12 Key Principles for Creating Healthy Community Change (Part 1)

I’ve been playing again this week with the 12 Key Principles for Creating Healthy Community Change which is a resource put together by Nancy Margulies and Margaret Wheatley. The resource comes in the form of a DVD, poster and a series of cards.

I particularly like the cards because they are great for stimulating conversations and tackling some of the stickier aspects of self-organised community change.  The cards name some of the larger challenges with stimulating change within a living system (which communities are) and pose some really good questions for groups wanting to engage in co-designed change.

I wanted to look at the first 6 principles and questions today and then the next 6 in a later post.

Principle #1 People support what they create
(…and continue to create) Co-creating a way forward WITH a community not FOR a community is slower and has many bumps on the way (as we will explore more in the second half of this post) but the level of ownership and sustainability is worth the slog at the beginning.   Co-creation in an ongoing task to attend to.  I have discovered this recently with a project I was involved with a few years ago and re-visted recently.  10 years on the organisation that seeded the project still has its hands deep in the organisation of the project and the project in floundering because of a lack of empowered responsibility taken by the participants.  The participants may have originally co-created the project but they no longer are.
Are we engaging all who have a stake in this community/issue?

Principle #2 People act most responsibly when they care
This is a simple truth in community development.  The greatest way to engage a community is around an area they care about and so our first task is to discover what people in our communities do really care about.  No presuming they care about the same things we do.  It is also important that we listen for the language they use about the things they care about and let this language frame the work we do together.
Are we working on an issue that people truly care about? How do we know they care?

Principle #3 Conversation is the way humans have always thought together. In conversation we discover shared meaning
We often become set on an outcome before we even begin.  When you enter into a conversation with your community try not to be stressed about the outcome but instead consider conversation and relationship to be the primary outcome.
How often do we use conversation rather than a more technical problem-solving process?

Principle #4 To Change the conversation change who is in the conversation
Don’t focus on the titles of people too much.  Peter tells a great conversation about closing down a task-force who were all the “right people” to have in the room but who didn’t want to be there and allowing the group the be reformed with people who may not have had the titles but who truly cared.
Are we stuck in this conversation? Do our conversations go round and round and lead nowhere? What new people could we invite into the conversation?

Principle #5 Expect Leadership to come from Anywhere
As above.  Whose voice are we not hearing in the conversation? I have found those who have never been empowered in leadership before (because of social barriers or lack of opportunity) often provide a very unique view and lead with great passion and creativity.  Not always- but you may just be surprised!
When have we been surprised about who stepped forward as an informal leader? What caused them to step forward?

Principle #6 Focusing on what’s working gives energy and creativity. Ask what is possible not what is wrong.
This is the key to Asset Based Community Development.  Even when there is a lot going wrong in a community we gain traction faster, cheaper and with more delight when we lead with the bright spots- where things are working well … or at least working a little.
When have we been most energised for our work? Why did we have so much energy?

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