Community Engagement Planning: Summary of Meeting #1

Over the past few months, the conversations of our Integrity Team (known in most organizations as the board) have evolved to consider what’s next for our mission.

Following our values, as well as the very first question in the Catalytic Thinking framework, our first step in the process will be to ensure that decisions about our future are led by the people most affected by those decisions – our community members. For that to happen, we will need a plan for engaging those community members in the conversation.

That is the discussion we began this past Monday, June 13th (you can listen to the discussion itself at this link). Joining our Integrity Team in that conversation were several of our community members who care about this issue, as well several members of a practice cohort who are working to apply Catalytic Thinking to their own community engagement planning. The following are those first steps into the Catalytic Thinking framework – determining who will be affected by the topic, and then asking the people in the room to share their own experiences with engagement (listening).

Who will be affected by what’s next for Creating the Future?

  • “I will be impacted, big time. All of the people I share the message with would also be impacted along with their connections.”
  • People who interact with our stuff and share it broadly
  • Young people who are excited about creating their own future
  • Hildy, Dimitri, the folks who currently sit on the Integrity Body. Any future members who may serve on a future body would also be impacted
  • Folks who are intentional practitioners of Catalytic Thinking
  • Networks of practitioners – that is, people receiving the content from others
  • All of the people who have yet to discover this work
  • It’s a chicken and the egg question – but whatever we decide is next will probably change who is impacted
  • Current and potential future employees
  • Anyone who may be asking “How can I effectively contribute to change around me?” whether that question is being asked in reference to big, societal change or small, personal change.
  • Change-makers – folks who are looking to make change, whether that is individual activists or people looking to make change within organizations
  • Family and friends – this is how we be together
  • As a subset of changemakers – the change-making institutions and their leaders will be impacted. Those people who are intentionally creating movement and community change, who are looking at better ways to support thriving communities.
  • Creating the Future as an entity and all of us who are a part of it

Why is this important? What’s the big deal about community engagement?

  • We’re at a critical point in the world. We need to be asking questions of other people who aren’t like us. It’s life or death at this point.
  • We have to figure out how to be engaged and hear each other. We need to re-learn what community is.
  • It’s not only community, it’s humanity. We have forgotten what it is to be human and to be good to each other. It’s about making each other feel human and seen. We all need human interaction and sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own heads that we forget what we share.
  • I feel a responsibility to notice people around me and it’s exhausting. One of my concerns is knowing that this is really going to be essential, but the idea of full on commitment to this engagement is intimidating. I feel unsure that I have that kind of energy and wherewithal to take it on.
  • A character in a book I’m reading said, “kindness equals happiness.” There are so many people who are not happy right now and if they are not happy they can’t be kind.
  • There is a need for systems for engaging. If it is up to an individual, it is exhausting. The reason it’s important right now for Creating the Future to do this, is that we always see ourselves as the demonstration project. What would it take to create systems of engagement?
  • There need to be layers of engagement. It’s not just a thing we’re doing to other people; we should also be the community that is being engaged at different points. There needs to be consistent engagement and conversation across all layers.
  • Engagement creates fertile ground for positive emotion. Engagement creates space for compassion
  • It’s harder than ever to feel comfortable with engagement. Things seem to lean quickly from one way to the other. A lot of people seem to be missing the dialogue of listening and not judging and listening. There’s always a thought that there’s some endgame.
  • The idea of comfort – what is positive and what is negative engagement? It’s not just engagement that we want, we want comfortable engagement. In almost every organization I’ve been a part of, we talk about how to handle difficult engagement. How do you hold contrary opinions, even if a decision is being made counter to what is shared?
  • Adaptive programming – asking participants what they want to learn and going from there. People are so surprised when they are asked and the changes are made right away. This leads families to give more and interact more. People often feel like they’re not being listened to or that their voice isn’t big enough to be heard.
  • We talk so much about inclusion, about who’s left out of conversations and who’s included. Including people is what’s needed to live into our values.
  • Goes beyond inclusive – if we are asking people to create their future, they have to have a mechanism to do it. They have to have the power to do it. Being overwhelmed by engagement probably means that you’re holding too much responsibility for the power. True engagement lessens the load that any individual needs to carry.
  • Being responsible is to be responsive.
  • The reverse is also true, engaging with no position of power can lead to exhaustion.

 What is the relationship between engagement and power?

  • It’s about the people in power listening, not about the people speaking up
  • Those with power need to relinquish it to the people impacted
  • Movements are really about engagement of power
  • What kind of power are we talking about? Communities hold a lot of power, so we need to be clear if what we’re talking about is formal, institutional power and what that means.
  • Traditionally, the people who run organizations have the power to make decisions about how the organization is run.
  • Often an organization or group unilaterally decides what engagement is and then it fails. It was a “tell” and not a “listen”
  • Communication is often only one way. In some ways, engagement is becoming the new communication. We need to be curious, but engagement has become a job, a task, a check-box.
  • On many occasions we come to the community with answers. People end up feeling disenchanted because we say one thing in the community, but live a different thing internally.
  • Engagement is about relationships with people and power is about relationship to people. The fundamental core of a healthy relationship is about accountability. We have roles and norms and when those aren’t met, the relationship breaks down. This has to be mutual.
  • Thinking about the previous comment of how communication has evolved into engagement – a lot of what is called engagement now is facile. A lot of the ways we design digital services is about removing friction, but for what we’re talking about – friction isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Yet, the dominant culture is that we have to remove the friction. What we need is not fast, what we need is slow.
  • OEDC conducted a massive review of citizen participation and found we need more deliberative processes. These are slow.

What issues have you faced with engagement?

  • COVID forced people to slow down and engagement has been so strong because people needed that. I’m curious how we’ll keep that up as we transition out of our COVID behaviors.
  • A frustration around trying to engage people when there isn’t an immediate and apparent benefit for them to engage. How do we do this in a way that is authentic and truly engaging?
  • There can be skepticism because our culture doesn’t engage authentically. Communities that have been taken advantage of, extracted from, have damn good reason to be skeptical. There are real system hurdles there.
  • Authenticity – engagement needs to come from people who have walked in the shoes of the people we’re talking to
  • Trust is the elephant in the room. So much of this comes down to authenticity and trust
  • There needs to be a space for when groups aren’t ready to be a part of the process. At some point those folks might choose to join in, but there needs to be a space for not participating.
  • There are different ways in which people engage. We consider the norm of engagement to be extremely white, colonial, etc. This is the opposite of meeting people where they are. So many people engage by listening quietly and taking what they hear into their world. We so often expect people to meet us the way we want to be met.
  • “Let’s bring them to the table.” Who’s table is it? Who are “they”? People need to feel safe, included, and valued.
  • Valued as what? Am I valued because I am the woman in the group? Or am I valued as a person?
  • Trust is a two-way street. The people being engaged have to trust the system and the systems have to trust the people they’re seeking to engage.

At the end of every meeting, we take time to reflect on what stood out during the conversation. These are some of the points that stood out to those present:

  • How do we make systems built to carry the load of engagement?
  • Have been listening. It has been really good hearing everyone. Helan Bevan has a good twitter thread on Trust.
  • Thinking about Karl’s suggestion about needing friction. What allows us to overcome the friction that is needed to get results? The process needs to instill a hope for success and allow us to feel a personal energy to come to the work. In the chaos of the real world, having a path to follow can give confidence that you will get that success.
  • Go slow to go smooth and smooth helps us go fast
  • I was recently listening to a podcast about Jeff Speck on walkability. We design highways to be safe by getting rid of everything, but in cities that have people, the opposite is true. It’s about efficiency but, it’s also about our ability to have choices.
  • Reflecting on trust. It has to be mutual. The people we’re engaging have to trust us, but we also have to trust them.
  • It’s been lovely to slow down in this setting, to be heard and spend time unhurried to listen and think and reflect and share.
  • We had such a rich dialogue we had when it didn’t feel like someone was forcing us to have a dialogue. What do we actually mean by engagement? There are the silent engagers. This is the same thing we say about volunteers – just because we have more people in our registry doesn’t mean there are actually more volunteers. There are volunteers everywhere who will never be in the registry. Maybe people are engaged, we just aren’t listening.
  • From a recent webinar I attended – we need to unlearn our affinity for efficiency. Often slowness can feel like we’re not accomplishing anything, but relationship building is part of the work. Our systems just don’t treat it that way.
  • I have enjoyed listening to people from all over the world today where we’re in this space and sharing our similar things we’re thinking and feeling. What a great way to start off
  • I’m thinking about the relationship between power dynamics and engagement and what that means to different people
  • Thinking about the story shared about Josephine’s 24-year old son. We need to be making things better for him, for people his age. I hope to keep asking myself “Now what do I want to learn?” again and again through these conversations
  • We know how to build relationships. If that is the goal, it feels very in reach.
  • Noodling about Karl’s comment about friction-free. This is a mechanical thing – I want my wheels to be friction free so my car goes faster and is more efficient. This runs counter to everything else we’ve been talking about. Honoring people, listening to them, engaging in dialogue can never be friction-free.
  • Listening, connection, mutual accountability. It feels so good to be with everyone and I’m excited to move into what’s next.

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