There are 151 community associations currently operating in Calgary, but they risk sliding into irrelevance if their roles don't get updated and more clearly defined, according to a research paper.

As the city prepares to undertake a major review of the role played by community associations (CAs) in community representation, scholars at the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy compiled a briefing paper to help guide the project.

"Key to governance is reviewing how the system is funded. If the role of CAs is valued, then dedicated funding needs to extend beyond facility maintenance," says the paper written by Brian W. Conger, Pernille Goodbrand and Jyoti Gondek.

The authors listed several recommendations for modernizing the operation of CAs in Calgary, beginning with making sure their roles are better understood.

While it's clear CAs have a part to play in providing and maintaining amenities such as skating rinks, their capacity to help shape local planning is less clear cut, the authors say.

"Presently, a great deal of volunteer time is committed to the process of planning and development, with mixed results in terms of influence, often leading to frustration and concerns over tokenism," the paper says.

The city needs to make it clear whether input collected at the CA level will have an impact on decision-making in planning and development matters, they add.

The paper also suggests the city consider providing CAs a consistent source of funding, rather than having them rely solely on membership sales.

"If CAs are going to continue to be a valued resource for communities, there must be a dedicated stream of funding that extends beyond the maintenance of facilities," the paper says.

The paper looked at Seattle and Portland, where the roles of CAs were institutionalized and formalized in the 1980s and 2000s respectively.

Calgary should consider following the examples of those cities — both of which have departments of neigbhourhoods — by formalizing the city's role in CAs.

The city should consider partnering with the non-profit Federation of Calgary Communities, the paper says.

"This could include incorporating many of the federation's functions into The City, or an arms-length corporation thereof … Alternatively, this could mean downloading authority and resources to the federation."