What We Do

Vision and Mission


LiKEN leverages resources for community-to-community learning for evidence-based action for sustainable livelihoods.


To support democratic collaboratories of learning that build local livelihoods and wealth by facilitating exchange of knowledge and resources among communities, government and specialists — in order to understand and act on root causes of economic and cultural well-being.

Strategic Focus Areas

  1. Community Link-Tanks: LiKEN’s primary focus is to support community-based action research to steward livelihoods, quality of life, and resilience in particular communities, such as counties, clusters of counties, and urban neighborhoods.
  2. Platforms & Pedagogies: our networks co-design participatory action research tools, multistakeholder platforms, and trainings to develop the infrastructure to share findings, stories, frameworks, quality control, and best practices.  We nurture knowledge exchange within regions, and between regions.
  3. Publications: we publish timely materials in multiple formats to disseminate the work of Community Link-Tank collaboratories, supported by appropriate cross-sectoral advisory boards that integrate local and specialized knowledges.


In 2018-2021, in each of our three strategic focus areas, our goals are:

  1. Community Link-Tanks: To support 12 place-based Community Link-Tanks that inventory local community wealth and resiliency (in cultural, social, financial, human, natural, built environment, political, and spiritual dimensions), and develop and implement 25 & 50-year action plans for local livelihoods.  To support these Community Link-Tanks, we helps to mobilize issue-based collaboratories of practitioners, scholars, and officials with relevant expertise.
  1. Platforms & Pedagogies: with partnerships among local collaboratories, specialists, and officials:
  • to co-develop useful analytic and value frameworks, platforms, and data tools to monitor trends in local livelihoods and community wealth and resiliency;
  • to co-develop methods and curriculum to convene useful trainings, workshops, deliberative forums to build capacity for evidence-based inquiry and action in the public interest;
  • to provide training in civic engagement to professionals, and government officials;
  • to use the name, frame, and align methodology to analyze and act on root causes of economic and cultural well-being over time;
  1. Publications: to support strategic goals #1 & #2, by disseminating findings and translating between diverse knowledges through multiple media, including videos, blogs, news items, social media, etc. for popular education, as well as issue briefings, research reports, and peer-reviewed scholarly pieces.  We will help collaboratories aggregate and translate local stories and statistics into trans-local generalization and policy-relevant findings.  And, we will distill leading edge scholarship into popular education on public interest issues relating to sustainable livelihoods and community resilience.

Where We Work

Most of our work so far has been in Native American communities, Appalachia, and southeastern U.S. in areas affected by extractive industries. 


We value scholarly excellence, scientific rigor, humility, democracy, experiential learning, diversity, and appreciative inquiry.

The LiKEN logo evokes lichen as a remarkable example of synergy and symbiosis.  Lichen is a living web of mutual support among fungus, algae, and bacteria.  These creatures depend on each other.  LiKEN creates scaffolding for symbiosis among diverse, independent and interdependent, collaborators.  Our LiKEN logo suggests the collaborative spirit we find modelled in lichen, and mirrors the branching cybercircuitry of new digital commons and information systems.

We believe that people understand their own places, lands, and communities in ways that are essential to equitable public policy and good science. Front-line communities around the world face similar impacts from social, environmental, and climate injustice. As sites of remarkable resilience, such communities are incubating new models for economic transition in many locations. Our work supports the democratic platforms needed to translate the knowledges and capacities of frontline communities into national and international platforms that policy makers and the public find compelling.

Our planet faces converging challenges from rising inequality, resource depletion, job loss, resource crises (especially water and soil), and climate change. In response, we have the opportunity to work together across political and social divides, toward  evidence-based and reason-based policies that address systemic drivers of planetary challenges.

Our Theory of Change

LiKEN programs weave together successful models for social transformation from systems theory, community capitals framework, asset-based community-based development, political ecology, regional development studies (especially Appalachian Studies), the SEED-SCALE model, and our and our partners’ experience in developing community-based programs that create structural, equitable, and fundamental change.

Our programs foster resilient communities by applying two key insights of recent research on resilience in natural and human systems.

  • First, resilient systems are ones that accumulate a diversity of assets so that they have back-up resources and diverse and redundant possible responses when they suffer stress or strain. Our resiliency framework uses what some call a ‘community capitals’ or ‘community wealth’ framework that monitors social, cultural, political, natural, financial, built environment, human capital. To  these, LiKEN projects often add the spiritual, as an eighth kind of wealth.  In many ways, the words ‘capital’ or ‘wealth’ are unfortunate because they sound like they are putting a dollar sign on things that are beyond measure and invaluable.  So, we often say ‘assets’ or ‘resources’ instead, to highlight that much of our community wealth can not be commodified or turned into mere numbers. However, this ‘community capitals’ framework is being used in many successful programs, so it can help to leverage wide platforms for knowledge sharing between regions and countries. As long as we recognize the dangers of false quantification, there is value in this model of asset-based community development.  This model builds on several decades of community development work that focus on community assets rather than deficits, in order to empower people and dismantle society’s negative stereotypes.
  • Second, resilient systems have positive and negative feedback loops that help them to bounce back recovering integrity and function even when hit by external or internal stressors.  If people can understand how these systemic drivers operate, they can understand the root causes of community solutions and the vicious cycles that cause community problems.  Our knowledge exchange networks are designed to build community capacity to analyze the root causes of systemic patterns.  We encourage  ‘subsidiarity’, or the capacity to anticipate and solve problems at the smallest and most decentralized scale possible.We offer an alternative to programs that only look within a community to try to build its ‘resilience’ to threats, without also engaging the structural, external, or systemic drivers of their problems. Treating symptoms rather than causes can increase the burden on communities that are already exploited If communities face disparities and injustice, the best solution is to stop the threats that hurt them.  This requires analysis and remediation of root causes.