This semester I am lecturing in a subject called Effective Community Engagement at Tabor College Adelaide with my long term friend and colleague Mark Riessen. My fellow Faith in Action co-conspirator Peter McDonald will be making a guest appearance too as he told us in his blog last week on the Ministry of Theft.
In our first lecture this week we spent a bit of time playing with the 12 Principles Resource from Nancy Margulies and Margaret Wheatley that I have already written about here. Mark told some stories from his own experiences of community engagement and the class then used the 12 principles cards to unpack some of the underlying threads and motivators in the stories.
In the interest of space I looked at the first 6 principles and questions in my first post and in this post I will look at principles 7-12.
Principle #7 The wisdom resides within us
The belief that a community already has within it all that is necessary for it to achieve what it desires to achieve helps us to avoid acting paternally and creating programs or bringing in resources from outside the community. Robert Lupton in his book Toxic Charity says:
“Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”
Do we first look inside our community expecting to find the answers there? Or do we instantly look outside for best practices?
Principle #8 Everything is a failure in the middle. Change occurs in cycles.
One step forward. Two steps back. This is often one I come back to. It is important for us to understand that in the center of any process of community change or development is a space where everything seems to slow down. The initial flourish of activity dies down. Everything seems to ground to a halt. Sam Kaner in his book Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making calls this the “Groan Zone”. I think it is helpful to talk to a community about this at the outset of any process so that when you find yourself trying to run in mud you can refer back to this and take heart that this is a common experience.
How do we react in times of failure when we see our progress suddenly disappear? Do we blame, deny, or gather to learn?
Principle #9 Learning is the only way we become smarter about what we do.
The process of community engagement or development is never done. It is truly iterative and should always be refreshing, continuing and progressing. If we approach this as an ongoing process and us as learners rather than solvers we will do well. Too often I work with groups who want to get to the goal- the program. This is why I love the iterative nature of the Human Centred Design approach so much as I wrote about here.
How often do we take time to learn from our experiences? Can we view our work as experiments that teach us how to succeed?
Principle #10 Meaningful work is a powerful human motivator
It is easy for us to get stuck in meetings talking about what to do or just running programs but we equally learn so much in the doing when we do it WITH our community and then reflecting on that doing.. I talk about this in terms of experiments where we work with the community as equals alongside one another. Listen well to your community but then experiment with them because in the doing you will deepen the relationships and understand each other more deeply especially if you reflect on the work together.
How often do we talk about and remember the deeper purpose that called us to our work?
Principle #11 Humans can handle anything as long as we’re together
So often I’ve said to a community group that, no matter what comes out of a process, if we have strong relationships with our local community- even if no program or direct action ensues- then we have succeeded. It is easy to get caught up in outputs but we must remember that the relationships are the key to success here and must be nurtured and given precedence over anything else.
Are we paying attention to our relationships? Are we supporting one another?
Principle #12 Generousity, Forgiveness and love. These are the most important elements in a community.
If someone would observe our community would these see those qualities in us?
What do you think about this resource. Would love to hear from anyone but especially from those students who experienced this.