One of the great challenges of citizen engagement is balancing the drive to get something done with the need to inspire maximum participation. Fortunately, by combining traditional action research with principles from the Art of Hosting, facilitators can accommodate many citizen interests while producing tangible results. Take a look at the following process developed by CCR: Community-Hosted Action Research.
There are three keys to the process:
- The Calling. Participants co-create and remain explicitly committed to a core “calling” for the work. The calling is general enough for everyone to buy-into, but specific enough to be inspiring. An example would be “We are called to rebuild Cincinnati’s business districts across the city so that all citizens have access to walkable neighborhood services.”
- Passions Become Priorities. Rather than debate and identify “our three top priorities” in an isolated conference room, possible paths of action are collectively brainstormed and discussed, and then undertaken in the real world by whoever is inspired to do so. In other words, people’s passions become the priorities of the group. This allows everyone to make a meaningful contribution. Importantly, action teams are encouraged to:
- Experiment with small, short-term steps to learn about and redesign their prototype over time rather than take the risk of designing a whole program without real-world insight (e.g. Obamacare);
- Continue to engage new people in the implementation/experimentation process–thus expanding participation even after work has started.
- Co-Learning. After a pre-determined period of time, action teams reconvene to report on their progress, insights and challenges. The whole group then asks itself, “What have we learned from our collective efforts about the calling and how to achieve it?” Through small group dialog, feedback and harvesting, the whole group provides learning and data for the action teams to tweak their projects for a second experimental iteration.
When combined with proper relationship building and participative facilitation techniques, the commitment to the calling will hold a group together over time. This gives the passion-driven projects a chance to organically evolve toward consensus on the most sustainable and effective projects. In the end, most everyone will “buy-into” the final answer because they will have real-world experience around which to base their collective deliberation.
With so much talent and passion in our communities, why limit participation with top-down priorities when action research and co-learning will ultimately create better programs with greater participation?