 


The primary objective is to learn what an alternative is and what it does. We are asking the following questions: 1) What is an alternative? 2) What types of organizations make up the landscape of alternatives in Massachusetts? 3) What is the proximity of alternative organizations to harmful systems (such as police and clinicians)?


Methodologically, we have constructed a list of alternatives in Massachusetts. We gathered these names while developing a typology of the structure of alternatives (government, nonprofit, and community-based alternatives). We have created a sub-typology of government-based alternatives, which include departments, divisions of departments, and programs within departments. The sub-types of nonprofit and government-based alternatives are still in development. At present, the list includes shelters, domestic violence services, food pantries, housing agencies, elder services, home healthcare, childcare services, mutual aid (legal aid, financial aid, material aid, and people power—transportation and human connection), and more. 


We wanted to know how these programs are funded and who funds them. For example, are they funded through public or private contracts, private foundations, and/or donations? We scraped the internet with a list of search terms. That process allowed us to identify some 200 organizations. We shared this list of ‘alternatives’ with our direct community partners. We added the partners that were missing. We added search terms from their mission statements. We re-scraped the internet with the new search terms to identify more organizations. In total, there were roughly 250 organizations. We suspect we have not reached saturation and intend to continue this process. In addition to the web scraping, a group led by two undergraduate research assistants carefully researched each organization to complete each content tab.


In terms of analysis, we intend to run some quantitative analyses, such as a regression analysis, to test some of our anecdotal qualitative data (for example, that organizations in close proximity to police and clinicians are better funded than those that are fully independent). The Landscape of Alternatives is a cartographical and quantitative project being conducted alongside our qualitative project, The Flowchart Project. As part of that project, we collect survey and interview data from representatives from these organizations to learn more about their guidelines and protocols in certain high-risk situations to gain insight into when, if ever, they resort to the use of police or clinicians. We will create a flowchart to be used by organizations so that they can delay the use of and reliance on harmful systems. 


In terms of outputs, we are creating a map and writing a report to be published on our website. The map will capture the landscape of alternatives. We are still learning from the map. We are still growing the list of types of organizations that can be considered alternatives. We are defining the positive by rejecting the binary of policing and alternatives. We are creating a larger continuum of the work of community care, and we are mapping ecosystems of community care.

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