Enhancing Quality of Life In Southern Appalachia

An Asset Based Community Development Planning Project


In 2016, The Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, NC, in partnership with a number of community organizations, engaged in a project known as the “Partnering for Change” initiative. The Hinton Center contracted with the Center for Housing and Community Studies (CHCS) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to:

  1. provide technical assistance to the project;
  2. analyze geographic, economic, and demographic data on the region and its inhabitants;
  3. conduct focus groups, a multi-modal resident and client survey, and interviews with “key informants” to identify strengths and issues;
  4. gather and compile a database of community assets;
  5. produce an online GIS map of community assets; and
  6. conduct a Community Action Planning session to review findings and brainstorm solutions.

Over the course of 10 months (March 2016 to January 2017) the Hinton Center, The Center for Housing and Community Studies, and community partners examined the quality of life in Clay, Cherokee, and Towns counties. Eleven focus groups, 573 surveys, and 26 interviews were conducted assessing satisfaction in community members’ lives regarding physical health, family, education, employment, finances, environment, and more. Contributions were submitted by clients, service providers, community leaders, and citizens to the Community Asset Map in order to identify resources currently available for enhancing the quality of life and to expose gaps in service systems.


The mission of the project was to identify, collect, and share this data and to build relationships and networks that will enhance collaboration. The project is intended to establish an inter-agency collaborative and Community Action Plan (CAP) for the three counties. Ultimately, the goal is to improve the quality of life for all residents by enhancing opportunities for economic development and by finding ways to solve community concerns. Through a series of workshops with the “Partnering for Change” executive committee, the initiative developed a vision of the future that would address the issues impacting the community and result eventually in a “Thriving community with opportunities and choices for a better quality of life for all.” The Community Action Planning (CAP) process resulted in a set of recommendations and ‘next steps ’aligned with achieving this vision.

Multi-Step Data Collection Process

Techniques such as surveys, visits, and resident involvement are used commonly in ABCD and have been helpful in this project by enabling us to find resources within both formal and informal networks. This project involved a mixed-method design including qualitative focus groups to establish the key concerns of different segments of the community, followed by an online and paper survey of residents, and concurrent interviews with key-informants and community leaders. Review of best practices literatures, compiling of secondary data, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping and analysis, and qualitative analysis of focus groups, community meetings, and key informant interviews was conducted. The participatory process for the development of data collection instruments with the “Partnering for Change” leaders allowed for identification of relevant items from the literature as well as obtaining input from members of the community on most important issues. This design provides the greatest validity and reliability. In all, the UNCG- CHCS project team has:

  • Collected secondary data on the region and produced a “snapshot” report on social, economic, and demographic issues;
  • Compiled a database of assets and created an online interactive GIS map;
  • Conducted 11 focus groups,;
  • Developed a multi-modal resident and client survey (online and paper, n=573);
  • Conduct telephone interviews with 26 “key informants”
  • Provided three training workshops; and
  • Conducted a day-long Community Action Planning retreat.

More on this project including documents, workshop handouts, and interactive asset map may be found at the Hinton Quality of Life Study page at: https://www.hintoncenter.org/quality-of-life/

Two versions of the final report are also available at the following links:

FULL REPORT: Full Color Web Version