Monthly Archives: January 2014

Organic Yet Organized

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:
    1. 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);
    2. 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?

Norwood Community Coalition Tackles Drug Abuse

Almost a year ago, Deb Robison, Director of Family and Student Service for Norwood Schools, asked CCR to help build a community coalition to combat drug and alcohol abuse.  Deb understood that though professionals needed to better integrate their services, the real progress would happen when the community became engaged in the work. 

CCR worked with the steering committee to design and facilitate two highly participative community summits attended by teens, parents, community organizations, police leaders, school board members, administrators, service providers and other concerned community members.  Those summits produced four community focus areas:

1.      Developing and promoting Norwood-based resources;

2.      Empowering the youth voice;

3.      Reclaiming public spaces through youth activities;

4.      Focusing services on prevention and education.

A key step forward was the youth-led summit, where student facilitators helped  9th graders brainstorm ideas for school, home and community that would help young people remain drug free.  They voted on their “Big Idea” and have begun work to implement that idea.  Their big idea is to create an in-school camp for ninth graders to give them the skills to remain drug free.  The Coalition for Drug Free Greater Cincinnati (CDFGC) awarded a grant to implement the students “Big Idea”, as well as another grant to implement other strategies derived from the summits.  

The coalition has also:

·         Developed and distributed a Norwood Resource Guide;

·         Developed and distributed a youth-created stay-drug-free magnet;

·         Held six Casual Conversations which were each attended by 10-16 local community members;

·         Participated in National Night Out;

·         Participated in several trainings and workshops;

·         Sent a team of people to the CDFGC Coalition Academy;

·         Trained several clergy with the Faith Based Toolkit;

·         Authored several articles for the local paper, the Norwood Star;

·         Helped pass the social host ordinance in Norwood;

·         Built a partnership with the schools and Health Department to pilot SBIRT screenings in grades 6-9.

What is actually most exciting, other than the work that is being accomplished, is the sense of connection that is developing among the steering committee and the community at large. It is exciting to see various committee members leading specific projects for the coalition, or volunteering for projects specific to their interests yet with the support of the whole group.  Not everyone attends every function of the coalition—and that is ok because each person on the steering committee has a valuable role. 

The community at large is also becoming more engaged in the work as well.  It seems like we have created the space for each person (steering committee or community member) to bring their gifts to the table to be used on behalf of reducing drug and alcohol abuse in Norwood.  It is my opinion that we have such a great foundation because of the work with did with CCR early in the process.  It allowed us to think differently about how we would approach the work and honor each other’s talents.  To be ok with some projects rising to the surface and others falling away if no one was interested in leading them.  CCR helped us to be organic and organized at the same time.

By Deb Robison