Through the Community Swap program, a team of local residents visits a similar community, incognito and unannounced. During their visit, team members use an assessment guide to take notes that will help them to provide honest and constructive comments about the community to the people who live there. A reciprocal visit takes place by the partner community. The information these teams gather, and the impressions they form, will be the basis for a series of community meetings.

The Community Swap process is organized by University of Illinois Extension Educators and Unit Leaders, who help community members address topics such as downtown revitalization, community development, leadership and volunteer development, tourism development, small business management,and economic development.


What do first-time visitors see when they visit your community? What impressions do they take away after a day of shopping, house-hunting, or scouting possible locations for business? The Community Swap program allows a community to "swap" information and perceptions with another community. Teams of visitors "swap" communities for a day-long visit, where they pose as tourists, prospective business owners, relocating families or out-of-town shoppers. The teams visit downtowns, business districts, community entrances, neighborhoods, parks, and other public places. Each team shares its objective impressions of the host community, describing the features which were most attractive and offering suggestions for improvement. Community Swap helps communities see themselves as others do. The process helps each community establish priorities for enhancing its image and development.

More than 250communities and thousands of community leaders and residents have participated in the Community Swap program since 1993. Teams of visitors look at all aspects of their partner community's appearance, business climate, schools, and hospitality. The visitors develop a report, with color slides, which they share with their partner community. Extension Educators provide an economic profile of the community to supplement the visitor's report. While the primary benefit is gaining an outsider's perspective of your community, the process helps community leaders set an agenda for action, enhanced by new ideas and a fresh perspective.

Can Any Community Plan a "Swap"?

Any community which is willing to devote the time to prepare for and participate in the swap program can participate. Community Swap is especially useful in preliminary stages of planning, to help identify priority areas for attention. It can take a few weeks or a few months to identify a partner community and organize a Community Swap. A team usually visits the partner community between May and November, during good weather.

Who is the Swap Team?

Each community organizes a group of four to six people and a team leader -possibly a community leader -who will visit a partner community, make observations and record their experiences.

How Much Time Will Community Swap Require?

Four to six volunteer visitors must allocate a full day to visit the partner community. After the visit, the team leader and swap team will spend some time organizing and then delivering the report. Likewise, each community will spend at least one half day or evening session as their partner visitor team reports.Who Conducts the Presentations?

Who Conducts the Presentations?

The team leader and other members of the swap team present the report in the partner community. Some communities organize an open meeting, and some communities present the information as part of an ongoing planning event. An Extension Educator presents technical information.

What About Cost?

University of Illinois Extension provides technical assistance for Community Swap. Communities will be responsible for the program participation fee; out-of-pocket expenses such as meals and transportation during the partner community visit; and refreshments and hand-outs for the community meeting. If these costs seem prohibitive, seek a local sponsor.

Find Your County CED Educator

Goals and Objectives

After completing the Community Swap program, community leaders and residents will be able to:

  • Set priorities for enhancing the community's image and development.
  • Establish a community-wide plan of action to address the most important issues and concerns.
  • Involve the entire community in actions carried out by leaders and volunteers.

Community Swap is designed to:

  • Stimulate interest in the community for beginning community projects or continuing development.
  • Provide an objective assessment of the community's strengths and weaknesses from an impartial group.
  • Gather ideas from similar communities with similar characteristics and development issues.

How the Program Works

A group of community members, with a designated Team Leader, spend one day in a partnered community making observations and recording their experiences. Team members will evaluate things such as availability of services, customer service, "curb appeal" of the town, ease of finding their way around and getting information. They will also make general observations about the town. After both towns have been visited, a report will be compiled by each Team Leader and presented to the visited community.

Program Costs

Most communities cover participation costs by finding a local bank, civic organization, business or Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the Community Swap. Program costs include:

  • A program participation fee, to be paid upon acceptance.
  • Cost of duplicating the Assessment Guide.
  • Travel for team members to the partner community.
  • Meal costs for team members during the community visit.
  • Postage for advance notice of the Town Meeting.
  • Room rental for Town Meeting.
  • Refreshments and other costs involved with hosting a Town Meeting.
  • Cost of duplicating the final report to be distributed at the Town Meeting


This website and the print version of the Swap Binder includes a VHS video, which depicts outcomes of the Community Swap program as described by community members, Extension Educators and Unit Leaders. Program facilitators will find the video useful as they describe the benefits of the program to community members.

Other promotional efforts, such as news releases and the program brochure, help community members understand the costs and benefits of the program.


As a participant in the Community Swap Program, our community agrees to the following expectations as we complete the program:

  • Our community will send a team to visit our partner community within a reasonable time frame, agreed upon with our partner community (both visits should occur within a month).
  • Our team will prepare a written report about our partner community
  • Our team will prepare a presentation for our partner community, with information illustrated by slides
  • At least two members of our team will prepare for the presentation, in case sickness or scheduling conflicts arise at the time scheduled for the town meeting in the partner community.
  • At least two members of our team will attend the town meeting in our partner community.
  • Our community will host our partner community team members for a town meeting. The town meeting will occur within four to six weeks of the community visits.

If our community is unable to send a team to visit our partner community, attend their town meeting, or host a town meeting, we will pay for the cost of a professional team to conduct the visit, present a report, and/or host a town meeting.


The Team Leader's Role

The Team Leader, working with the team members or the sponsoring organization, is responsible for:

  • Selecting team members for the visit.
  • Coordinating the visit to the partner community.
  • Summarizing the findings from the visit and writing a report for the partner community.
  • Presenting highlights of the report and making a slide presentation during a town meeting in the partner community.
  • Hosting a town meeting in your community to hear your partner community's report.

The Team Leader, working with Extension staff, will recruit team members who will visit the partner community. The size of your team will vary depending on the size of your partner community. Communities with a population of 2000 or fewer require at least four people on the visiting team. Communities with a larger population may require as many as 10 team members to check out various interest areas.

Team members will eat lunch during their visit to the partner community. Before trying to recruit team members, decide if they will be reimbursed for their expenses such as lunch and mileage to the partner community.

Checklist For Community Swap Activities


Weeks before or after visit:

By whom:

Complete application

The sooner the better - it takes time to find a match!

Community Sponsor

Match communities; Schedule week for visits

6 to 8 weeks before visit


Appoint team leader

6 to 8 weeks before visit

Community Sponsor

Appoint team members

4 weeks before visit

Team Leader

Set date for town meeting; Plan promotion

4 weeks before visit

Community sponsor, team, and Extension

Review visit and report responsibilities

2 weeks before visit

Team and Extension

Visit Partner Community


Team leader and team members

Write report and plan slide presentation

After the visit

Team leader and team members

Host town meeting; Gather evaluation information

4 to 6 weeks after visit

Team, community sponsor, and Extension

Present at the partner community's town meeting

4 to 6 weeks after visit

Team, community sponsor, and Extension

Evaluation; Plan follow-up; Swap reunion

6 to 12 months after team meeting

Team, community sponsor, and Extension


Visits usually occur between May and October, to take advantage of good weather. The exchange visits should occur within a month of each other, to reduce the variability of perceptions due to the change of seasons. Town Meetings should take place four to six weeks after the exchange visits, to use the information while it is still fresh in everyone's memory.

One or Two Months Before the Visit:

  • Working with the sponsoring organization, identify a Team Leader and work with the Team Leader to identify the rest of the members of the visiting team.
  • The Unit Leader sends the Team Leader a letter outlining program materials and University of Illinois Extension participation (see "Sample Cover Letter from Unit Leader").
  • Select Team Members.
  • Contact the University of Illinois Extension Unit Leader and Team Leader from the partner community to set a date for the visit.
  • Ask the partner community to prepare the letter of invitation to the visiting Swap team, which your team will carry along on the day of the visit (see "Sample Invitation to the Visiting Swap Team").
  • Send Team Members information on their responsibilities (see the "Top Secret Stuff!" handout).
  • Review the Assessment Guide and other program materials.
  • Review slide checklist, photo log and sample reports.

Agenda: The Day of the Visit

While traveling to the partner community:

  • Tell Team Members what town they will be visiting. On the Assessment Guide, note if any Team Member has visited the community before.
  • Make sure each team member receives an Assessment Guide, an invitation to the community (see sample "invitation to the visiting Swap team"), pencil, clipboard, and pocket sized notepad.
  • Remind Team Members to save receipts if lunches will be reimbursed.
  • Give photographers color slide film and a copy of the Photo Log. You will need a description of each photo to use in the report and slide presentation.
  • Review the entire Assessment Guide and the Slide Checklist.
  • Assign sites (such as the downtown, school, parks, or special housing) to Team Members and review the corresponding section of the Assessment Guide. Each section of the Assessment Guide must have at least one response.
  • Each team member will complete the first section of the Assessment Guide.
  • Remind Team Members to be discreet when asking questions. The Swap is more effective if people do not know the community is being evaluated.
  • Remind Team Members to identify positive and negative features of the community. Both positive and negative impressions will be important to share.

Preparing the Written Report

After the visit, the team can begin to work on the written report and the slide presentation. Plan to meet a day or two after the visit, while everyone's observations are still fresh.

The easiest way to write the report is to follow the Assessment Guide and write on each topic. A sample report is included in the Supplement section of the Community Swap notebook. Include each team member's comments on every topic. Typically, reports range from six to ten pages. Before the final draft is written, each team member should have a copy of the report to review, and provide comments and suggestions.

Extension Unit Leaders can provide help in organizing the report and identifying important issues. The report should describe positive and negative perspectives, tactfully and objectively.

Preparing and Presenting the Slide Show

The slides are a visual summary of the visit, and illustrate information in the report. Show a slide for each topic on the Assessment Guide. The script is included to help outline the presentation, but a script should NEVER be read word-for-word during the presentation. Each slide should provide a cue for your comments; use 50 to 70 slides to prepare a presentation of 45 to 60 minutes. The program materials binder include opening slides with the University of Illinois Extension and Community Swap logos.

Plan to give the slides you took in the partner community to their team. They might find these slides useful as they present information to other groups in the community, and could use them as "before" photos to highlight changes.

The Town Meeting

At the town meeting, community leaders, residents and the media hear the report from the visiting Swap Team. How this information is presented often determines whether there will be changes made as a result of the Community Swap. This is a chance to highlight the issues that need attention, to celebrate the community's assets, and to inspire volunteers to get involved in community and economic development activities. The Town Meeting is an extremely important part of the process and requires careful and thoughtful planning. The Town Meeting can be elaborate or simple. Some communities have hosted dinner and a social hour. Others have invited a small group of community leaders to a meeting. Large or small, this first exposure will lead to decisions about changes the community will work toward.

Community Swap Evaluation

You may find it useful to evaluate the Community Swap Program at three levels of participation. You could evaluate community members, Community Swap Team Members, and community leaders or program sponsors. Evaluation questionnaires for these three audiences are provided.

Members of the community who attend the Community Swap Town Meeting should provide information about the usefulness of the information they gained and the plans for change and improvement that the Community Swap program sparked. See the Appendix for "Evaluating the Community Swap Program" for a sample questionnaire for community members who attended the Town Meeting.

Community Swap Reunion

The Community Swap Reunion is essentially a Town Meeting for several communities, typically held six months or more after the first Town Meeting. The focus is on long term changes or plans made as result of the Swap. This is a chance for the visiting Swap Team(s) to see how the community interpreted their suggestions. The reunion may include the teams from two partner communities, or there may be teams from several Community Swap programs. The purpose of the reunion is to allow community leaders to continue to learn from one another, and to explore ideas which could improve the design of the Community Swap program.

To begin planning, the Extension Unit Leader(s) may send the form, "Evaluating Community Swap Outcomes" to each team member (see Appendix for the evaluation questionnaire). When the forms are returned, it will be easy to determine if the reunion should be planned. If no one is interested in a reunion at this point, the information will still be useful when you prepare for the next Community Swap. If a reunion is not attractive to participants, a roundtable discussion might be a simpler way to share information. The roundtable discussion involves fewer people than the reunion but allows each person to share his or her experiences candidly. A reference sheet to use in organizing a roundtable discussion is included in the appendix (Organizing a Roundtable Discussion).